The Class of 2022 celebrated earning their degrees with cheers, tears and some Tik Tok-worthy dance moves during Commencement.

More than 8,000 graduates from spring 2022, fall 2021 and summer 2021 crossed the stage in the University Quad to receive their undergraduate and graduate degrees in front of more than 64,000 family members, friends and supporters during 12 ceremonies May 20-22.

This year marked the return of Commencement to campus after the COVID-19 pandemic forced Cal Poly Pomona to get creative in 2021 with drive-in ceremonies at Fairplex in Pomona. It also was the first time the event was ticketed.

Tiffany Ou, who earned a degree in hospitality management, said her four years were a bit of a wild ride, with two years of in-person and two years of Zoom classes, but she was glad to see the ceremonies return to campus.

“It feels amazing,” said Ou, who will be moving to Denver for a one-year manager-in-training program at the Westin Denver International Airport. “We’re hospitality management majors, so we love that person-to-person contact. To all be together, it feels like we are a huge family.”

Justin Foster, who graduated with a degree in apparel merchandising and management, said before the ceremony that he knew the tears would come once the Commencement got underway. He said the pandemic impacted his learning experience in both positive and negative ways.

“It shed light on what I needed to grow and be a better learner and student,” said Foster, who is working in the retail industry. “It also brought a desire to cherish my fellow students, and it feels good to be around other creatives and like-minded people.”

A college of Business Graduate showing his diploma.

One of the graduates from the Class of 2022

That sense of togetherness was palpable behind the scenes, as students clustered for group photos and selfies and helped one another adjust sashes.

Anne Hopewell traveled from Washington D.C. to see her niece, Sydney Koslowki, receive her degree in apparel merchandising and management. Hopewell shared that her niece had been into fashion since she was a little girl.

“I am amazingly proud,” she said. “Sydney is a wonderful, empathetic, good-hearted young woman. She’s always been a real gentle spirit.”

Commencement featured several guest and student speakers, including honorary doctorate recipients Violet Palmer (’88, recreation administration), the first female referee in the NBA, and Larry Gates (’87, civil engineering), co-founder of the firm DRC Engineering. Palmer spoke at the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences ceremonies and Gates at the engineering ceremonies, encouraging students to pursue their passions.

Gates shared how his father, a first-generation college student, instilled in him the importance of earning a degree. One of the gifts he and his wife, Amy, have made to the university is an endowed scholarship for engineering students in honor of his late father.

Larry Gates

Larry Gates, an honorary doctorate recipient, was a guest speaker during Commencement.

“My father, Col. James Gates, was the first in his family to graduate from college, and I am fortunate that he knew the value of education,” Gates said. “He didn’t give me or my brothers an option. College was mandatory.”

University President Soraya M. Coley lauded the graduates for their grit and determination in earning their degrees and urged them to remain engaged with Cal Poly Pomona as alumni.

“To reach this goal under uniquely challenging circumstances demonstrates a level of commitment and resilience that will remain with you long after today,” she said. “Your strength in the face of adversity now becomes part of the bedrock that will sustain you for the rest of your life.”

Overheard at Commencement

Students, faculty and guest speakers sound off in celebration of the graduates and offer some sage advice.

Phyllis Nelson

Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Phyllis Nelson

“I too sat in those seats a long time ago and walked across this stage. I’ve been a lot of places since and have had a lot of opportunities, both at other institutions and here. it’s been a huge pleasure to be back and shake hands and appreciate the incredible effort it takes to graduate with an engineering degree,” Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Phyllis Nelson (‘77, electrical and electronics engineering) and winner of the 2022 Provost Award for Excellence in Service.

“Dear class of 2022…Today I walk, not only for myself, but for my parents who could not be here, especially for all the women in my family who were not able to get educated. And just like me, your walk represents your loved ones present here today or not. You showed the world that you could overcome adversity and fulfill your goals,” Kim Chiu Lao, (’22, biotechnology) Julian A. McPhee Scholar and valedictorian.

Candace Downing

McPhee Award winner Candace Downing gives a speech during the 2022 College of Agriculture commencement.

“Fellow graduates we are the class who has overcome. Between juggling the shift between…in person learning to online learning and all that brought that with it, from financial challenges and health challenges and an ever-changing schedule, we have overcome. It has been a long couple of years, but we persevered and now we’ve made it,” Candace Downing, (’22, animal and veterinary science) Julian A. McPhee Scholar and valedictorian.

“You were put on this earth to change the world and quite frankly, there is no better time to do that than now,” Iris Levine, special assistant to the president.

“In life, criticism is certain, but our reaction isn’t. Invest in yourself, your education, your network and remember that learning and unlearning are equally important,” Andrew Brands (’22, finance, real estate and law) and Julian A. McPhee Scholar.

“If you work on you, you will get to where you want to be in life. You can just ask me. I am still a work in progress and working on something new every day of my life,” Violet Palmer (‘88, recreation administration), honorary doctorate recipient.

“Be positive and see wonderful wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and with whomever you’re doing it with. Keep in mind that life is neutral. How you see the life experience is everything. Choose to see wonderful,” Gregg Patterson, founder of Tribal Magic and former The Collins College of Hospitality Management lecturer.

Videos and Photo Galleries

To watch videos of the ceremonies, visit the commencement website. To see photo highlights of the big weekend, click on the following links:

By Melanie Johnson
Published November 30, 2022