The 43rd anniversary of Fresno State’s Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration Saturday evening at the Save Mart Center had a little bit of everything.
▪ A record 1,140 graduates took part in the ceremony, with almost 80 more on the waiting list.
▪ Organizers honored the late Fabiola Álvarez de Gasca, a key part of the ceremony’s organizing efforts, by recognizing her parents, husband and son. They also gave each graduate a medal in her memory.
▪ Mariachi Fresno State serenaded the graduates as they walked to their seats with ‘Marcha de Zacatecas.’ The group ended with the traditional Mexican farewell song ‘Las Golondrinas.’
▪ Los Danzantes de Aztlán – which had three of its dancers graduate – provided more entertainment with a 20-minute performance that included dances by its youth group.
▪ State Sen. Melissa Hurtado was on hand to help recognize Bold Visionary Award recipients Sarah Reyes (a former state Assemblymember) and Tom Uribes (a public affair specialist at the university for more than three decades).
▪ Heck, there was even the popular – or unpopular, depending on your viewpoint – wave celebrated by audience and graduates alike.
One huge problem it had, however, was that capacity was reached at 13,276 with people still waiting to get into the arena.
Dr. Víctor Torres, who coordinates the event, said arena officials told him the place maxed out at 16,000 if they included the graduates and everyone else.
“That a good problem to have,” said Torres. “We’d rather have more kids here and not worry about the capacity.”
Half an hour into the ceremony, organizers were still asking people not to save seats because family and friends of graduates were stuck outside in the rain trying to get in.
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro wondered if a solution could be Bulldog Stadium, a venue that was used before the Save Mart Center was constructed. However, such a ceremony could be a victim of unseasonal rain.
“Those are Bruno Mars numbers,” said university First Lady Mary Castro about the attendance that dwarfed any of the other commencement ceremonies held on campus over the weekend.
The Fresno State celebration is the largest of its kind in California, and possibly the nation.
Torres said the number of students could be limited to stay within capacity. He figures there are 13 family members and friends for each graduate. Thus, an increase of 100 graduates would result in 1,300 more seats occupied in the arena.
Garret González, a violin player with Mariachi Fresno State, said a maxed-out crowd is “awesome, but kind of unfortunate for those who are stuck outside.”
In previous years, González has played with the mariachi at the start of the ceremony, then go backstage and return at the end.
“To sit and experience it and see all the eyes that were for us was awesome,” said González, who earned his bachelor’s in communicative science and deaf studies.
He hopes to get a job interpreting for students at Fresno State.