Stories of Determination Dominate 2017 Community College Graduations

NEWS // May 16, 2017

Stories of Determination Dominate 2017 Community College Graduations

One was without a home and without a job but would become one of the top community college students in the country. Another is a former high school dropout. A third is a former foster child who served six years with the National Guard. All three are among the thousands of students graduating this spring from community colleges in San Diego and Imperial counties.

Graduations in the two-county region begin May 19. 

“Commencements remind us what our community colleges are all about,” said Sunita “Sunny” Cooke, superintendent/president of MiraCosta College who serves as president of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association (SDICCCA). “So many of our students have overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and are now transferring to some of the finest universities in the world or going out into the workforce as invaluable, contributing members of our society. Their stories are an inspiration to us all.” 

Below are details of graduation ceremonies from Live Well San Diego Recognized Partner Schools, along with a brief biography of a graduate from each campus. 


MiraCosta College

Friday, May 26, 5 p.m., in front of the Administration Building, MiraCosta College, 1 Barnard Drive, Oceanside.

Vanessa Reynolds

Vanessa Reynolds

Without a job and living in a dilapidated motorhome, Vanessa “Van” Reynolds was at wit’s end. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Reynolds said. “I needed desperately to change my life.” Reynolds’s life changed after finding MiraCosta College. Reynolds has been active on campus, became President of the Gender Sexuality Alliance, and volunteered selflessly in the larger community, all while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average en route to an associate degree in social and behavioral science. Academic excellence landed Reynolds the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship awarded to the top community college students in the country. Reynolds plans to earn a dual MBA/Juris Doctor at Stanford University before embarking on a career focusing on international mergers and acquisitions.


San Diego City College

Friday, May 26, 5 p.m., Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park, San Diego

Abdisalan Bulhan

Abdisalan Bulhan

Abdisalan Bulhan is making the grade. The Kenyan immigrant, who moved to the U.S. when he was 12, is a peer mentor at San Diego City College and has been named to the Phi Theta Kappa All-California Academic Team based on his grades, intellectual excellence, leadership, and service to community. He is set to transfer to San Diego State University in the fall, where he is aiming to focus his studies on business and social work. His goal: to  launch an organization providing resources to immigrants.

“As an immigrant, I understand the importance of being knowledgeable about programs that can help immigrants. With a strong sense of humility, I am ready to serve as a leader for individuals in my community and beyond.”


Grossmont College

Wednesday, June 7, 5:30 p.m., Main Quad, Grossmont College, 8800 Grossmont College Drive, El Cajon

Meron Cholagh

Meron Cholagh

To call Meron Cholagh ambitious is a bit of an understatement. Fluent in four languages, the Iraqi immigrant, honors student and financial aid ambassador at Grossmont College is set to graduate with three associate degrees and two certificates before transferring to San Diego State University in the fall as he pursues a career in international business. He has earned a Community Service Award from state Sen. Joel Anderson. He volunteers regularly at his church. He is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society at Grossmont College. And he does not believe in barriers, as evidenced by his participation with the Grossmont College chapter of the Hispanic Organization for Latino Awareness (HOLA) Club, which promotes educational and cultural awareness of the invaluable contribution that Latino cultures have provided. 


Cuyamaca College

Thursday, June 8, 5:30 p.m., Cuyamaca College (on the lawn in front of the Communications Arts Building), 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway, Rancho San Diego.

Jovanda Reina

Jovonda Reina

A former foster child who was shuffled around so often that she attended three different elementary schools in the second grade alone, Jovonda Reina is the epitome of perseverance. After serving for six years in the Army National Guard in Virginia and Texas, Reina enrolled at Cuyamaca College after she and her husband moved to San Diego’s East County. Now she’s taking her associate of arts degree and the lessons learned at Cuyamaca College to San Diego State University, where Reina is aiming to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling. Reina’s professionalism and achievements in the face of adversity landed her the honor of being student speaker for this year’s Cuyamaca College commencement.


Other graduation commencements in the San Diego County region include:

  • San Diego Miramar College

Friday, May 19, 1 p.m., Hourglass Fieldhouse, Miramar College, 10440 Black Mountain Road, San Diego.

  • San Diego Mesa College

Saturday, May 20, 3 p.m., University of San Diego’s Jenny Craig Pavilion, University of San Diego, 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego.

  • Palomar College

Friday, May 26, 5 p.m., on the football practice field, 1140 W. Mission Road, San Marcos.

  • Southwestern College

Friday, May 26, 4 p.m. at Southwestern College’s Devore Stadium, 900 Otay Lakes Road, Chula Vista.

  • San Diego Continuing Education

Friday, June 2, Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park, San Diego