City College students celebrated for their struggles, triumphs at Chicano Latina Graduation

Ceremony highlighted students’ Chicanx heritage, achievements and support systems on their way to four-year universities


Nathaly Alvizures

Graduating City College students walk down the procession aisle with their zarape sashes and their degrees on their way to greet friends and family to conclude the Chicano Latina Graduation ceremony. Photo by Nathaly Alvizures/City Times Media

Marco Guajardo, Multimedia Journalist

At every turn in her journey leading up to her graduation remarks at the 52nd Chicano Latina Graduation podium, San Diego City College graduate Mercedes Preciado encountered a familiar response.


To overcome the continuous obstructions, Preciado – a 52-year-old partially deaf, Spanish-speaking immigrant woman – began to overturn the significance of what it meant to be denied. 

According to the graduate, for every “no” she came across, in her head she started to instead hear “yes.” 

Standing at the podium, the graduate acknowledged the support her brother provided throughout her journey and shared with the seated graduates and attendees an important message.

“For every ‘no’ that you hear,” she said, “here is a person who, against all expectations and statistics, can tell you all, yes you can.” 

Preciado is now a Chicano Studies and American Sign Language Studies transfer student on her way to SDSU.  

Group of students wait to be introduced
A group of 94 graduating City College students wait to make their entrance before the opening ceremony of the Chicano-Latina Graduation at the A Terrace plaza on May 19, 2023. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media

Organized by the Chicano Latina Graduation Committee, the graduation ceremony was a celebration for all students who earned associate degrees, certificates, admissions to a four-year university – or any combination of those.

The May 19 event was one in a series of culturally themed celebrations held on campus leading up to the traditional City College commencement ceremony each semester.

City College will hold its 2023 Commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 25 at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park at 5 p.m.

The Chicano Latina Graduation, which was open to students of all ethnicities, was an opportunity for graduates’ families and their biggest supporters to honor their dedication and perseverance within the context of what it means to be Chicanx.

City President Dr. Ricky Shabazz gave the congratulatory remarks and celebrated the inclusive tradition of the graduation, quoting Cesar Chavez.

“Preservation of one’s culture does not require contempt or disrespect of other cultures,” Shabazz said. 

“We do it (acknowledge the students’ accomplishments) so your grandmother and your grandfather, your tia (aunt), your brothers, your sisters, your cousins, know what is possible,” Shabazz said. “We do it to celebrate your success.”

Dressed in graduation gowns and embellished caps, the group of 94 graduates walked down the colorfully decorated Mexican-themed procession aisle to the song “Yo Soy Chicano” by Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez as the attendees cheered.

Professor stands at podium dressed in traditional Aztec garb as graduates walk down the aisle
Chicano and Chicana Studies Professor Velma Calvario welcomes the graduates as they walk down the procession aisle May 19, 2023. Calvario participated in the Danza Azteca opening ceremony. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media

Once the graduates were seated, the opening ceremony featured Danza Azteca group Danza Mexicayotl as an acknowledgement of the Indigenous heritage grounded in Chicanx identity.

Professors of Chicana and Chicano Studies Octavio Garcia, Velma Calvario, America Martinez and Dr. Norell Martinez gave the welcome, congratulatory, and keynote speeches, respectively. 

Collectively, the professors addressed the history of struggle the Chicanx community as a whole endured which the graduates now form a part of.

“Our ancestors called for radical change and they refused to stay silent against the status quo,” Martinez said. “Graduates, you carry within you this legacy of resistance, defiance and dignity.”

This recurring theme was elaborated on with the remarks given by one of the student keynote speakers, Julio Cedillo.

Cedillo, who is headed to UC Berkeley, will leave City College with degrees in Sociology, Chicana and Chicano Studies, and Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences.

“Let us bear in mind that today is a celebration and that our joy is revolutionary,” Cedillo said. “As you look around at our graduates, this was once impossible. It was a constructed dream never turned into reality. Those who came before us built a legacy for you and me to be where we are today.” . 

Both student keynote speakers Cedillo and Marisol Ruthenberg were surprised with a scholarship by Shabazz after their remarks.

Student keynote speakers receive scholarship from City administrators.
Student keynote speakers Julio Cedillo and Marisol Ruthenberg are awarded a scholarship by City College President Dr. Ricky Shabazz for their activism and academic achievements on behalf of City College alumnus and Costco founder James Sinegal May 19, 2023. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media

The award for their activism and academic achievements was given on behalf of Costco founder James Sinegal, who is a City College alumnus. 

The graduates lined up, standing next to one another to be presented with a traditional zarape-designed graduation sash and their related certificates, followed by the opportunity for each to give their personal remarks at the ceremony podium.

The roster of graduates included students facing different obstacles throughout their journeys, but who all shared a common thread of gratitude for the support given by their family, friends and professors.

Cindy Cena, who received her associate degrees in Language Arts and Humanities and in Art, and is transferring to UCSD, spoke on the significance of completing her schooling as a 30-year-old and receiving the support from her husband, children, and one friend in particular who were all present.

Silver Clark accompanied Cena from the beginning of her tenure as a City student and understood the doubts and the difficulty Cena endured to accomplish her goals. 

“Her husband actually hasn’t been working in the area, so for her to go through all of this, and still be a mom, and still work and still study, it’s just amazing,” Clark said through emotions and tears. “It’s just an honor because I know that she’s just persevered.”

Like many other graduates who gave remarks at the ceremony, Fanny Benitez highlighted the support her partner Reymundo Pantoja gave to help her receive her degree in Liberal Arts and transfer to SDSU.

As she reached the end of her schooling at City College, Benitez said she initially didn’t feel her accomplishments were necessarily noteworthy relative to those who went directly from high school to a four-year university. 

Despite these doubts, Pantoja gave one more perspective-changing gust of advice to Benitez, which she shared to all of the attendees as she stood at the podium.

“Never minimize your triumphs,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s community college or university. We all have different battles, and others have more opportunities, but we can all do it.”

Editor’s note: City Times has updated its style guide to standardize the use of the word Chicanx when referring to individuals together who identify as Mexican-Americans living in the U.S. The Associated Press Stylebook recommends using the word Chicano; however, editors felt the term did not effectively include all members of the LGBTQ+ community.