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‘You did it!’ Merced College celebrates class of 2023 with 60th commencement ceremony

Merced College graduates took part Friday night in the school’s 60th commencement ceremony in front of a large crowd at Stadium ‘76.

More than 1,700 students were part of Merced College’s class of 2023, including 200 students who took part in the first commencement ceremony held at the Los Banos campus on Thursday night.

In all, Merced College handed out 3,089 degrees and certificates.

“For many of you, tonight represents a better future, a prosperous beginning, a pathway out of poverty and a stepping stone to your career or next pursuit in higher education,” said Merced College president Chris Vitelli.

Merced College graduate Nate Ruiz, center, finds some familiar faces in the crowd during Merced College’s comencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College graduate Nate Ruiz, center, finds some familiar faces in the crowd during Merced College’s comencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.

The 1,726 students in this year’s class marks the highest total at Merced College since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group included 425 students who are graduating with honors, having earned a grade-point average of 3.50 or better with a minimum of 45 units. Thirty-one of those students earned Superintendent’s Honors by maintaining a 4.0 GPA with at least 36 units completed.

Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria, D-Fresno, served as the commencement speaker during Friday night’s ceremony.

Assemblywoman Esmeraldo Soria served as the commencement speaker during Merced College’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023 in Merced, Calif.
Assemblywoman Esmeraldo Soria served as the commencement speaker during Merced College’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023 in Merced, Calif.

Soria spoke to the graduates about the importance of education in her life.

“By walking across the stage — just like you’ll do tonight — I was granted myself the opportunity to have a different life, or what my mom would call a better life,” Soria said. “You too have an opportunity to shape your future and decide what door you will go into next.”

“Graduating from college is no small feat and I know some of you did it even here against all odds,” Soria added. “Today is a testament to your hard work, your determination and grit. I will say we do have a lot of grit here in the Central Valley.”

Merced College graduate Jose Ramirez Enrquez, right, receives his diploma from Merced College Board of Trustees President John Pedrozo during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College graduate Jose Ramirez Enrquez, right, receives his diploma from Merced College Board of Trustees President John Pedrozo during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.

Vitelli implored the graduates to take pride in their new alma mater Merced College.

“You will always be associated with Merced College and you should be very proud of that,” Vitelli said. “I’m very proud of Merced College’s place as a pillar in this community and more appropriate tonight, I’m proud of the quality of graduates who will leave here to serve this community and make a difference in society.”

Merced College graduate Katsuya Sasaki makes his way off the stage after receiving his degree during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College graduate Katsuya Sasaki makes his way off the stage after receiving his degree during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.

Soria told the graduates to challenge themselves going forward, but take time to celebrate their achievement.

“Let’s celebrate this remarkable milestone in your academic journey...Be proud that you’ve come this far,” Soria said. “You did it.”

Merced College graduates make their way into Stadium ’76 for the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023 in Merced, Calif.
Merced College graduates make their way into Stadium ’76 for the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023 in Merced, Calif.
Merced College graduate Katsuya Sasaki waves to someone in the crowd as he makes his way into Stadium ’76 for the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College graduate Katsuya Sasaki waves to someone in the crowd as he makes his way into Stadium ’76 for the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College graduate Yudai Watanabe makes her way off the stage after receiving her degree during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College graduate Yudai Watanabe makes her way off the stage after receiving her degree during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College graduate Andrea Sprague Cortes receives her degree from Merced College Board of Trustees President John Pedrozo during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College graduate Andrea Sprague Cortes receives her degree from Merced College Board of Trustees President John Pedrozo during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, 2023.
Merced College President Chris Vitelli and Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria make their way into Stadium ’76 Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria
Merced College President Chris Vitelli and Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria make their way into Stadium ’76 Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria