After a three-year absence, pomp and pageantry returned to Tarrant County College’s Commencement May 19 and 20 with 2,158 students crossing the Fort Worth Convention Center stage to accept congratulations.
There had been no ceremony in 2020 because of the pandemic, and the 2021 and 2022 versions amounted to Commencement Lite with little or no fanfare.
This 54th Commencement, however, was a return to the traditional — the ceremonial mace, the entry of the faculty and students to the strains of Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” march, the gonfalon banners designating the various degrees and certificates to be awarded, and the mass moving of mortar board tassels from right to left denoting the official awarding.
The number of students attending required three ceremonies — one Friday night for TCC Northeast and Northwest graduates, one Saturday morning for TCC Trinity River and TCC Connect, and Saturday afternoon for TCC South and Southeast.
While it was hardly a tradition, having started in 2019, the faculty continued to play greater roles. James Gleaton, chair-elect of the faculty leaders group, carried the mace, and Chair Shewanda Riley presided instead of a campus president. Campus presidents did, however spell Chancellor Elva Leblanc in greeting each graduate.
The statistics were impressive. Students who attended represented fewer than half the total graduates since TCC formally awards degrees only at the end of the spring semester. That number, encompassing, summer and fall of 2022 plus spring of 2023, was 7,454. Of these, 538 were students from TCC’s early college high schools who received their college and high school diplomas at the same time.
Commencement, however, is about quality, not quantity. Riley set the tone in her opening remarks, quoting from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” She then went on to urge the graduates to “take strength from what you’ve accomplished here at TCC and let it guide you forward.”
If any of the graduates needed role models, they were present in the next two speakers — Board of Trustees President Teresa Ayala and Chancellor LeBlanc, both TCC alumna. Ayala encouraged the audience to “never stop learning. Continued learning broadens your horizons and gives you the confidence and tools to make the impossible possible.
“No matter what is ahead, you are prepared,” LeBlanc said. “Whatever brought you to TCC and whatever your plans for the future, this has been a life-changing journey.”
Students were a prominent part of the ceremonies with students delivering the keynote remarks. It has been 10 years since TCC had a student as keynote speaker. A different student spoke at each ceremony this year. Each of the student speakers acknowledged the changes within themselves.
“I came to TCC and people I didn’t know were there to help me the whole way. If I am graduating from TCC today, it’s due to the fact that I had support from amazing faculty and staff as well as friends and family,” Daniel Vargas said. “TCC helped me helped me find my purpose and helped me define my future, and I hope that they did the same thing for everyone here.”
Jamea Johnson admitted that all she initially wanted out of TCC was to earn her prerequisites to transfer to a four-year school. Her plan was to “keep my head down, stay out of the way and knock out my prerequisites without bothering to get involved on campus” and concentrate on getting a university scholarship. She was persuaded, however, to run for a Student Government Association office that led, among many other things, to visiting the legislature in Austin to feeding giraffes at the Fort Worth Zoo.
“Why am I telling you this,” she said. “If any of the things I’ve mentioned interests you, I want you to know that just by attending TCC, you already have the necessary tools to go and get those things.”
Finances were important to Tamia Johnson when she was considering colleges. She wanted to honor her promise to her grandparents to receive a higher education. “Who knew it would come with little to no debt,” she said. She also shared that she will be going to the University of North Texas in the fall thanks to a scholarship.
Being involved at TCC also mattered to Tamia. “The hidden gem that got me through my two years at TCC was getting involved, whether it was joining student organizations, working as a student employee or just going to the Math Tutoring Lab. Not my favorite place personally!” she laughed. “You are always connected and build a bond between your peers, TCC staff or faculty, which later turns into family. That being said, ‘You belong here.’”