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With their family and friends cheering for them in the stands of Memorial Stadium, more than 350 seniors were honored Tuesday evening for earning their bachelor's degrees from Whittier College. They were joined by 26 graduating members of the College’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.
“When I look out at your faces, I see hope, resiliency, commitment, and a lot of good stubbornness,” said President Linda Oubré to the graduates. “I see artists, athletes, activists, musicians, educators, and entrepreneurs. But mostly, I see the diverse leaders who will change the world for the better.”
As the ceremony’s student speaker, sociology major Govanni “Gio” Santos Cantu ’22 encouraged his fellow graduates to “live a big life; step into who you are meant to be and never play small as you are meant for greater things.”
“Never compare your life to others, as there is no comparison between the sun and moon, they both shine when it is their time,” added Santos Cantu.
Santos Cantu is a proud and accomplished first-generation college student. Originally from Corona, California, he transferred from Chaffey Community College where he earned an associate's degree in social sciences with an emphasis in behavioral sciences. While at Whittier he served as a student ambassador for the first-generation club, a room advisor, and was a Poet water polo player and swimmer.
“I am blessed to say I am a first-generation college graduate going places people said kids like us could never go,” said Santos Cantu. “Despite being told I would be a product of my environment, I am standing here as a product of my decisions.”
After graduation, Santos Cantu plans on earning a master's degree in teaching and education.
Special recognition was also given to featured speaker Jan Gustafson-Corea, a leader and advocate for bilingual education as CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education, as well as special guest Shaun Harper, a diversity, an equity, and inclusion expert and executive director of the USC Race and Equity Center. At Commencement, each was presented with the College’s highest honor: an honorary doctorate of humane letters (L.H.D.)
During her address, Gustafson-Corea spoke in English and Spanish, extolling the virtues of being bilingual or multilingual.
“Ser bilingüe vale for dos. When you are bilingual or learning another language, you have double the value and are able to accomplish so much more culturally and linguistically,” she told graduates.
Gustafson-Corea added, “Graduates, remember who you are, what your cultural and life experiences are, what languages you speak, where you come from, what you believe in, and what you stand up for matters now more than ever. ... ¡En buena hora Poetas! Congratulations Poets!”
Over the last few years, the College's Education Department has worked closely with Gustafson-Corea to develop innovative efforts to increase the number of bilingual educators in schools throughout the state.
In addition, Harper shared a few words with the audience.
“It is our shared values and commitment that makes me especially excited to now have a permanent tie to Whittier College,” said Harper. “Our seriousness about diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and academic excellence will sustain and strengthen the beautiful friendship that I have been blessed to cultivate with this wonderful college."
Harper leads the Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance, which Whittier joined in 2020. This partnership offers the College professional development in diverse areas of racial equity and allows for participation in rigorous, expert-validated, quantitative surveys that measure belonging and inclusion among students, faculty, and staff and provide appraisals of the institution’s commitment to equity.
Board of Trustee Chair Miguel Santana ’91 welcomed graduates to the Alumni Association.
“You have now joined a very distinguished group of more than 18,000 Poets who live on six continents, in 54 countries, and in just about every US state and territory,” said Santana. “As a first-generation college attendee, fellow alumnus, and as chair of the Board of Trustees, I can tell all of today’s graduates: you made the right decisions to choose Whittier. This will become even more obvious to you in the years to come, as you benefit from this education.”
See coverage in the Whittier Daily News.