More students than ever, about 600 out of a class of 1100, put on the traditional caps and gowns and marched into Corsair Field for the 75th Santa Monica College commencement ceremonies late yesterday to receive their Associate of Arts diplomas and Certificates of Vocation, but a former student, California governor Arnold Schwazenegger, stole the show. Prior to the 6 p.m. ceremonies, several hundred people staged a noisy, but peaceful demonstration in opposition to many of the governor’s policies on Pico Boulevard at the northern entrance to the SMC campus. At the time, Schwarzenegger was attending a reception at the SMC library on the other side of the campus. During the governor’s address to a capacity crowd at Corsair Field, some members of the faculty on the speakers’ platform stood and turned their backs on him, while others held up signs. They were silent, but a Mirror staff member reported that the arena was so noisy that it was hard to hear Schwarzenegger, whose address focused on his personal odyssey, rather than politics. Former SMC President Piedad Robertson, who was a member of the governor’s transition team, invited him to deliver the 2004 commencement address. He couldn’t attend last year, but agreed to appear this year. In the meantime, Robertson resigned her presidency to take a job in Denver and left SMC in January, and Schwarzenegger’s cuts in state education funding, increases in student fees at community colleges and other policies triggered protests from some SMC students, faculty members and employees, Santa Monica residents and others, who alleged that his policies should disqualify him as the college’s commencement speaker. In response to requests that the invitation to the governor be withdrawn, interim President Thomas Donner issued the following statement, “The college is honored that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be our commencement speaker. He is the governor of the state of California, he is an alumnus of Santa Monica College, and he has been very supportive of community colleges — his budgets reflect that support. “Governor Schwarzenegger was invited to be our speaker at graduation after he was first elected, and we continued pursuing the issue of having him speak. “It’s particularly fitting that he be our speaker this year because it’s our 75th anniversary, and the college has put a spotlight on alumni throughout the year as part of our celebration of the 75th anniversary.” Donner presided at the commencement ceremonies. In addition to Schwarzenegger, the President of the Faculty Senate, Lesley Kawaguchi, President of SMC Associated Students, Jeronimo Saldana, and Chair of the Board of Trustees, Carole Currey, spoke. As in past years, SMC Executive Vice President Randall Lawson introduced the participating graduates and members of the board handed them their diplomas.A highlight of the exercises was the presentation of the college’s sixth “Chair of Excellence,” the St. John’s Health Center Chair of Excellence in Nursing, to Assistant Dean of Health Services, Ida Danzey. The award includes a $100,000 endowment to her department and a three-year grant of $5,000 a year to Danzey to underwrite a project that is designed to boost the confidence of nursing students, and reduce the rate of attrition.
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