Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Valencia College graduated its 200,000th alumni at the 53rd Annual Commencement Ceremony — our first in-person ceremony since 2019 — on Sunday, May 8, 2022, at the University of Central Florida’s Addition Financial Arena. The last graduate who crossed the stage, Wytosia McMillan, a Distinguished Graduate finalist, was surprised by a cheerful announcement about this historical moment.
The event continued to make history as this commencement celebrated more than 2,000 graduates from three classes — the Class of 2020, 2021 and 2022 — the culmination of two years of canceled in-person ceremonies due to the pandemic. Additionally, College President Kathleen Plinske presided over the ceremony for the first time as president, and it was the inaugural event for Valencia College’s new mascot: The Puma.
Kathleen celebrated by taking an on-stage selfie and showcasing her new pairs of kicks in honor of the new mascot.
“We are honored to recognize graduates from the Class of 2020, 2021, and 2022, today. This is a great day that many of you have patiently waited for, to celebrate your achievements. At Valencia, we believe that anyone can learn anything, under the right conditions. Valencia’s trustees, faculty, and staff have strived to provide the conditions that you needed to be successful in your journeys. We are so very proud of you for the perseverance and determination you have demonstrated to achieve your goals,” Kathleen said to the hundreds of eager students and cheerful families.
“Today, 174 Valencia students will graduate from the Seneff Honors College; they are easily recognized by the blue stoles they wear,” he said. “Many of these graduates have been accepted to transfer to universities throughout Florida and around the world, including the Burnett Honors College at the University of Central Florida, the University of London and Temple University.”
Although Valencia College reached its own milestones during the event, it was really about those made by each and every one of the students graduating that day. Leah Basaria, Valencia College’s 2022 Mary S. Collier Distinguished Graduate is one of those examples.
In her speech, Leah shared her inspiring story of how she dropped out of high school almost 20 years ago and came to Valencia after a family tragedy that changed the direction of her life.
“When I lost my brother-in-law in 2015 and mother-in-law in 2019, both to suicide, I decided to get my GED, hang up my non-slip hospitality shoes, immerse myself in academia and dedicate my success to them — Alikhan and Ma,” Leah explained.
At Valencia, Leah became an honors student and won several research and student of the year awards.
Although she’s married and has a 9-year-old son, Leah also stays busy at Valencia, where she works as a student CARE coach to help students and as an assistant to New Student Experience instructors and psychology professors.
“Speaking from my own experience on what will help you succeed in the future, I would say, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Talk to everyone, make connections, and get as many insights as you can from the brilliant people who surround you.”
Leah also recognized the four Distinguished Graduate finalists, Miranda Rublaitus, Zachary Onagoruwa, Hannah English and Wytosia McMillan and shared their insights with this year’s graduates.
At the end of the ceremony, graduates were presented with the very first Puma mascot gift, a special commemorative item to remember their time at Valencia.
The recorded ceremonies will be available on Monday, May 16, 2022, on Valencia’s main webpage.
In addition to commencement, Valencia honored graduates via Grad Finale events held in April, which gave students an opportunity to take photos wearing their regalia. Nearly 300 students attended the celebrations on the East, Osceola and West campuses on Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23, 2022.
Congratulations are also in order for our Valencia nursing students — 62 traditional and 22 accelerated track — who on Monday, May 2, 2022, were commended in a nurse pinning at Olympia High School.