50th Commencement Speakers and Awardees
“Commencement is a joyous time for our graduates because it marks the completion of a significant endeavor and leads to the next phase of their lives. Likewise, it is a celebratory time for the institution as well because we are so proud of the Class of 2017.” — Cypress College President Dr. Bob Simpson
Claudia Villasenor, 2017 Outstanding Graduate of the Year
Like many first-generation college students, Claudia Villasenor began her time at Cypress College uncertain with what she wanted to do. Two associate degrees later, the honors student describes Cypress College as “a place that allowed me to find myself and discover the career that I was destined to do.”
Villasenor moved to the United States at age 11, an experience that has shaped her desire to go into education for a profession. She has transferred to California State University, Fullerton where she is working on a bachelor’s degree in child and adolescent development and a Multiple Subject Credential with a bilingual authorization. She plans to teach elementary school.
“I decided to enroll in Cypress College because of the atmosphere of inclusiveness and acceptance that Cypress portrays,” Villasenor said. “My older sister graduated from Cypress College, so she always mentioned the positive atmosphere shat she felt. She mentioned the attentiveness of the faculty and the enthusiasm of the staff.”
At Cypress College, Villasenor participated in the Honors Program, was a member of the Honors Club, participated in events such as Donate a Day of Service, and had her art and writing published in Gender Smash and Sole Image. She has also worked on campus throughout her time at Cypress College as one of the original members of the Student Ambassador team — a role in which she shares her experiences with potential new students.
“Most of these prospective students have the preconceived idea that college education is not something that is within their reach, so my job is to make them think otherwise,” Villasenor said. “I feel accomplished whenever new students come to Cypress College and thank me for helping them during their application process.”
Villasenor earned an associate degree in liberal social arts in social and behavioral science from Cypress College last spring and is completing an associate degree in art this spring.
Swen Nater, 2017 Outstanding Alumnus
If a person never played high school basketball, what are the odds he would win two NCAA championships? What are the odds of him being selected in the first round of the NBA draft and going on to stardom? Impossible, right? Not for Swen Nater. Swen never played high school ball, nor did he ever start a game in college; however, he was selected in the first round of the NBA draft and went on to play 12 years professionally. He not only started, he led the ABA and NBA in rebounding, became an All-Star, and set several records. Swen Nater never paid much attention to the odds. He loved basketball and dreamed of playing the sport at the highest level. That is exactly what he did, thanks to his inexhaustible industriousness and the countless hours he spent in the gym.
Swen enrolled at Cypress College as a math student. By then he was 6’ 9”, but weighed only 185 pounds. While Swen was eating lunch on his first day of school, the assistant basketball coach, Tom Lubin, noticed his height and asked if he was planning on playing basketball. When Swen said, “No,” Coach Lubin asked if he could work with him and Swen agreed. At Cypress, Swen became a Community College All-American his sophomore year and helped lead the team to a state title. After a game in which Cypress College played against the UCLA freshman team at Pauley Pavilion (he scored 25 points and grabbed 25 rebounds), Coach John Wooden recruited Swen to attend UCLA to play as Bill Walton’s back-up. Walton said Swen was the best center he played against in College — which he did every day at practice.
At a post-season All-Star game that included the best college seniors in the country, Swen started because another player was injured during pre-game warm-ups. Suffice it to say he more than held his own, scoring 34 points, grabbing 25 rebounds, and being named Most Valuable Player. Swen was ABA Rookie of the Year, and the following season he led the ABA with 16.4 rebounds per game. He went on to lead the NBA in rebounds and still holds the all-time record for defensive rebounds in one half at 18. He is one of only five members of the “30/30” club — scoring 30 points and getting 30 rebounds in a single game. The others are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Love, Moses Malone, and Robert Parish. Swen still holds the record for most rebounds in one game for the Milwaukee Bucks at 33. He also holds the all-time California Community College single game rebound record at 39.
Swen resides in Issaquah, Washington with his wife, Wendy. He’s a buyer for Costco and a motivational speaker.
Jeanette Vázquez, 2017 Commencement Speaker
Jeanette Vázquez is a passionate educator and proud graduate of Cypress College. She was raised in Fullerton and, as a daughter of immigrants, learned from her parents’ hard work, resilience, determination, and integrity. She has dedicated her personal and professional lives to serving her community.
Vázquez attended Cypress College as a first-generation college student. She was the Cypress College Associated Students president and graduated in 2009 with an associate degree in liberal arts. She transferred to the University of California, Berkeley where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minor in public policy. Following some time as an AmeriCorps Fellow with Iowa Legal Aid, Vázquez then earned her teaching credential and master’s degree in education from Loyola Marymount University.
Vázquez is now a sixth grade teacher in North Orange County and was elected to the Fullerton School Board in November 2016.
During her time at Cypress College, Vázquez became known as a change agent in her student government roles. As president, she reinvigorated the Associated Students Council, oversaw the first formal legislative advocacy efforts of the governing body, and revamped the organizational structure which facilitated greater effectiveness in meeting students’ needs.
She and a group of peers from Associated Students have remained connected to Cypress College in a variety of capacities — including work to help form the first alumni association through the Cypress College Foundation.