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Old family traditions were celebrated Saturday morning alongside new legacies in higher education as Santa Rosa Junior College awarded diplomas to nearly 1,600 graduating students in an oak-studded glen on its main campus.

When Trenton Rackerby, 21, received his associate degree in computer science, he became the third generation of his Santa Rosa family to graduate from SRJC, after his father, grandfather and grandmother.

For Bundavie Chea, 27, who received a degree in criminal justice, that tradition began Saturday. He was the first college graduate in his family.

Rackerby plans to attend UC Davis, and Chea is expected to continue his studies at Sonoma State University in the fall.

The two students were among the 1,576 junior college graduates awarded associate degrees during the school’s 98th commencement ceremony, which drew more than 3,000 cheering family members and friends.

About a third of the students who completed their graduation requirements during the 2016-2017 school year attended the ceremony, SRJC spokeswoman Ellen Maremont Silver said.

Chea’s father, Brian Chea, a restaurant cook from Rohnert Park, came to the United States from Cambodia as a refugee in 1986. While attending SRJC, the younger Chea worked full-time as a security guard at the Graton Casino.

When asked about his son’s accomplishment, Chea became choked up.

“I’m so proud. I’m happy for my son,” Chea said shortly after his son was called up to receive his diploma.

Chuck Rackerby, Trenton’s father, who works as a project manager for Ghilotti Construction, earned a degree in construction management in 1986. His grandparents, Jack and Carole Rackerby, both met at SRJC and graduated from there in 1952.

The value of the campus as a local institution is unmistakable, Chuck Rackerby said.

“It’s the best school ever,” he said. “It’s like an Ivy League school.”

Trenton said he felt prepared academically to take on UC Davis.

“I feel like I learned quite a bit in the computer science field,” he said.

About 2,000 degrees were awarded Saturday. That’s more degrees than students because some, like Diana Lopez Rosillo, received multiple degrees.

Lopez graduated with high honors, earning degrees in business administration, social behavioral sciences and Spanish. Her family erupted proudly when her name was read by Ricardo Navarrette, emeritus vice president of student services. They said that she hardly had time to attend family events and parties because she was always studying.

“We would always save her a plate,” said Lopez’s cousin Rene Velarde of Santa Rosa.

During his opening remarks, SRJC President Frank Chong celebrated the school’s growing diversity and continued prestige, calling the 99-year-old institution a “truly international college.” He noted that graduates came from such countries as Brazil, the Bahamas, Sweden, Japan, China, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Tunisia and South Africa.

The average age of this year’s graduates was 27, with about a quarter over the age of 28. The youngest graduate is 17 and the oldest 74. Sixty-eight percent of the graduates are female.

Chong said he was confident the college had prepared each student with the tools necessary for them to become leaders in health care, education, business and environmental careers.

HALTER Honors the Heroes fundraising lunch

1-5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15

Atwood Ranch, 12099 Highway 12, Glen Ellen

Tickets: At the door donation to fire department of your choice

Reservations required by Nov. 5 at Rescue@HalterFund.org.

The event includes fall food, large-animal rescue equipment, experts and videos.

Info: HalterFund.org, Facebook.com/HalterFund.

“And be prepared to lead yourselves to financial independence, so your parents can have a break and enjoy life again,” Chong joked.

This year, the key commencement speech was given by Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community College system. Oakley, himself a graduate of Golden West College, a community college in Huntington Beach, challenged students to not “give into ignorance, hatred and bigotry … We have too much of that today.”

Oakley, who called SRJC one of the jewels in the state’s community college system and one of the best community colleges in the country, advised students not to “make assumptions” about their futures.

He said graduates should allow themselves to be led by what they’ve learned from excellent staff and faculty.

“You have the keys to push forward and I have confidence that you will,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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