‘It is all so bittersweet to be the last’: Mills College final graduating class crosses the stage

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - MAY 14: Mills College alumni hold up a yellow rose as they stand and turn their backs while Mills College President Elizabeth L. Hillman speaks before graduates of the Class of 2022 during the 134th Mills College commencement ceremony at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, May 14, 2022. Mills held its last undergraduate graduation ceremony as an independent women's college as is planning to merge with Northeastern University on July 1, 2022, serving students of all genders with both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

On a sun-kissed Saturday morning on the meadow of Mills College, the Class of 2022 and decades of alumni reflected on the school’s last year as an independent, private women’s liberal arts college just weeks before the Oakland institution is set to be taken over by Boston’s Northeastern University.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – MAY 14: Mills College alumni hold up a yellow rose as they stand and turn their backs while Mills College President Elizabeth L. Hillman speaks during the school’s 134th and commencement ceremony. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

“It is all so bittersweet to be the last. We are the last to graduate from Mills as we currently know it,” economics graduate LJ Miranda told the gathering. “But Mills is not dead. Mills might not be the same, but the spirit is still with this. Mills gave a lot of us the first safe space to be who we are.”

The feelings of accomplishment gleamed through shining smiles, words of wisdom shared throughout the ceremony and music from a mariachi band that closed out the day. But they were shaded with mourning and reflection as the campuses’ legacy comes to a turn, 170 years after the school got its start as the Young Ladies’ Seminary in Benicia and became the first women’s college west of the Rocky Mountains.

“You all are celebrating with a tinge of grief,” former Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson Elhaney, awarded with an honorary doctorate of humane letters, said in a speech on Saturday.

Novelist Jesmyn Ward shared encouraging words for next steps for the graduates: “Don’t kill your heart. Embrace your intuition.”

The 134th ceremony was also the first commencement in-person since the pandemic upended the community and moved classes to distance learning. For many graduates, it was their first time on campus.

“It’s definitely been a weird ride. We’ve done all of our schooling online. We had a two-year program and it was all virtual,” said Stephanie Cannistra, who earned a master’s degree in early childhood education. “It’s a little wild,” she said. “It’s been a short ride, but it’s been a good one.”

But she said she loved attending an all-women’s school “in a time where these is so little community for us.”

Julie Keiffer-Lewis, who is the department chair of the African American Studies Department at De Anza College and graduated Saturday with her doctorate in educational leadership at Mills, said there were so many mixed emotions in seeing the end of her college. “‘Mills has just been a vibrant part of the Oakland community, of education here in the Bay Area.”

“It’s been a long journey. I’m really taking it in. I’m honored to be part of the last group at Mills to go in and just excited and blessed for the opportunity,” Keiffer-Lewis. “And it’s sad to see it change. But change happens, and if it can stay alive in some capacity, then that’s wonderful.”

Graduates celebrated the day wearing black gowns, mask coverings and stoles. But nearly a dozen alumni made their presence known in the …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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