Graduates Honored in packed ceremony


Denis Perez / The Advocate

EOPS students braved unseasonably warm weather to share experiences and receive accommodations from counselors during the EOPS/CARE/CalWORKs Graduation Celebration Friday in the Amphitheater.

By Benjamin Bassham, News Editor

A crowd filed into the Student and Administration Building’s Amphitheater to take in the sun and drifting particles of seed-fluff floating in from the stretch of Rheem Creek by the Library and Learning Resource Center.

George Mills, EOPS/CARE/CalWORKs manager, said, “Yeah, it’s a little bit toasty out here, but we’ll make it work.”

It was Friday and the 15th Annual Student Recognition Reception for EOPS/CARE and CalWORKs.

Mills said the ceremony honored the students participating in those programs who had earned one or more of various scholarships, associate of arts degrees and certificates of completion or achievement.

About 70 showed up to receive their recognition in person, and a selection of certificates, medallions, EOPS branded stoles.

A supply of paper umbrellas and straw hats were thoughtfully provided to alleviate the heat.

EOPS Coordinator Dionne Perez said, “I’ll claim that. I ordered them (the umbrellas).”

Some of the 45 scholarship earners had attended a similar ceremony in the Knox Center, giving collegewide recognition of scholarships.

Perez said this ceremony has never graced the Knox Center, come rain or heat. “We never had the audience (to use the Knox Center). We couldn’t fill the theater.”

But the audience waited patiently, crowded under whatever shade they could find.

As Perez said, this was an audience of family and friends.

Keynote speaker Domonique Lynn Ousborn, a 2014 EOPS graduate, flew back from New York University to address the crowd.

She said, “I am a product of the southside of Richmond.” She said she was the first in her family to complete college, and she barely graduated high school.

“I was called here to plant a seed that I believe will inspire you to continue to move forward in life. No matter how sour the lemons, at least try to make something that resembles lemonade.”

She detailed her journey away from, then back to college.

“I had heard of the EOPS Office from a classmate. She shared if I go to three counseling appointments a semester, they will give you a book voucher. That was enticing because paying $80 for a book was expensive,” she said.

Partway through her iPad, sitting on the sunny podium, overheated and shut down, so she proceeded from memory.

“Reflecting back to the moments I sat in Ms. Perez office, I know now I was afraid of taking a chance on myself. It was Dr. (Vern) Cromartie, professor (Barbara) McClain, professor (Carolyn) Hodge, Ms. Perez and countless others who spoke over my life that has me here today.”

UC Davis student Nicholas Kavuma, a former CalWORKs/EOPS student, elected to set aside his own iPad in solidarity with Ousborn.

He said, “Last year I was where you guys are sitting. We all have different whys (reasons we are here).”

He enrolled at Contra Costa College and was introduced to EOPS. In 2017 he lost his apartment.

“I became homeless,” he said. But CalWORKs makes it possible to succeed.

“The counselors made me believe I could do it. Contra Costa prepares us to be resilient. The struggle out there is for the fittest. If you are not fit, you will not survive.”