Graduates from all walks of life donned their blue caps and gowns Monday night for one of the most important walks of their lives at the College of Southern Nevada’s largest commencement ever.
More than 3,600 students graduated, and 1,200 of them walked in the 47th CSN commencement at the Thomas & Mack Center, according to the college.
“We’re a community college so we always have interesting graduates, because our graduates reflect the community,” CSN President Federico Zaragoza said.
One of those graduates is Thomas Calvin, who took to the stage and sang the first few lines of “What a Wonderful World” to open his commencement speech.
“So, I never used to think that I could ever do that,” he said. “And I also never really thought the world was so wonderful.”
Calvin, 24, grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He loved the city he grew up in, but not the crime. Calvin said he was robbed at gunpoint when he was a child, and his best friend was shot at while walking home from his grandma’s house. A 15-year-old girl he knew was murdered in 2013.
“At the time, I didn’t know I was depressed, but I was just waking up to go to sleep,” Calvin said.
He overcame that depression and moved to Las Vegas with his best friend in 2016. But the novelty of a new city faded, and it returned. He overcame it again, and decided to start singing.
He wasn’t good at all, he said, but he went to CSN to learn how. As time passed, the applause at his recitals grew louder and louder.
“And now I make a living off of music. It’s crazy! It’s crazy for me to say that,” he said.
And then there are nontraditional graduates such as Polly Flores, who started a beauty business at 28 but later realized she wasn’t happy, even though she excelled in her field. She began to dread going to work.
She asked herself, “Is this really who I’m going to be at 50? At 60?” Flores said before the ceremony. “Am I really going to be behind this chair, in this environment into retirement?”
Flores decided to “take 10 steps back to move 20 steps forward” — she went back to school and sold her business, a move that she said drew skepticism from some.
Now, at 37, she’s earned her associate’s degree in business and has started classes at UNLV, where she plans to major in finance with a minor in real estate.
Michael Saladino is two decades younger than Flores, but he finished his associate’s degree and took two semesters at UNLV before even graduating from CSN High School. If things go according to plan, he’ll have a bachelor’s in journalism before he’s old enough to drink.
“It feels good knowing that I know exactly what I’m doing, and know that I’m going to have a career, hopefully in the next few years here,” the 17-year-old said.
By the time he starts as a freshman at UNLV this fall, all of his prerequisite and general education classes will be done with, “and I will have everything I need just to start taking more fun classes.”
Saladino initially thought his passion was in filmmaking, but he fell in love with sports reporting. He already works at UNLV TV and has applied for a media position with the Vegas Golden Knights.
“Vegas is the perfect city to start that in, just because of everything that’s coming here, all the opportunities,” he said. “You get in early in that industry here? You’re set.”
After Flores graduates, she wants to work in investing and securities and teach low-income families how to balance budgets and manage money.
Calvin will keep singing for the rest of his life.