The Merced Community College District celebrated graduates from the Class of 2024 with a pair of commencement ceremonies last week.

“For many of you, tonight represents a better future, a prosperous beginning, a pathway out of poverty, and a stepping stone to your career or next pursuit in higher education,” President Chris Vitelli told the graduates. “It is my sincere hope that you leave here tonight not only proud of your personal achievements, but also with a sense of pride in your newest alma mater, Merced College.”

The Class of 2024 included many students who received special honors and were recognized during the commencement ceremonies, including:

• 42 students who earned Superintendent’s Honors by completing at least 36 units with a grade-point average of 4.0;
• 508 students graduating with Honors, having completed a minimum of 45 units with a GPA of 3.5 or better;
• 110 students earning membership in Phi Theta Kappa, the largest international honor society serving two-year colleges offering associate degrees;
• 25 students graduating as permanent members in Alpha Gamma Sigma, the California honor society for two-year colleges; and
• 2 students who earned membership in Lambda Nu, a national honor society for the radiologic and imaging sciences.

Los Banos Ceremony

More than 80 students participated in the second annual commencement ceremony at the Los Banos Campus on May 23. The keynote speaker was Joe G. Gutierrez, a Merced College trustee representing the Los Banos area.

Gutierrez, a Merced College alumnus and former adjunct instructor, encouraged graduates to persevere and pursue their dreams despite any obstacles they may face. He recounted his journey from working in the fields alongside his migrant farmworker parents to becoming a successful businessman and community leader.

“Life has a funny way of putting opportunities in front of you,” Gutierrez said. “If you work hard, people will notice. So, I challenge you to not stop, not settle for what you accomplish today. I challenge you to go further, reach higher. And in doing so, your tomorrow will be that much better!”

The student speaker for the Los Banos ceremony was Naybe Bustos, who recounted a pivotal moment when she faced a choice between attending a prestigious university or a community college. She chose Merced College, finding within its walls not only academic rigor but also a supportive community that helped her realize her dreams.

Bustos expressed gratitude for the exceptional resources and dedicated faculty at Merced College, and for the diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives of her peers, which enriched her experience. As she prepares to continue her academic journey at San Jose State University, she emphasized the importance of embracing new challenges and making a meaningful impact.

“Together, let us redefine what it means to succeed, to excel, to make a difference in this world,” Bustos said. “For in the end, it is not the opinions of others that shape our destiny, but the choices we make and the courage with which we embrace them.”



Merced Ceremony

At the main campus in Merced on May 24, more than 600 students crossed the stage in recognition of their academic accomplishments.

The keynote speaker for the Merced Campus ceremony was Judge Ana de Alba, currently serving on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge de Alba delivered a powerful speech reflecting on her family’s journey from working in the fields of California’s Central Valley to achieving academic and professional excellence.

She highlighted the significance of education and hard work, encouraging graduates to pursue their dreams and create opportunities for themselves and others.

“There are so many people here to cheer you on and who look up to you,” de Alba said. “Be kind. Answer questions. Guide others to have the success that you have had. Make sure to remember that not everyone starts off in the same place and with the same resources.”

Mariah Carrasco, student speaker for the Merced ceremony, spoke about the diverse and challenging experiences that each student faced, from balancing studies with jobs to caring for families, and how these experiences have prepared them for the future.

She encouraged her fellow graduates to carry forward the skills and resilience they developed at Merced College into their future endeavors, whether entering the workforce, continuing education, or embarking on new ventures.

“As you move forward, take with you not just the facts learned in textbooks, but the experiences that have shaped you,” Carrasco said. “Be leaders, not just in your workplaces, but in your communities. Speak up for what is right, stand firm against what is wrong, and be a beacon of change and progress.”