College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | Celebrate the class of 2023

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, May 11, 2023 - 1:30pm

Every August there is optimism. A great optimism. As a community, we have enjoyed a warm summer and a foggy August and tried to take advantage of fun opportunities here and elsewhere. Sometimes it is simply a BBQ with family and friends. Sometimes it might be the trip of a lifetime to someplace far away.

As a campus, every August brings a different type of optimism. It is the belief that we will succeed in our purpose, and help students complete their degrees. That optimism includes the knowledge that an academic year is long, challenging, filled with moments of stress, apprehension, doubt, and all the things that make a university different. There are hopes, call them dreams, that students will overcome all the hurdles in front of them, our workforce will be civil to one another, and the campus will thrive as a community leader.

Every May we realize that what we hoped would happen in August has come true. May is now. This week, thousands of enthusiastic parents, grandparents, and other family members are visiting the North Coast. It’s likely you have noticed. I encourage you to welcome them and enjoy this special time with them.

On Saturday, these families and others will be filled with pride as we celebrate nearly 2,000 graduates who have completed their degrees and credentials over the last year.

This rite of passage is the No. 1 most significant activity at any university. It is formal and emotional, and it is very different from the other experiences a student has in college. It is meant to grab the focus of the new graduate along with their families and friends, punctuating the importance of what has been achieved.

Many of these graduates have worked and raised families while earning their degrees. Nearly half are the first in their family to earn a college degree. In many cases, they have met their life partner while in college (1 in 12 Humboldt graduates are married to a Humboldt graduate). They may even end up being your long-time neighbors, as about 10,000 Humboldt alumni live in our region — in addition to 7,000 students and campus employees.

For me, and I know this is true for many of my colleagues, the commencement ceremony is the highlight of our work and one of my favorite days. Commencement showcases our graduates, our faculty, and our alumni with pride, and it highlights society’s aspirations for a better world. Graduates also represent our success, as both a university and as a broader community, and they are our way of sending hope out into the world. When a Humboldt student graduates, it means that a great number of people and efforts came together successfully.

The events will be marked by smiles and tears. As president, I get a special view of all of it, and I see in each family member the relief, the pride, the hope, and the sense of accomplishment for their student. I see the impact of a lifetime’s investment in hoping their child will walk across that stage as a college graduate. As each graduate’s name is read, I see their excitement mixed with nervousness as they walk across the stage to receive their diploma and to shake my hand.

These graduates will now represent just 7% of people across the world who can call themselves college graduates. In my remarks, I will share with the graduates a little about the tremendous responsibility that entails.

Recognizing how important this experience is to the graduates and their families, we’ve added a new option this year so that even more can participate. We will be hosting our first-ever regional commencement ceremony on May 15 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Many members of the platform (on-stage) party, a group of faculty, and a small group of support staff will be there to recognize graduates with a ceremony and reception. This is part of a broader effort to increase participation, which has included adding a fall commencement ceremony for graduates who complete their degrees in the middle of the year.

In addition to this year’s graduates, we will honor a number of other special individuals at the ceremonies. Dr. Jorge Matias, who has spent decades as a community health worker and advocate in our area, will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, becoming one of just 14 recipients of this honor in Humboldt’s history. Dr. Jason Ramos, Tribal Administrator for Blue Lake Rancheria and an alumnus who has been an amazing partner with Humboldt over the years, will serve as our alumni speaker at the campus ceremonies. At our upcoming regional ceremony, the alumni speaker will be Robin Smith, a proud alumna who supports Humboldt in many ways including through her current service as Chair of the Cal Poly Humboldt Foundation.

At one of the campus ceremonies, there will also be a small group sitting in the front row wearing golden robes — they are Golden Graduates who earned their degrees at Humboldt 50+ years ago.

The Humboldt commencement is cause for broad celebration. Our graduates are entrepreneurs. They will lead communities, schools, industries, churches, and governments. They are innovators. They will create businesses, inventions, and systems that better the lives of others. Our graduates are passionate. They will fight for justice, help those in need, and compassionately guide and support those around them. They will make the world better. Our graduates are Humboldt County and represent the absolute best we, as a campus, have to offer. Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.