I was honored to give a speech at the inaugural graduation ceremony at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College. I thought I’d share it with my readers.
Hello, graduates of the Merced College Los Banos Campus! It is such a pleasure and privilege to say that.
It’s a pleasure because I’ve waited for 51 years to be able to give that greeting. It’s a privilege because I was asked to speak to you today at the very first graduation ceremony on this campus. I’m grateful to President Vitelli for giving me that honor, and for reminding me of my strict time limit.
Today, graduates, I want to talk about dreams — -the dreams people had over the years for a college campus in Los Banos and the dreams you have for your future. I think they have much in common.
The Los Banos Campus started with a dream, or maybe “vision” is a better word, which would also be true of your dreams. They are not fantasies, but visions of what your life can truly become.
The vision for a college campus in Los Banos began with Dr. Lowell Barker, the first president of Merced College, who helped create the campus in Merced when it started in 1962.
Prior to 1971, Los Banos and Dos Palos were not in the Merced Community College District. They were considered open territory, and students living in these communities could go anywhere. In the 1960’s some students went to Merced College, some to Modesto Junior College, some to Gavilan College in Gilroy.
Dr. Barker had a vision that a satellite college center in Los Banos could draw more students to Merced College. If it did succeed, in a few years the people on the Westside of Merced County might vote to join the Merced Community College District.
He convinced Ted McVey, then Dean of Evening Instruction in Merced, to become the first dean in Los Banos. And then the two of them decided not to call it a center (even though it was in educational terms an off-campus center), but a campus, an equally legitimate term which more clearly identifies the facility as a college.
That was their vision, their dream. But—and this is a BIG but—both President Barker and Dean McVey understood that the only way to make the dream of a successful Los Banos Campus into a reality was hard work.
They took a budgetary risk and hired a full-time campus secretary and five full-time faculty, and I was honored to be among them. These faculty members needed to work alongside Dean McVey to create a schedule of classes that would be appealing.
And the schedule had to appeal not just to young people coming out of high school, but to older adults in Los Banos, from age 21 to 81, who over the years didn’t have the opportunity to attend college. Not everyone could make the 40-mile drive to Merced, and there was no county bus service then.
When the campus opened in 1971, the college administration was pleased that it had 400 students taking day and evening classes, but President Barker and Dean McVey and the Los Banos Campus faculty and staff knew they had to continue to build on that to sustain the campus.
Ted built a home in Los Banos, to let folks know he was serious, and all the faculty and staff worked to connect themselves with the community.
Two years later that work paid off, when citizens of Merced and Dos Palos voted to join the Merced Community College District. Dreams can become a reality if you put in the work.
And then came hard times. In 1978, Proposition 13 was passed in California. It had some positive effects, but one negative effect was to drastically reduce funding for community colleges. By then Dr. Barker had retired and the new Merced College president didn’t think much of the Los Banos Campus.
Those hard times required more hard work, primarily from the three full-time faculty who remained in Los Banos. Dean McVey had been transferred to Merced, and so had the two other faculty members.
But the three faculty who stayed (there was no longer an on-site dean) worked very hard, and the community supported them with equal determination. A Los Banos resident, Richard Menezes, stepped forward and donated ten acres of land on Mercey Springs Road, which then, a few years later, became the site of a new campus consisting of modular buildings.
But the dream didn’t end there. There was still a vision for a larger campus with permanent buildings. This time the dream was pursued by Dr. Ben Duran, who had become the college’s president in 1998. He was able to persuade Larry and Georgeann Anderson to donate 120 acres of property on West Pacheco Boulevard for that campus.
Then came more hard work. The college needed to have a bond passed that would provide permanent buildings on that site. Dr. Duran created a bond measure that would apply only to the Westside of the county, primarily the cities of Los Banos and Dos Palos.
Then came more hard work. Everyone connected with the Los Banos Campus, beginning with Dean Anne Newins, on their own free time, during evenings and weekends over many months, worked hard to explain to Westside residents why the bond was important and what it could do for the college and the community. The hard work paid off. The bond passed in 2002 with a big majority.
Then came more hard work, with staff at the Los Banos and Merced campuses collaborating with the architects to design the campus and then later working long hours with the contractor.
The permanent campus opened in 2007, on time and on budget, and thanks to all that hard work, here we are today, on the quad of this campus.
And the dream, the vision, goes on. Dr. Vitelli and the Board of Trustees, including Joe Gutiérrez who represents the Westside on the board, have a vision of the Los Banos Campus expanding.
They have already put in the hard work to add a child development center, which will open this fall, and to add more career courses in disciplines like computer science and agriculture. The Los Banos ag program will be helped with the investment the District is making in rejuvenating the campus’s food forest.
Dean Jessica Moran, the faculty, and the staff of the Los Banos Campus, in conjunction with administration, faculty and staff of the Merced Campus, will be working hard to make this happen. Dean Moran, a superb leader, has the talent and work ethic to provide the leadership to move the campus forward with vigor.
And so, the beat goes on. The dream goes on. And the hard work goes on to make the dream of a bigger and better campus a reality.
Graduates, I hope you take the story of the Merced College Los Banos Campus as an inspiration for each of your lives. Dream big. Have a vision for your life that will bring you fulfillment not just in a career but in life. Use the support of others along the way. But–and again this is a big but — be prepared to do the hard work that’s required to make your dream, your vision a reality.
And when hard times come, don’t give up. Keep pushing. Believe in yourselves.
You have already proven you can work hard. And my guess is that many of you have also had to overcome hard times.
Each of you has benefited from the knowledge and support of this campus’s dedicated faculty and staff, as well as your family and fellow students. And you have already achieved success by earning your associate’s degree.
Therefore, I am confident, I am extremely confident, that you WILL succeed. I believe in each and every one of you. And I know you will continue to dream big, work hard, and make your own vision become a remarkable reality.