WEST VALLEY CITY — Graduates of Salt Lake Community College were encouraged to embrace diversity and become engaged in their communities during commencement ceremonies Friday.
SLCC's Class of 2017 featured graduates from 86 countries and 36 states, including graduates as young as 16 and as old as 80 and some 194 military veterans and 31 dependents of veterans. With 4,703 graduates it was also the largest graduating class for SLCC since its establishment in 1948.
Many of the commencement speakers emphasized the diversity of the student body during their remarks. It was a particularly important topic for Diane Guerrero, the keynote speaker.
Guerrero, who is well-known for her role as Maritza Ramos in the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black," shared her experiences as a child of Colombian immigrants to Boston.
"That fire that my parents lit inside of me to reach the American dream … that is why I am so passionate today about fighting for the things that I care about," she said.
Guerrero, whose parents were deported to Colombia when she was 14 and who has been an outspoken advocate for immigration reform, described her efforts to find a purpose outside of the arts.
Guerrero said she came to participate in what she saw as a "national struggle" for immigrants' rights. She said she decided to publicly share the story of her family's deportation in hopes of adding visibility to the issue. She also became involved with civic engagement groups that promote citizenship and help people with voter registration.
"As an advocate for social justice, I am handing you an assignment on your graduation day," she said. "Get involved and stay involved."
The ceremony took time to recognize graduates for their efforts in class while handling busy responsibilities outside of class.
About 70 percent of the graduating class graduated while working 30 hours or more per week.
Many of challenges faced and efforts made by the Class of 2017 where highlighted in the "graduates of excellence" — graduates who have been selected by the deans of their academic discipline both for their academic achievement and for their efforts outside of school to pursue success, often in spite of notable challenges.
Some of those graduates of excellence include:
• Jirapat Sakkaphun who returned to school in 2013 and at 80 years old, became a certified nursing assistant through SLCC.
• Brooke Baxter, who suffered through severe post-traumatic stress disorder and at times worked more than 60 hours per week while taking as many as 22 hours per semester to graduate in three semesters.
• Heather Lewis, a mother of three, who returned to school to pursue her dream of working in health care.
"I hope to be a strong example to my two daughters and show them that women, with or without children, can achieve their dreams," Lewis said.
Honorary doctorate degrees were awarded to H. Roger Boyer, chairman of the Boyer Co., and Judge Shauna Graves-Robertson, who has served on the Salt Lake County Justice Court since 1999.
Lisa Gough, president of Sysco, and Shawn Newell, vice president of business development for Industrial Supply Co., were also recognized as distinguished alumni.