Graduates show they’re ‘Houston Strong’ at fall 2017 commencement

12.18.2017 | By Jeannie Peng Mansyur

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San Jacinto College graduates recall Hurricane Harvey hardships

PASADENA, Texas – The San Jacinto College fall 2017 commencement topped off a year of highs and lows for new college graduates. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner served as the keynote speaker for the ceremony, which took place at the home of the World Series champions at Minute Maid Park on Dec. 17, 2017.

Turner recounted the year Houston hosted the Super Bowl, survived Hurricane Harvey, and celebrated the Astros as World Series champions. He reminded graduates how some are sprinters, and some are long distance runners, but what really matters is staying in the race.

“I want you to feel proud of what you’ve done,” Turner told the graduates. “You’ve been to one of the best colleges the world could ever find, right here at San Jacinto College. You’ve had some of the best faculty members who could have instructed you. Decide where you want to go next.”

For Jacqueline Bischof, the commencement stage brought a sigh of relief after a year of “hurdles.”

“During Harvey our entire downstairs and our cars flooded,” said Bischof. “We are still not in our home, and I don’t have a car. It’s been difficult to stick with school. It feels really good to be here today and walk across that stage. This year has been full of hurdles and to overcome them means everything.”

Talking about fall 2017 was difficult for Elizabeth Vallejo, who lost her home and vehicle to Harvey. Even though the hurricane made it difficult for her to get through her semester, she found help from her professors and graduated with her associate degree. 

“I lost my home and my car to the flood,” said Vallejo. “It was very hard. At the time, I was taking online classes, and because of the hurricane, I didn’t have Internet anymore. I also didn’t have a car to get to campus. Fortunately, many of my professors were very understanding and were able to move some deadlines to help me get back on my feet and get through this semester.”

Vallejo now plans to transfer to the University of Houston (UH) to study criminal law. She walked the fall 2017 commencement stage with her sister, Karina Romero, who graduated with an associate degree in communication and will soon begin the San Jacinto College nursing program. 

For Shirley O’Donnell, whose family business was damaged by the hurricane, graduating at the San Jacinto College commencement meant a promise fulfilled to her mother.

“My mom has cancer,” said O’Donnell. “I’m really proud of myself for making it here today so that my family and my mom can see me graduate.”

Alexander Watson plans to transfer to UH to study communication and said no hardships could stand the way of his main focus of graduating from college.

“My family and I got a chance to get through all of the hardships of the hurricane,” said Watson, who worked in the College’s financial aid office while taking classes. “Finishing college was my main focus. I had that drive and motivation, especially from my family. I am very happy and excited for the next step in my journey.”

The San Jacinto College fall 2017 commencement also honored the late Ernest Mitchell by awarding the degree of Associate of Applied Science in Air Conditioning Technology posthumously in recognition of Mitchell’s academic achievements. Mitchell’s daughter, Suzanne Allen, received the award on behalf of her father. 

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students each year benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers eight areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to four-year colleges or universities or enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.

For more information about San Jacinto College call 281-998-6150, visit or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.