Glendale Community College graduates flip their tassels at the end of the 2010 commencement program on Friday.

Glendale Community College graduates flip their tassels at the end of the 2010 commencement program on Friday. (Roger Wilson)

For the Klee family, days like Friday are reasons why they said they immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala.

Rafael Klee and his son Miguel came to Glendale Community College early for seats at the 50-yard line of Sartoris Field — prime position to watch the family's matriarch, Dora Klee, graduate with honors.

"It's the American dream," Rafael Klee said. "My wife's mother had helped us immigrate. We believe there's a better future here."

Dora Klee was one of more than 980 students on Friday to come home with a diploma, certificate or both.

"It's a big deal because she's the first one of us to graduate," said Miguel Klee, who'll be in a cap and gown of his own next spring at the University of San Diego. "She's worked really hard the last few years and it's finally over."

Every member of the Class of 2010 has a different story, a different reason for enrolling in community college and a different path they'll pursue — be it in science or liberal arts, career training in firefighting, accounting, welding or computer applications.

"We see real diversity," said Nick Sahakyan, an Armenian language and literature professor. "We are creating common ground for everyone so they can contribute to the community, all of them."

That was reflected in the ceremony, too, with a English and Armenian song to open commencement, and almost 50 flags from Japan to Iran and Sweden to Argentina flanking the stage.

Even after South Korean native Hee-Jung Jun finished her studies in the U.S., she said she wanted to stick around for another degree. That associate's in science degree with an emphasis on fitness and health would become her passion, she said.

"Some people go to school just for the degree, but not many people find what they like," she said. "I was really lucky to learn this subject."

Having been home schooled, it was Drew Di Lisio's and his family's first commencement. But he said he got more out of it than just a degree.

"It was tough at first, especially at a community college where people are there to do what they need to do [to transfer]," he said. "I got to know people in classes. I was able to grow my knowledge, but also as a person as well."

Some students wore green ribbons that signified a social and environmental awareness commitment, a first of its kind at Glendale Community College, but that is part of a 20-year movement of more than 120 colleges and universities around the globe.

"When they go out into jobs and the workforce, they'll think about social and environment impacts of what they do," said Hoover Zariani, director of the college's service learning center. "If they can do something, like start a recycling program, hopefully they'll do it."

The past, not the future, was on Brian McCurdy's mind. After three years at Glendale Community College, McCurdy emerged with college and career goals — things he overlooked after he graduated high school in 2005.

"Coming back here, it's a great way to get your life back on track," he said. "Socially, I blossomed into someone I never thought I would. Educationally, I may not have been able to hold an intelligent conversation.

"And I'm absolutely grateful for what Glendale Community College provided me with."