Tricentennial Celebrates Community Colleges—Past and Present

September 14, 2018

Kay Hendricks

As part of San Antonio's year-long Tricentennial celebration, the Alamo Colleges District and its five colleges—St. Philip's College (SPC), San Antonio College (SAC), Palo Alto College (PAC), Northwest Vista College (NVC) and Northeast Lakeview College (NLC)—hosted a celebratory look at the history and impact of the community colleges in the city and the surrounding area. Community members, District employees, and students gathered together in the elegant environs of the St.Philip's College Watson Fine Arts Center on September 12 to enjoy the festivities and hear from interesting and informative speakers. A giant, bright pink balloon display greeted guests as they arrived, spelling out "300" in honor of the city's birthday.

Mariachi Palomino
Mariachi Palomino took the stage at the event

Kicking off the event was the Palo Alto College Mariachi Palomino, led by two-time GRAMMY Award winner and founder of Campañas de America, Juan B. Ortiz, who welcomed attendees at the center’s entrance and also performed on stage during the program. Dr. Ric Baser, president of Northwest Vista College, served as emcee, introducing Dr. Adena Williams Loston, president of SPC, who offered her welcome on behalf of the college, the oldest of the five community colleges. Next up, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff shared his thoughts on the critical role the Alamo Colleges District has played in the economic success of the city and county and its residents.

Following Judge Wolff and the mariachi's performance, keynote speaker Allen Lee Hamilton, professor of Texas and U.S. History at SPC, captured the audience's attention with recollections of his many years as a faculty member and related his personal experience of the profound impact faculty have on students' lives. He was followed by an impressive timeline video chronicling milestones in the history of the colleges and the district. Next up was Dr. Robert Zeigler, former president of SAC, who began his long association with the college as a student there. He delivered a personal story about the changes he has observed in the colleges, in higher education, and in the students during his 49-year career and shared his optimism for the future.

After Dr. Zeigler’s remarks, attendees heard from an alumnus of NVC, Janice Castillo, who earned two associate degrees there and followed with a bachelor’s degree. Ms. Castillo shared her personal struggles as a single, working mother attempting to improve her life through education, and related how her success has inspired others in her family. These included her son, Nathaniel Castillo-Rodriguez, who subsequently related his own story of struggling to attend college in spite of financial and other obstacles. His passionate speech earned a standing ovation from those present.

The Alamo Community College District began in 1898 with St. Philip’s College, which operated a sewing school for the daughters and granddaughters of emancipated slaves. From this, the district has grown to encompass five colleges, satellite centers located across the city and regional centers in New Braunfels and Kerrville. The district is the largest institution of higher education in the area and the number one provider of workforce education in the area, with an annual enrollment of more than 80,000 students. As the program came to a close, the Guadalupe Dance Company delivered a rousing folklórico dance performance in colorful costumes, accompanied by jubilant music. Alamo College Chancellor Dr. Bruce Leslie thanked all those present for joining in the celebration and invited guests to enjoy food and conversation to the sounds of smooth jazz in the foyer of the center.

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