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Inland Empire Colleges Adapt Graduation Celebrations


Graduation in the uncertain era of COVID-19 means postponed ceremonies and virtual congratulations. But one Inland Empire college managed to put together a drive through event to celebrate the class of 2020.

Across Riverside and San Bernardino County nearly two dozen two year and four year colleges are adapting their graduation celebrations during the coronavirus crisis.

“We may be apart for now, but we want to celebrate your many accomplishments as a Cal Poly Pomona Bronco,” said Dr. Soraya Coley.

Coley, college president of Cal Poly Pomona offered that video message until it’s safe for an in-person ceremony. San Bernardino Valley College made history and conferred all of their degrees simultaneously on Facebook and YouTube.

"The class of 2020 you did it,” said San Bernardino Valley College President Diana Rodriguez.

But Chaffey College, is one of the few to hold a drive through event called Grad Fest to celebrate their largest ever graduating class-- until next year--when they are invited back to walk in a ceremony with the class of 2021.

At all three Chaffey campuses in May, parking lots were transformed into a one-way road to give graduates their mortarboard cap and tassel. A record six thousand four hundred degrees and certificates were awarded to over three thousand students this year.

Doctor Henry Shannon, superintendent and president of the school, says the diversity of the region is reflected in Chaffey students where two thirds are Hispanic, 58 percent are female and over 40 percent are the first in their family to go to college.

“It’s just such a good feeling to know that we are somehow acknowledging this milestone in these students lives. I am just so happy about it," said Shannon. "It is invigorating in a time of this covid-19. Our students have persevered and done really well.”

Among the first in line at the Rancho Cucamonga campus, was automotive technician student Rafael Torrez. He was enjoying the event, but feeling worried about finding a job in the COVID-19 economy.

“Like, it is a big what if," said Torrez. "Hopefully this will be over soon. If not, who knows?”

And there were other reminders of just how different things are. Faculty volunteers wearing masks, gloves and graduation caps and gowns, were told to avoid shaking hands and high fiving. And inside cars, smiling eyes could be seen on masked faces as the Panther mascot roamed the line and a DJ and MC spun party tunes.

Prudence Cruz, another graduate, says this wasn’t what she imagined three months ago but she is happy.

"Oh, it means a lot because they didn’t have to do it," said Cruz. "They could have just not done anything or waited and mailed things."

She was joined in the car by her mom and three kids. She will be transferring to Cal Poly Pomona in the fall where classes for her history degree will be online for at least the first semester.

“I worked really hard, but you just have to keep rolling with the punches,” said Cruz.

By the end of the day almost 800 students at the three locations participated.

Here are graduation dates for other Inland Empire Colleges:

Cal Baptist University: A combined Spring and Summer commencement is planned for August 18-20. More information here.

Cal Poly Pomona: Plans are underway for an in-person commencement in either December 2020 or May 2021. More information here.

Cal State University of San Bernardino: Spring commencement is postponed until further notice. More information here.

Chaffey College: The Class of 2020 is invited to return next year to walk with the class of 2021. More information here.

Claremont Graduate University: A virtual ceremony is planned for 10 a.m. May 30. More information here.

Claremont McKenna College: The May commencement ceremony has been postponed until a later date. More information here.

Crafton Hills Community College: A virtual ceremony took place Friday May 22. The ceremony can be viewed here.

Harvey Mudd College: Commencement ceremonies are postponed until the 2020-2021 year. More information here.

Keck Graduate Institute: Commencement ceremonies are postponed. More information here.

La Sierra University: The June 19 commencement is postponed. More information and updates here.

Loma Linda University: The school of Dentistry, Medicine and Pharmacy graduated May 22. The virtual ceremony can be watched here. Allied Health Profession, Behavioral Health, Nursing, Public Health and Religion will graduate virtually June 12. An in-person graduation is being planned for the weekend of September 5-6.

Mt. San Jacinto College: Students graduated virtually May 21. The ceremony can be viewed here.

Oak Valley College: An on campus socially distanced commencement is planned for June 6 at 10am. More information here.

Pitzer College: Commencement ceremonies are postponed. More information here.

Pomona College: An in-person commencement is planned for the Fall of 2020. More information here.

Riverside City College: Students will graduate virtually 9 a.m. June 12. More information here.

San Bernardino Valley College: Students graduated virtually May 22. The ceremony can be viewed here.

University of California Riverside: An online ceremony will be held 2 p.m. Sunday June 14. A link to watch the ceremony will be posted here. The School of Medicine graduates online May 29.

University of Redlands: Students gradated in April. The ceremony can be viewed here.