Gavilan College is celebrating its centennial year in 2019, with events and activities all year, including a gala event looking back at its first 100 years on Sept. 7, 2019, on the college campus.
And, the college is launching a drive this centennial year to raise funds for the Gavilan College Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1994 to raise donations in support of Gavilan College programs.
Where state funding may fall short, the Foundation fill the gaps and provide financial resources to educators and students, and work to ensure that all those who seek higher education have the resources to do so. It does this in collaboration with generous supporters and community partners. Monetary support is used for student scholarships, research and educational programs, faculty and departmental support, facilities, and equipment.
All of these activities and events culminate in the gala event, “Gavilan Through The Decades,” which will be held from 5:30–9:00 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at the college at 5055 Santa Teresa Blvd. in Gilroy. Tickets are now available as are sponsorships ranging from $500 to $50,000.
Gala guests will take a nostalgic and informative stroll through the decades of Gavilan’s history from the 1920s to today. Each decade will feature areas of academia highlighted with education tables, as well as food stations with themed food from each decade, wine stations, live music, photo booths, students in period costume, formal portraits, live auction, silent auction, strolling card magician in a tuxedo, and a string quartet.
During the centennial year, the college will also highlight the stories of students who have graduated from Gavilan and gone on to great success in their lives and careers.
Take Hollister resident Madison Mitchell, who turned negative challenges into opportunities thanks to her experience at Gavilan College.
An acknowledged mediocre student in high school, Mitchell said she must have heard the threat every other day: If you don't shape up and perform, you'll end up at Gav...you don't want that,
Instead of attending community college, Mitchell did a stint in U.S. Army Intelligence. After the military she wanted to work for a military contractor, but that required an AA degree, so she attended Gavilan.
“Community college has a terrible stigma: unfair, unjust and simply wrong," she says about Her experience with Gavilan. “"If you're not aware of what Gavilan has to offer, start talking to your professors and counselors. "Gavilan is the foundation that built the fabulous path I'm on now."
Mitchell graduated from Gavilan with a double AA, and because of her work in the military and her extra units, received a third AA in intelligence ops from another institution. She transferred to San Francisco State University (SFSU) and petitioned to double major in Criminal Justice and International Relations.
She received her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice in December 2018 and a second bachelor’s degree in International Relations this year, graduating with a 3.91 GPA. She will also continue her internship at a regional FBI field office.
"Community college in general, and Gavilan College specifically, is the place where I could build my GPA," says Mitchell. "I could make mistakes, learn and explore what I wanted to do."
Next spring, Madison Mitchell will start work on her master’s degree at San José State University.
City of Gilroy Interim Chief of Police Scot Smithee credits Gavilan for helping him advance his law enforcement career.
While working to earn his AA from Gavilan College in 1988, two mentors helped advance his career.
Lanny Brown, former Gilroy Assistant Chief of Police, was teaching reserve officer classes. He encouraged Smithee to get involved. And since at the time he was afraid of public speaking, he enrolled in Robert Funk’s public speaking communications class. Now Smithee speaks to many groups each week, at times under challenging conditions.
Smithee worked with the Gilroy Police Department more than 30 years, rising to the rank of Police Captain, and continues to teach at The Academy, located at Gavilan’s Coyote Valley campus, as well as in San Mateo and Seaside.
Right after high school, Smithee could have chosen from three Bay Area community colleges within 20 minutes of home. When his family relocated to Gilroy, he was grateful Gavilan College was nearby.
“It was very attractive to me there was a college here, a huge plus,” said Smithee, now a resident of Hollister. “For kids to have a local option to be able to go to school, that’s a wonderful thing.”
A high school dropout who never got her degree Michele Castro instead worked for 25 solid years. There was no money or time to attend school.
But in 2016, at age 49, she enrolled at Gavilan with determination. Two years later she graduated with a double AA in Communication Studies and in Spanish. Paired with a sparkling 3.85 GPA. She was also accepted as a transfer student into San José State University, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley.
With the help of Gavilan counselors and professors and the financial support from scholarships, Castro was able to enroll in UC Berkeley. She says she would also like to study abroad to learn first-hand about asylum seekers. But she also has a vision of returning to Gavilan to empower individuals and stand up to injustice, working in EOPS, ESL and student life, especially with Dreamers and DACA students.
“If it were not for the encouragement of Ryan Shook, Mari Garcia (EOPS), Blanca Arteaga, and my connections with the faculty in Financial Aid I would have not been as successful," Castro says. "The connections I have made have been life-changing. I have truly enjoyed my educational journey and I’m excited to continue.”
Jorgé Gonzalez (Class of 2016) arrived at Gavilan after nine years of military service. He started in kinesiology, but bailed out after the sciences proved too challenging.
"It was a hard shift from the military, to come back," he says. He credits Denise Besson's interpersonal communication class as life changing. "We think we're listening, but mostly we're just waiting to respond. To find a connection, you have to be able to really listen to people."
Gonzalez transferred to SJSU and earned a degree in communication studies with emphasis in counseling and public relations. "The classes allowed me to step out of my comfort zone," he said, "and to express myself in a tactical manner."
As the college celebrates its centennial year, it’s also excited to hear from former students how Gavilan College has impacted, influenced or changed your life.
Gavilan invites students to connect with them to receive information about Centennial Celebration activities, as well as provide you with an opportunity to share
Gavilan College story and submit a photo by completing the brief form located here: