South Seattle Community College’s historic Graduation Night

(The first South Seattle Community College students to graduate with a Bachelors of Applied Science degree in Hospitality Management: Heidi Engeset, Criselda Hermano, Andrea Kwok, Lisa Mantle, Jamilah McWilliams, Khin Naing, Marilyn Peredo, Jaimie Schutter, Soledad Strubhar ,William Schwartze, Celia Waddell. Their instructor and faculty adviser: Tom Mayburry)

Story and photos by Kathy Mulady
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

In the sea of deep blue caps and gowns at South Seattle Community College graduation ceremonies tonight, a small clutch of students stood out, wearing black gowns and waving a banner featuring a pineapple, the symbol of hospitality.

The 11 students are the first to graduate with bachelor’s degrees earned at SSCC – in this case, the Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Hospitality Management.

The program that allows community colleges to award four-year degrees in specific subjects started three years ago.

The hospitality graduates included Soledad Strubhar, winner of one of just three President’s Medals awarded at South Seattle Community College this year.

(Soledad Strubhar, right, helps Jamilah McWilliams with her corsage as both prepare to graduate with bachelor’s degrees)

Strubhar, embarrassed by all the attention, said she just wants a full-time job with full benefits.

“I never got promoted,” she said. “When I turned 40, I decided it was time to go back to school.”

She’s a West Seattle resident, and said South Seattle Community College worked for her because it is close to home, small, not intimidating, welcomes older students, and is ethnically diverse. Plus the price was right.

“It is cheaper than a big university, and the school is part of my community,” she said

Strubhar, 41, is a widow with two teenagers. She maintained a 3.75 grade point average, but said it wasn’t easy. She also works for Levy Restaurants at Qwest Field, in the human resources office. Her husband died seven years ago.

“I told my children we will have a better life, I will be able to get a better job,” she said, adding that she loves her work with Levy Restaurants.

Another student, Criselda Hermano, had a baby in January, but stuck with the program through graduation.

“They were really committed and they really sacrificed,” said their adviser and full-time faculty member, Tom Mayburry. The students moved through the program as a “cohort,” and the close bonds they share were evident as they talked about each other’s accomplishments and hurdles.

Hard work, perseverance and never giving up, was the theme of the graduation ceremonies held inside the Jerry Brockey Student Center. The graduating class of 2009 included 720 students who earned degrees and certificates.

Other President’s Medal winners were Elena Atanasova, who earned a transfer degree in Registered Nursing, and William Khazaal, United Student Association president, who earned his Associate in Business degree and will attend the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.

Atanasova came from Bulgaria about five years ago, and overcame language and immigration barriers to earn her degree. She was on the college honor roll nine times.

Khazaal, 34, is a lifelong West Seattle resident, and an exuberant student leader with a 4.0 grade point average in college. As student body president, he advocated for online textbook ordering and a new soccer field.

In his spare time he volunteers at the Puget Sound Blood Bank and the food bank.

He applauded students for their perseverance.

“This wasn’t handed to us; we worked hard for it, and we earned it,” he said.

Khazaal won applause for his student message speech that borrowed (with full credit) from Mary Schmich’s humorous 1997 Chicago Tribune column “Advice, like youth, is probably just wasted on the young.” (It is also known as the “wear sunscreen” speech.)

Most of the 2009 graduation ceremonies have focused on the harsh economic realities graduates are facing. Commencement speaker Paul Safstrom, who has taught international programs at the college since 1992, put the troubling times in perspective.

“Economies go up and economies go down,” he said. “No one can take your education away from you.”

More SSCC 2009 Graduation photos:

(Claire Hendrickson, bedecked in flowers, graduated with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Horticulture)

(Accounting graduates)

3 Replies to "South Seattle Community College's historic Graduation Night"

  • Kurt June 19, 2009 (10:39 am)

    James, I think I now know where your other bullhorn disappeared to! :)

  • Michael June 19, 2009 (3:36 pm)

    Congratulations graduates! Yay South!

  • Tina June 19, 2009 (11:34 pm)

    Congratulations to all!!! You are all an inspiration!!!

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