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Molina addresses Rio Hondo College graduates

WHITTIER – Former county Supervisor Gloria Molina urged more than 600 graduates at Rio Hondo College’s 52nd annual commencement on May 28 to follow her example and serve their communities as leaders, helping others who might struggle to achieve their dreams.

The graduating class — which tops 1,300 students — includes students who earned associate of arts and associate of science degrees as well as nurses who have completed their training.

Molina described her journey from high school to Rio Hondo College en route to 32 years of government service.

“I arrived to Rio Hondo College in 1966,” said Molina, who recently retired from the Board of Supervisors after 23 years. “As the oldest of 10, I had to set the example for my nine siblings.”

Molina said she struggled with college at first, but has since gone on to record many notable achievements — including being the first Latina to serve on the Board of Supervisors, the first Latina on the Los Angeles City Council and the first Latina elected to the state Assembly. She also served on the White House staff during President Jimmy Carter’s term.

“I come here to speak to you not about my accolades, but about the importance of service,” she said. “When I attended community college, I volunteered and worked at night.”

Molina said her volunteer hours prepared her for leadership roles and helped the community.

“I hope that today as you celebrate your accomplishments, you think about how you will give back as a leader,” she concluded. “You are going to find your hidden talents as you volunteer and serve your community.”

Rio Hondo College President Teresa Dreyfuss praised graduates for completing this stage of their educational journey — and encouraged them to continue to dream big.

“Many of you are the first to set foot on a college campus, and the first to graduate from college — making one of yours and your family’s dreams come true,” Dreyfuss said. “Be prepared to reach for the impossible.”

Rio Hondo Associated Students President Alejandro Ramirez encouraged his classmates to be ready for new challenges as they transition to four-year colleges or the workforce.

“We will continue to face obstacles that will get in our way, and how we face those obstacles will continue to define who we are,” he said. “We need to strive to be the greatest person that we can be and continue to encourage those after us to continue to do great.”

The ceremony also included recognition of faculty and students.

Dean of Math and Science Karen Koos was named a Fellow of the College, an honor recognizing individuals who make outstanding contributions to the progress and development of the college.

Koos, hired in 1980 as a biology instructor, helped reshape instructional materials, craft classes and revamp the college’s environmental technology program. Under her term as dean, a program was established to support first-generation and low-income undergraduates seeking to transfer to four-year colleges in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The commencement ceremony included 40 graduates, representing about a quarter of the students currently in the STEM program.

Academic Senate President Vann Priest presented the Marie I. Pelissier Award to the class valedictorian, Ly Tran Nguyen.

Special honors were given to three graduates who excelled academically or who overcame adversity en route to earning degrees.

Louis Arredondo, the son of immigrants who grew up in Huntington Park, overcame poverty to succeed at Rio Hondo. He was recognized for his knack for helping to explain difficult concepts. He also spreads the message of college opportunity to others in his community. He will study electrical engineering at a four-year college.

Diana Escamilla is an undocumented student who benefited from California’s Dream Act. She chose Cal Poly Pomona to continue her education because the school is still shaping services for Dream Act students — enabling her to be a part of the process.

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Susana Galvez turned the horrors of war in Iraq and the struggle she and other veterans shared upon returning to the U.S. into a driving passion to help veterans. She earned her associate of arts in sociology and plans to pursue a doctorate in the field to help veterans transition to civilian life.