Kelly Bernardino, 2017 Commencement Student Speaker, Praises Value of Attending Community College, Participating in Student Groups
Mt. Hood Community College student Kelly Bernardino said she knew she’d eventually have to give a graduation speech when she was elected president of the Associated Student Government in the spring of 2016. She just never knew how hard it’d be to
write that speech.
“I had some ideas from the get-go, but I didn’t actually realize how hard it’d be, especially when you’re trying to connect with a big, diverse audience,” said Bernardino. “It’s difficult to create a speech that speaks to everyone.”
To prepare, Bernardino turned to her friends and mentors at the college, seeking advice from her advisor, former teachers and staff. That’s not unusual though, she adds. Throughout her three years at MHCC, she’s always been able to reach out to staff
and faculty, and they’ve always been willing to help in any way possible.
“I’ve had really good experiences with faculty and professors,” Bernardino said. “They’re always very adamant in their support of the students here.”
Bernardino was born in Mexico, and her family immigrated to the United States after her first birthday. In 2012, she was granted residency status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
When she graduated high school in 2014, she realized she’d need more education to accomplish her goals. However, as a DACA student, she could not access federal financial aid and, subsequently, couldn’t afford a four-year university. She found her
local community college an affordable alternative.
“I wasn’t expecting a lot, but when I got here it really changed my perspective of community colleges,” said Bernardino. “And when I talked with friends at university, they confessed to me, ‘Wow, I wish I had gone to a community college,’ because
they were struggling to pay off their tuition and sometimes had to take a term off because they couldn’t afford it.
Bernardino’s experience at community college changed as she became more involved in student groups. Her first year at MHCC, she focused largely on school and work. It was during her second year when she joined the ASG as a member of the Executive
Cabinet and Student Organizations Council Administrative Assistant. For Bernardino, this was a time of personal growth as she established new lasting friendships and felt part of a cohesive, engaged team. And the experience opened new doors for
her and gave her an opportunity to help make a difference around campus.
“That’s mentioned in my speech: I really encourage students to get involved in a club, student government or other organization focused on social advocacy or social justice issues, because it helps you to really feel empowered,” she said.
During her tenure with the ASG, Bernardino focused on a number of issues, most noticeably working with the undocumented student community and the MHCC Access and Diversity Council, and collaborating with the Textbook Affordability Team.
On Saturday, June 17, Bernardino will receive an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree. She will attend Portland State University in the fall and plans to earn a Bachelor’s degree in business management, possibly minoring in ethnic or Chicano studies.
And, of course, she’s excited to join some of the local advocacy and PSU student groups, including the Momentum Alliance and PSU chapter of M.E.Ch.A., and she’ll continue advocating to create safe spaces for people of minority groups.