In a very chilly and at capacity Rabobank Arena, Bakersfield College students became graduates Friday during the college’s first-ever “commencement ceremony on ice,” but hundreds could not join in on the celebration.
Though Rabobank Arena can seat 10,000 people, it was full even before graduates started making their way out to the floor. Hundreds were kept outside and could be heard pounding on the glass doors. Law enforcement was on the grounds to keep the situation calm.
Brothers Jordan and Jon Mendoza, who were there to support their cousin, said they could not get into the building when they arrived at 6:45 p.m. Doors opened to the arena at 5 p.m.
“It sucks. … We’re trying to stick it out as much as we can,” Jordan Mendoza said when asked how he felt about missing his cousin’s graduation. “You learn from it. Next time come a little earlier and plan ahead in case things like this happen.”
Many people were standing outside for over an hour, Jon Mendoza said, hoping to get inside to catch a glimpse of the graduates. He also said parking was "atrocious."
“If you don’t have the proper parking or direction of what’s going on, it causes confusion and people are distraught and don’t know what to do,” Jon Mendoza said. “BC is trying to do its best, but for those with loved ones it sucks.”
Those who were inside were either standing in the halls or at the top of aisles or were brought on the covered ice rink to sit behind graduates.
Mike Giacomini, vice president of finance and administrative services, said the college did not anticipate the arena would be full or people would be outside.
“Fortunately we had an incredible year with our largest graduation ever and we anticipated being able to accommodate that and encouraged all students to bring their friends and family, and boy did they bring their friends and family,” he said. “We’re very surprised and at the same time we’re excited for our graduates.”
BC’s Memorial Stadium, where commencement is normally held, is currently undergoing renovations.
Despite the setback, a record-setting graduation continued. With 2,746 graduates, this year marks the largest commencement in the history of the college, BC President Sonya Christian said. A total of 3,335 degrees were awarded.
Around 1,000 students participated in last year's ceremony.
BC honored the second class of graduates to receive a bachelor’s degree from the Industrial Automation Baccalaureate Program and the second class of graduates of the Early College Partnership Program from Wonderful Academy.
Irene Meza, a registered nursing major, spent three years at the college while juggling work and three children. She said she will miss the second family she made at BC the most.
"I’ve grown to know all these people who I’ve finished the program out with," she said. "I’ll probably see them along in my nursing career, but the way I depended on them before they won’t be around as much anymore."
English major Austyn Williams said her journey to graduation took four years and there were many people along the way who helped her, such as her professor Paula Parks.
"She allowed me to be a tutor for her class, and it gave me a chance to see how strong I am, how smart I am and to work with students and get that hands-on effect," she said.
A light show ended the ceremony in lieu of the fireworks that are normally set above Memorial Stadium.