‘It allowed me to truly embrace who I am.’ Evergreen graduates more than 1,000 students.

Evergreen State College graduates more than 1,000 students

More than 1,000 students made the walk through friends and family to receive their degrees from Evergreen State College.
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More than 1,000 students made the walk through friends and family to receive their degrees from Evergreen State College.

More than 1,000 geoducks proceeded down the bricks at The Evergreen State College’s Red Square Friday — traditional caps and gowns optional, but degrees in hand.

The Class of 2019 celebrated their years of hard work and academic effort in the college’s 48th annual commencement ceremony. Graduates processed down the aisle to the Artesian Rumble Orchestra’s renditions of classics like “Footloose,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Poker Face.” The rain stayed away, and the place was packed with families, friends and supporters cheering on the new graduates.

Twenty-six percent of the 1,054 graduates were students of color and keeping with Evergreen’s dedication to education for all, the class ranged in age from 19 to 73, according to public relations manager Allison Anderson.

Carolina Flores, one of the two undergraduate speakers at the ceremony, received her degrees in Latin and Caribbean Culture Studies and Bilingual Education. She immediately put those degrees to work, delivering part of her speech in Spanish.

Flores transferred to Evergreen later in her education and said her time at the school helped her find herself.

“It allowed me to truly embrace who I am as a person and the struggles that I’ve been through,” Flores said. “It helped me realize that being a woman, a lesbian, and a student of color was not a burden — it was a strength.”

After graduation, she’ll continue her work with TOGETHER, a non-profit organization focused on community outreach and educational equity, where she will work to implement more bilingual curriculum in before- and- after-school programs.

“I think that really what I will be taking with me from Evergreen is the way that I was able to learn about myself through other people and how supportive my faculty and professors have been,” Flores told The Olympian.

Flores and the other undergraduate speaker, Felicia Ybarra, encouraged their fellow graduates to embrace failure and make an impact on the world. Both speeches were met with standing ovations from their classmates.

Tracy Rector, a 2004 Evergreen alumna and filmmaker; Albert McConathy, a graduate student; and Anthony Zaragoza, a professor, also spoke during the ceremony.

Many of the day’s graduates were second-year students during the spring of 2017, when turmoil embroiled the campus. Just two years ago, Evergreen’s commencement ceremony had to be held out of town because of threats and controversy. And though there were no tell-tale signs amid the celebratory mood and festivities on Friday, the changes the college has made — as well as the changes some students say it hasn’t made — were not far from some students’ minds.

Susanna Perkins, a graduate receiving her degree in European history, served as a Residential Assistant her sophomore year, an opportunity that she said granted her an up-close view into much of the controversy.

“I see a lot of forward changes, but a lot more needs to happen,” Perkins said.

“I think there needs to be a lot more transparency between the school and the admin to the faculty and students,” Clairisa Rumpler, a marketing graduate, said.

But the group of graduates also praised the unique education Evergreen provided and expressed excitement and disbelief that they were done.

“I’ve taken classes I never would have taken anywhere else, and the sense of community and the way you get to know your classmates and professors,” Michael Levine said about his favorite parts of Evergreen. Levine graduated with an emphasis in sociology and historical law.

Stella Spracklin-Link, a public policy and law history graduate, said she made deep connections in her education that helped her grow as a person.

“It sounds really cheesy, but it is really true,” Spracklin-Link said. “It feels way more well-rounded than having read a lot of textbooks and taken a lot of tests.”

Although they are leaving campus, the graduates said they felt ready to apply their Evergreen lessons in problem-solving, communication and team-building to their futures.

“It’s definitely more preparation for the world than just a job,” Rumpler said.