Mt. San Jacinto College Celebrates “A Legacy of Transformation” at the 2024 Commencement 

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Two prestigious national scholarship recipients, a veteran re-entering the workforce, and a proud mother and her son were among the record-number of graduates who participated in the Mt. San Jacinto College commencement ceremony on Thursday at Pechanga Resort Casino.  

Jesus Piedra (center), who attends Mt. San Jacinto College’s Temecula Valley Campus, beams with pride as he sits with fellow members of the MSJC Class of 2024. Two ceremonies were held Thursday, May 23, at Pechanga Resort Casino.

Caris Sandino, 28, of Beaumont, was one of the two MSJC graduates to receive the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholarship. The coveted scholarship was awarded to only 60 students across the nation. She said joining the MSJC Honors Enrichment Program was one of the best decisions she’s made.  

“I am really happy with my experience at MSJC,” Sandino said. “It helped me grow personally and academically as well.” 

Caris Sandino (center) of Beaumont receives help getting her cap on as she prepares to graduate at Mt. San Jacinto College’s 2024 graduation held Thursday, May 23, at Pechanga Resort Casino. Sandino was one of two students from MSJC to receive the prestigious national Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholarship in 2024.

Of the 2,183 students earning degrees and certificates this year, 974 graduates walked in one of two ceremonies, marking the highest number of students to date participating in commencement. The MSJC Class of 2024 earned a total of 2,848 degrees and certificates, as some students earn more than one degree, certificate or a combination of both.  

The ceremony honored the college district’s 60th anniversary with the theme “A Legacy of Transformation.” MSJC began its anniversary celebration in the 2023-24 academic year to mark the 1963 opening of the college. Its first graduating class was celebrated in 1965, with a total of eight students.  

Sandino came to the U.S. from Nicaragua when she was 11 with her mother and is the first in her family to graduate from college. She founded MSJC’s Eagles DREAMers Club, which provides a safe space for undocumented students to network, advocate, and get the support they need to succeed.  

Caris Sandino of Beaumont (center), one of two MSJC students to receive the prestigious national Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholarship in 2024, laughs with friends before Mt. San Jacinto College’s 2024 graduation begins. Two ceremonies were held Thursday, May 23, at Pechanga Resort Casino. Sandino was one of two students from MSJC to receive the prestigious national Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholarship in 2024.

“Launching Eagles DREAMers has been one of the most personally meaningful accomplishments in my college journey,” Sandino said. “It’s been an incredible privilege to advocate for and support our undocumented student community, knowing that our efforts have the power to impact lives and foster inclusivity within our college community.”  

Her leadership and hard work in the classroom helped her earn the Cooke scholarship.  Sandino will transfer to the University of California, Berkeley to major in business administration.  

Temecula resident Joseph Awad, who served as Student Trustee this past year at MSJC, was the second MSJC graduate to receive the Cooke scholarship in 2024. Awad will transfer to the University of California, Los Angeles to major in psychology.  

Mt. San Jacinto College Student Trustee Joseph Awad, of Temecula, waits for the college district’s 2024 graduation ceremony to begin. Two ceremonies were held Thursday, May 23, at Pechanga Resort Casino. Awad was one of two students from MSJC to receive the prestigious national Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholarship in 2024.

Like Sandino, Awad joined the Honors Enrichment Program and was recognized for several significant research projects, including an Outstanding Abstract award from the Honors Transfer Council of California’s Research Conference held at University of California, Riverside in April for his research on “Contextualizing the Lived Experiences of Queer Arabs: Understanding the Dimensions & Manifestations of Fear.”  

Caris Sandino of Beaumont (center), one of two MSJC students to receive the prestigious national Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholarship in 2024, chats with friends Marvin Steven Chamul (left) and Angelina McCarron (right) before Mt. San Jacinto College’s 2024 graduation begins. Two ceremonies were held Thursday, May 23, at Pechanga Resort Casino. Sandino was one of two students from MSJC to receive the prestigious national Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholarship in 2024.

Awad, 20, said his experiences and success seem surreal given his background as a self-described “first-generation, queer, Arab immigrant, wannabe college student.” He credited his success to his mentors and “many kind souls at MSJC.” 

“I hope the past three years of my life can show how much you can change somebody’s life by investing in them and their story, and for that I’ll always be grateful,” Awad said.  

Lake Elsinore residents Eric Ellis, 35, and his wife, Carolyn Ellis, 38, celebrated a milestone as they crossed the stage together. Eric, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, plans to become a social worker to support fellow veterans in their mental health journeys. 

Eric Ellis takes a selfie of he and his wife, Carolyn, at Mt. San Jacinto College’s 2024 commencement held on Thursday, May 23 at Pechange Resort Casino. The Lake Elsinore couple both received degrees from MSJC.

Carolyn plans to transfer to Loma Linda University to become a surgical technician.  

“MSJC provided all the building blocks we needed to reach our goals and have meaningful careers,” Carolyn Ellis said. 

Carolyn Ellis (right) puts the Veterans sash on her husband, Eric, as they prepare to walk in Mt. San Jacinto College’s 2024 commencement held on Thursday, May 23 at Pechange Resort Casino. The Lake Elsinore couple both receivied degrees from MSJC.

Jilema Silver, 44, of San Jacinto, said she was proud to graduate MSJC with her son, Cameron Britt, 23. Silver said she started pursuing a degree in business, but through her work at MSJC’s Veterans Resource Center, she decided to receive a second degree in psychology so she could help others. In addition, Silver served as the vice president of the Student Government Association, went to a conference in Washington, D.C. and learned how important it was to “speak up on matters.”  

Jilema Silver (right) and her son Cameron Britt (left), of San Jacinto, have a laugh as they prepare to graduate together at Mt. San Jacinto College’s 2024 graduation held Thursday, May 23, at Pechanga Resort Casino. Silver served as student speaker for the morning ceremony.

“I love MSJC,” Silver said before the ceremony. “I love everything that it’s done for me, [and] the professors and I just grew as a person.” 

Silver is transferring to California State University, San Bernardino and said her son is already earning money with his degree in digital media, serving in a paid internship through the city of Menifee. 

Silver served as a student speaker during the morning graduation ceremony. She thanked her son for sharing in the journey, faculty for their support, and peers for becoming friends and companions.  

Jilema Silver, 44, of San Jacinto, encourages her fellow classmates to hold their heads high during Mt. San Jacinto College’s 2024 graduation held Thursday, May 23, at Pechanga Resort Casino. Silver served as student speaker for the first of two ceremonies.

“As we step out into the world, let us do so with heads held high, knowing that the legacy of transformation we leave behind will continue to inspire and uplift others for generations to come,” Silver told the Class of 2024. “I leave you with these final words: Remember you can do anything and everything – except give up.” 

Family and friends display their pride for Mt. San Jacinto College graduates during two commencement ceremonies celebrating the Class of 2024. The graduation ceremonies were held Thursday, May 23, at Pechanga Resort Casino.

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