94th Commencement Ceremony
Yakima Valley College graduates along with their families and friends celebrated their achievements during the 94th Commencement Ceremony held June 16 at the Yakima Valley SunDome. The annual occasion honors the completion of degrees, the achievement of long-awaited goals and is a culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice.
2023 Graduating Class
The graduating class of 2023 included 843 students ranging in age 18 to 50+. Ten of the students are veterans and 162 are Running Start students, simultaneously earning their high school diploma and an associate degree. The college awarded a total of 912 degrees and certificates including bachelor of applied science degrees, transfer degrees, professional/technical degrees and certificates.
Yakima Valley College was honored to have Paul Francis speak at its 94th Commencement Ceremony. Francis is executive director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), a state agency that oversees Washington’s system of 34 community and technical colleges. Collectively, the colleges serve 262,000 students across Washington each year.
“Yakima Valley College has been a pillar of the community for 95 years,” said Francis. “Every day, students, faculty and staff breathe life into the college, creating a vibrancy of which they — alongside its alumni, families and communities — may be proud. As beacons of light and hope, Yakima Valley College graduates will take the knowledge and skills gained here to change their worlds and ours.”
He commended the strength of graduates, especially those who are the first in their families to attend college.
“I’ve seen students dig deep with every fiber of their being to overcome overwhelming adversity to achieve the American dream,” said Francis, who immigrated to the U.S. himself. “Like many of you, I was the first in my family to go to college.”
Francis went on to share his own story of growing up poor with a mother with mental health issues and being abandoned at a young age by his father.
“I share those personal details because education forever changed the trajectory of my life and the life of my family,” he said. “And I know that whatever your personal background is, the certificates of degrees you are receiving today are not just congratulatory paperwork. They testified to real personal strength and real, tangible skills that will make a real difference for the people you love, for your community, the state and our world. Perhaps now more than ever your certificate or degree is also proof of your ability to be strong and resilient in the face of worldwide change.”
Francis also encouraged graduates that they are in a prime position to help effect change.
“Just when the world seems to be crumbling around us, people who care about service, community and humanity — students like you class of 2023 — aspire to pick up the pieces. Meet the moment. And build something better.”
Finally, Francis noted that this year’s graduating class can look to the future with confidence, equipped with an education that enables them to adapt to and influence an ever-changing world.
“The skills you learn here at Yakima Valley College will play out in ways you may have never imagined, throughout all phases of your life,” he said. “You will make mistakes from time to time, but take a deep breath and learn from each mistake and recalibrate and possess the self-confidence to know that you are on the right track and will get to where you want to be.”
Francis became SBCTC executive director in August 2022 after nine years as executive director of the Council of Presidents, an association of Washington’s six public four-year colleges and universities. He previously served as the lead policy staffer for the Washington state House Democratic Caucus on higher education policy and general government fiscal issues, and as a senior admissions counselor with the University of Washington.
Francis graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arizona with a political science degree. He then earned a master of public administration from the university. In 2019, he completed the senior executives in state and local government program through the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Student Commencement Speaker
Graduates were also addressed by graduate Abigail Moran, who completed her associate in transfer degree. After learning about the opportunities available for high school students at Yakima Valley College, Moran enrolled in the Running Start program and focused her goals on earning a two-year degree while in high school.
“I had always known I wanted to pursue higher education, especially being first-generation. I wanted to carve the path for my younger family members to see that it was possible, while also making come true the dreams my immigrant parents couldn’t,” says Moran. “That was why when I heard about Running Start from my counselor, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to begin my dream early.”
Despite having to attend her first year completely online due to the COVID 19 pandemic, Moran quickly fell in love with college life.
“Even when my only connection was through a laptop screen, I felt the welcoming and passionate environment of the college. This led me to want to become a part of the community in a deeper way,” she said.
It was this passion that led Moran to apply to become part of the Associated Students of Yakima Valley College — being selected to serve as the public relations and marketing officer for the 2022-23 academic year.
“With my position I was given the chance to give back to the very community that welcomed me, and hopefully help others feel that as well. I wanted to spread and pass on what the college gave to me, while also being able to be their voice in larger areas. It was an amazing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life,” she concluded.
In her address at Commencement, Moran shared a heartfelt thank you to the audience and reminded everyone how important support systems are.
“I can confidently speak on behalf of all the graduates when I say we would not be here without all of those who celebrate with us today. We did not make it here alone, for all of you were on the same journey with us watching from the outside, encouraging us in the difficult moments, and scolding some of us when we got out of hand. For that we thank you.”
She also recognized the many fellow graduates who, like her, made sacrifices and overcame great challenges while earning their degree or certificate.
“I am sure we all faced moments … where we questioned our life decisions. Questioned if the time spent on homework instead of with our families was worth it. But we stuck with it, life kept going and we kept living. At one point everyone here today made the decision to attend Yakima Valley College. In the one life we have, you chose to live your experience here. You chose to take it on and all that came with it.”
In the fall she will attend the University of Washington and pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
It is through the generosity and commitment of others that Yakima Valley College accomplishes extraordinary things. In this spirit, each year YVC selects individuals and organizations that demonstrate an unwavering commitment to advancing the YVC mission. The individuals are honored with awards during the commencement ceremony.
This year YVC honored retired YVC Chemistry Instructor Kathleen Ashworth with the Faculty Emeritus Award; Educational Service District 105 received the Distinguished Service Award; Letisha Peterson, general manager of Yakama Nation Legends Casino Hotel in Toppenish, was selected as the 2023 Distinguished Alumnus; and faculty member Peter Monahan received the Sherrie and Daryl Parker Faculty Award. The YVC Foundation selected Surgical Technology Instructor Libby McRae for the Robert M. Leadon Excellence in Teaching Award and Program Assistant Heather Lundquist for the Darlene Koch Classified Employee of the Year Award.