In the quiet moments before the SJSU College of the Humanities and the Arts commencement ceremony began, Alice Perez waited patiently in graduation cap and gown for her onstage moment. Perez, ’76 Graphic Design, could not participate in her own commencement ceremony 43 years ago due to illness, and for years regretted not being able to attend. Earlier this spring, she reached out to the College of Humanities and the Arts, who collaborated with SJSU’s Special Events team to include her in the 2019 ceremony. Her mother Jennie, sister Trish McRae and best friend Diana Gomez approached her with leis, all four of them smiling and giddy as they anticipated her crossing the stage.
“This is a dream come true,” Perez said as she watched the deans approach the podium. “I am forever indebted to the San Jose State University Special Events folks and the dean for helping me. I am turning 66 next week, and this is proof that anything is possible.”
Perez bedazzled her grad cap with an image of her father Rudy wearing one of his famous garlic hats that he made for the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Originally from Gilroy, Perez sought out San Jose State’s graphic design program as an undergraduate. For years, she said she worked for a print design shop before transitioning to work in design and IT for the county of San Francisco. She moved to Glendale following her retirement, but said she still volunteers her expertise as a graphic designer for organizations such as the Kiwanis La Cañada, the Chamber of Commerce of La Cañada and the Community Scholarship Foundation of La Cañada Flintridge.
“I am doing graphics and PR—all of the things that I learned here,” she said. “San Jose State really gave me a wonderful education. It’s exciting to be back on campus.”
Though it had been decades since she completed her degree, Perez felt it important to include her mother Jennie in her ceremony.
“Alice was the first of all the grandkids in our family to graduate from college,” said her sister McRae. “Many of us went on to graduate, but she was the leader in our family. Our parents only had an eighth-grade education, so to have our 88-year-old mother here is exciting. We’re so proud of Alice.”
During the ceremony, College of Humanities and the Arts Dean Shannon Miller included a special shout-out to Perez.
“Hers is a great story—like so many of yours—about defying expectations and becoming the first in her family to get a college degree,” said Miller. “She wanted to honor her mother and family by going through today’s ceremony. We are delighted that she is here with us today.”