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Nearly 1,000 SMC Grads Walk the 'Walk'

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By Lookout Staff

June 13, 2022 -- Some 950 Santa Monica College (SMC) graduates got the red-carpet treatment Saturday during the school's second annual Grad Walk at the Bundy campus.

Graduates, accompanied by family and friends, arrived at the in-person, all-day event leading up to Thursday's virtual commencement in cars decorated with balloons and signs.

They were greeted with cheers, took pictures at SMC booths, received gift bags and customized diploma cases and were personally congratulated by Superintendent/President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery and other school leaders.

“There is no one here who won’t say that graduation is the top event at SMC," said Esau Tovar, SMC’s Dean of Enrollment Services, who attended the event. "This is the culminating experience.

"Hearing all this cheering, you cannot help getting a little misty-eyed and emotional.”

SMC Grads Aaron and Arion Bell
Aaron and Arion Bell (Photoss courtesy of Santa Monica College)

Among the graduates who attended the Grad Walk were Aaron and Arion Bell, a married couple who were accompanied by their children.

Arion completed a degree in Cosmetology after her third attempt at college and hopes to own her own salon. “Third time’s the charm!” she said.

Aaron -- who enrolled at SMC after learning about its online offerings from his wife -- is graduating this spring with a Business Management degree.

“Right out of high school, life put me on a different path," he said looking at his children. "But eight years later, here I am with my kids and my lovely wife.

"Today is a dream and I get to live it with her.”
Khadija BackrienKhadija Backrien

Also attending was Khadija Backrien, who lost a son in an unsolved homicide when he was 14, overcame substance abuse and survived several abusive relationships.

“I have been emotional all week,” said Backrien, who attended the event with one of her daughters. “I am trying my hardest for (my son) -- to live my best life since he didn’t get a chance.

"I am thinking of him, celebrating him and everything I have been through. I know he is looking down and he’s proud of me today.”

Backrien is transferring to Cal State Dominguez Hills and hopes to own a small business and launch a gun-violence education nonprofit to honor her late son.

Jose Alejandro Ramirez brought an entourage of family members, including “Mama Bear”, a friend, a sister and brother-in-law, cousins and nephews.

“I was impacted by the judicial system since I was a young kid," Ramirez said. "I got released from an institution in Venice and applied to Santa Monica College since it was local.

"I have been here for two years, and I changed my life," he said, thanking his counselors and others who helped. "I am grateful for where I came from and where I am today.

The future, Ramirez said, "is uncharted territory, but I know things are going to get better, for me and my family.”

Ramirez is graduating with three Associate degrees -- in business, economics and liberal arts -- and transferring to Cal State Northridge to “keep moving forward.”

Graduate with his family arrive in car
Graduate with his family arrive in car

Lilian Guzman, a member of the Latino Center/Adelante Program, has a creative marketing internship lined up at Disney ABC through SMC’s Promo Pathway Program.

“Today means that I made it,” Guzman said. “And as a Latina, a Mexican-American, it means I beat the system that was meant to oppress me. It feels great!”

A total of 7,952 degrees and certificates will be awarded to 5,215 students this year. The youngest graduate is 16 years old; the oldest is 98.

For more information about SMC’s commencement festivities, visit

Editor's note: The comments from graduates are courtesy of Santa Monica College (SMC).

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