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Palomar College celebrates class of 2023 in annual commencement

SAN MARCOS – Hundreds gathered at the San Marcos campus for a ceremony filled with moving tributes and stories of perseverance as the class of 2023 Palomar College graduates were honored Friday, May 26. For those who couldn't attend, the event was live streamed on the college's website and can be viewed online at

Star Rivera-Lacey, superintendent and president of Palomar College, presided over the ceremony. During her remarks, she recognized the challenges and hurdles faced by students during their journey toward commencement.

"Many of you have defied odds, shattered barriers, and overcome countless obstacles, seen and unseen, to get to this special moment," she said. "Through this accomplishment, you have proven that life circumstances do not determine your destiny, nor do they confine you to a predetermined path."

Nearly 600 graduates participated in the ceremony. In all, the college awarded over 4,000 degrees and certificates approved during the 2022-2023 academic year.

The commencement speaker was Travis Ritt, Ph.D., winner of the Palomar College 2021-2022 Distinguished Faculty Award for full-time faculty. Ritt, who teaches history, reminded the graduates that the past is just as important as the present and to reflect on their many achievements.

"Do not stress over failures or the changes that will certainly take place in life, and it is perfectly OK to take new paths to achieve your happiness," Ritt said.

Nick Casas, vice president of sales at Enchanted Rock and former Palomar College student, was recognized as the 2023 Alumnus of the Year. Unfortunately, Casas was unable to attend the ceremony and asked that his thoughts be shared with the graduates.

On his behalf, Faculty Senate President and professor of media studies, Wendy Nelson said, "No matter what you may think, life always has a new plan and new chapter ahead of you. Keep a circle of trusted people around you that will always push you to be the best person you can be in business or life."

Many of those who graduated on Friday persevered through the turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic to earn their degrees and certificates. The 2022-2023 academic year marked the full-scale reopening of the San Marcos campus and education centers in Fallbrook, Escondido and Rancho Bernardo.

Christopher Robin Garcia Mendez, president of Palomar's 2022-2023 Associated Student Government, congratulated the class of 2023 and spoke of the power of education. Mendez, an undocumented student, shared that he never expected to be a student leader standing on stage speaking to his peers. He thanked his many mentors and said, "While I am the first undocumented student leader at Palomar College, I know that I won't be the last.

"Palomar College is an institution that embraces diversity and welcomes all students," he said.

This year's valedictorian was Gabrielle Le, whose story illustrated the benefits of a bicultural upbringing and the engaging student experience at Palomar College. Le is a co-founder of a student club that is focused on ending menstruation stigma and providing equitable access to menstrual products to women who can't afford them.

Submitted by Palomar College.


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