Community unites to celebrate accomplishments, inspiration


Efrain Valdez / The Advocate

Attendees congratulate Chancellor Helen Benjamin on her storied work history with the Contra Costa Community College District during the Helen Benjamin Retirement Celebration on Wednesday.

By Roxana Amparo, Editor-in-Chief

Faculty and staff offered warm goodbyes to Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor Helen Benjamin in the Fireside Hall on Wednesday.

After 26 years at the district, serving CCC, Los Medanos College and Diablo Valley College, Dr. Benjamin is set to retire on Dec. 31.

“We all know why Helen chose education; it’s for students. And her entire focus has remained on students for the last 40 years that she has served in education, 26 years here with us,” President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said.

Benjamin thanked the room full of faculty, staff and students for giving her the opportunity to work here for all of these years.

“I couldn’t stay married for long, but I stayed in this job for 26 years with one employer. That’s pretty amazing. All of you helped to make that possible.”

While Benjamin spoke in front of her community, she noticed her daughter Tracy in the crowd and invited her to stand next to her.

Benjamin said her children have sacrificed so much having a mother who works and is as committed as her. “The children pay the price, and that’s why I want her standing because this is a celebration for my children and for me as well.”

Benjamin said she appreciates her celebration but feels it is not just for her, but for everyone.

“We all did it together, through the good and the bad and helping each other. We all have the same goal in mind and that was to transform the lives of students.”

Vice President Tammeil Gilkerson said since 1972, Benjamin has served as an educator in secondary and higher education and has consistently demonstrated her passion about student success and creating educational environments that are conducive to learning through her direct teaching in the classroom, and through statewide and national advocacy.

Benjamin said, “If you are the same at the end of a class, as you were at the beginning, we need to give you a refund because a change should take place, even if you don’t finish the whole semester.”

Benjamin said education changed her life and is why she is so involved in making sure, like every other member of the faculty or staff at the ceremony, that change happens to people who go through education.

ASU President Safi Ward-Davis said Benjamin has made her realize that she is a “little, brown girl” that has accomplished so much in her education and thanked Benjamin for her inspiration.

“As students we are able to reach all of our goals because we have great leadership. All the way from our professors to our college presidents and to our chancellor, and for that we are eternally grateful, and you will be missed,” Ward-Davis said.

A group of faculty wearing wigs and costumes surprised Benjamin with a performance, dancing to “Believe” by Cher, while holding cutouts of Benjamin’s face.

Another goodbye came from managers and staff through a video introduced by Academic Senate President Beth Goehring.

In the video, individuals from different CCC departments shared a few words wishing Benjamin an eventful retirement with many trips and vacations.

District Trustee John Marquez said, “Tonight I want to say to you, Dr. Benjamin, that I am sad to see you leave because I met you back in the mid 90s in CCC when I was teaching La Raza studies and I got to know you better when I came on the board in 2010. I always marveled at the leadership that you demonstrated, not only locally, statewide but nationwide.”

Distance Education Coordinator Judy Flum said, “It was very warm and heartfelt, just how Contra Costa College feels. She (Benjamin) was our president and district chancellor and was great at both things.”

“The district is going to miss her,” former CCC President McKinley Williams said.