Thousands of Cal Poly students flooded campus Saturday for the ceremonial turning of the tassel at their long-awaited graduation day.
"It’s really crazy, a huge exciting thing to have finished and gone through with everything everyone has been working for," said Katie King, a biology major.
For one Biology major, the workload included raising a child as a single mom.
"I essentially just put (my son) to bed then start my homework," said Erin Aiello. "I missed out on a lot of sleep for a lot of years but it was all more than worth it. I went back to school because of him, wanted to give him a good life."
Aiello grinned widely as she announced she earned her masters degree.
President Jeffrey Armstrong congratulated Aiello, along with her 4,800 fellow classmates at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, on their achievement. It’s a major step that students like Noelle Pablo, who majored in statistics, are excited to put to use in the real world.
"I want to become a data analyst, help companies analyze their data and extract useful info from it," Pablo said.
As students reflect on the good times and the hard ones, these new alumni can’t help but regret the disappointing times.
A fraternity student sparked controversy and outrage earlier this year when a photo of him wearing black face surfaced online.
"I feel like they could’ve talked about it more since it’s been such a hot topic lately," Aiello said. "People are waiting to hear that we’re safe here and we’re loved."
Clement De Hoe said he refused to shake Armstrong’s hand when he received his diploma.
"Those kids should’ve gotten expelled, 100 percent, and they’re still here," De Hoe said.
Cal Poly alumnus and teacher Wyatt Oroke, who appeared as a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres show for his work to empower his disadvantaged Baltimore students, received a standing ovation for his speech, where he encouraged students to stand up for what’s right.
"What will you do with that power?" Oroke asked the crowd. "What will you do when you’re forced to hold the statistics of our society in your hands and be asked to make decisions? Will you sit back passing blame to others and hide behind computer screens? Or will you instead dismantle the systems of oppression that resonate throughout this entire country?"
The last of three ceremonies takes place Sunday at 9 a.m, when the colleges of Engineering, Architecture and Environmental Design will be honored.