Messages of seizing the moment, taking risks and giving back to the community filled the speeches of Foothill College's 52nd annual commencement Friday, June 29.
657 graduates were honored that evening, though barely a third of those graduates attended the event.
In a sea of black gowns and red tassels, the individually decorated mortarboards stood out. Some had feathers, glitter and sequins spelling out "Class of 2012!" Others had cat ears, Minnie Mouse ears and stuffed animals sitting atop their heads. One Biological and Health Sciences graduate displayed a stuffed seal attached to his traditional headgear.
Foothill College President Judy Miner announced the achievements of the class of 2012, including 100 percent passing rates in many license and certificate exams. The veterinary technicians of the group were particularly vocal when she announced their perfect score.
"And if the vet tech students could be just a little more enthusiastic," Miner said after thunderous cheers from the veterinary graduates.
The crowd was also enthusiastic when student speaker Joseph Otayde took the podium.
"Today is our day," Otayde said to his fellow graduates.
Otayde graduated with an associate in arts degree in political science and said that he will be continuing his education at University of California Berkeley.
In his speech he expressed his gratitude for the faculty and staff at Foothill and the importance that public education played in not only his life, but in many lives that have faced social and economic adversity.
"Public education gave me the tools for social mobility and success," he said, mentioning the importance of "ladders of mobility" that public institutions such as Foothill offer students of all socio-economic backgrounds. "Faculty and staff did not let these ladders fail and they did not let these ladders break."
Otayde emphasized the importance of giving back to institutions like Foothill now that he and his fellow graduates are "the leaders of the future."
"It is now our turn to step up to the plate," he said.
This same message was echoed by Keynote speaker Ross Mayfield, who attended Foothill in 1988 and graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor of arts degree in political science. Since graduating from college, Mayfield went on to become an active Internet entrepreneur, starting several successful business developments such as SlideShare and Socialtext.
"Find ways if you can to give back as much as you can," he told the graduates.
Beyond giving back, Mayfield called for each graduate to be bold and take risks.
"Always take risks, always be thinking about what you could do differently, even if it scares you," he said.
With risk-taking comes failure, Mayfield said, and he urged graduates to embrace it.
"You need to learn to love failure," he said. "Open your eyes a little bit beyond what is put before you."
Faculty speaker Dr. Robert Hartwell, who teaches music at Foothill, inspired laughter as well as applause from the graduates and their supporters.
"For many of you, coming to Foothill College was a leap of faith, and now you are taking that leap again. The college is asking you to take advice from someone in a baby blue outfit," he said, motioning to his traditional robes.
Hartwell earned his bachelor's degree in piano performance from Sonoma State University, his master's degree in music history from San Francisco State University and his doctorate in music education from Columbia University.
And yet, he said he felt as though he has not achieved all that he had wanted in his life.
Hartwell said he did not want to give the same overused reasons for graduates to seize the day, but that the sentiment was still important.
"While you sit here, thinking you have 70 years, the truth is it might be 70 seconds," he said, using the example of meteors hurtling through Earth's orbit.
He stayed with the scientific theme throughout his speech, also explaining to the graduates that they possessed atomic particles from great historical figures such as the Buddha and Beethoven. He also confessed that each graduate held some atoms from past criminals and Dodger fans, to the crowd's laughter.
"Congratulate the person next to you," he told graduates. "And sense those Buddha atoms."
Hartwell ended his speech by thanking the graduates for sharing their new perspectives and original thoughts with the world, saying that those innovations rescue the world from the narrowing of age and the fear of change.
"The fact that we've taught each other is education at its best," Hartwell said, giving all the graduates their last assignment: "Have the best life that you possibly can ... no late work will be accepted."