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Arizona Western College Commencement Speaker Describes Transition to Online Learning

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Olivia Garcia, Arizona Western College's 2020 commencement speaker.

Friday is Arizona Western College’s commencement day. But instead of a packed stadium at Gila Ridge High School cheering on graduates in their maroon caps and gowns, this year’s ceremony will be celebrated virtually, with graduates watching a livestream at home with loved ones.

AWC President Dr. Daniel Corr announced March 17 that the school would be moving to online education though the end of the spring semester, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the few AWC officials who have remained on campus say they miss the noise of students and the way things were.  (Don't we all?)

On April 15, Dr. Corr announced the virtual commencement ceremony and that day has come. Olivia Garcia is the 2020 Student Commencement Speaker. 

AWC officials said a commencement speaker committee solicits recommendations from staff and faculty for students who demonstrated the college’s mission of transforming lives and the values of agility, passion, transparency, unity and empowerment. This year, the committee received 10 recommendations and, upon meeting the graduation requirements, nine candidates were invited to submit a short commencement speech.

When college officials announced a transition from in-person classes to online learning, Garcia said there was a learning curve for her and her fellow students.

“It’s been a little crazy, not gonna lie," Garcia told KAWC. "Switching to online classes, it was definitely a little harder in the beginning but I ended up setting up a schedule for myself and my little sister and brother are home so we all kind of do all our school work at the same time, just to make sure we’re all staying on track. Especially because this is the last semester and I just want to finish it off strong.” 

Garcia is a graduate from the AWC Honors Program and an active member of student government as the Vice President of Development. She also is one of the first graduates from the Yuma Educational Success (YES) Program, a mentorship program for graduates of high schools in Yuma County who will attend the Yuma campus of Northern Arizona University. The YES program, which is funded by the Helios Foundation Program, is geared towards first-generation Latinx college students. About 80 AWC students were served by the program this school year.

Garcia said she and her friends studied together and motivated each other on Facetime while also communicating with professors.

"Everyone's been doing a great job to get through this together," she said.

Garcia will major in psychology and minor in U.S.-Mexico border social work in the fall at NAU Yuma.

During a normal graduation year, there would be more than 400 graduates that cross the stage for the AWC graduation. 

Tonight, there will be about 280, according to Dr. Corr, because several have chosen not to participate in the virtual graduation. 

Graduates from the University of Arizona, Yuma; Arizona State University, Yuma and Northern Arizona University Yuma are also honored at the AWC commencement each year.

Friday's commencement begins at 7 p.m. It can be seen on AWC's Facebook page, online here, and on cable on AWC TV Channel 74. 

Victor is originally from West Sacramento, California and has lived in Arizona for more than five years. He began his print journalism career in 2004 following his graduation from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Victor has been a reporter for the following daily newspapers: The Monterey County Herald, The Salinas Californian and the Reno Gazette-Journal, where he covered stories including agriculture, education and Latino community news. Victor has also served as a local editor for Patch, a national news organization with hyperlocal websites, in Carmichael, California in the Sacramento area. He also served as the editor for The New Vision, the newspaper for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, which includes Yuma and La Paz counties. Victor lives in Somerton. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends and following most sports.
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