LYNNWOOD — Edmonds Community College President Jean Hernandez well remembers her first graduation ceremony on the campus she has led for more than six years.
One small group of graduates wore white roses on their gowns.
Each received their GED certificates that day after passing a Spanish version of the exams often equated with high school level basic skills.
Early in her tenure, Hernandez had been approached by someone living in the community about the possibility of letting some students take the exams in Spanish. The new president consulted with her staff, who made sure those accommodations were available.
Hernandez could see the happiness on the faces of those wearing their flower-pinned gowns.
“I shook many of their hands that day,” she said. “Graduation is always a high point for me.”
Hernandez has one more spring graduation ceremony ahead. She announced earlier this week that she will retire Dec. 31.
Opening the doors and encouraging those who might not consider themselves academic has been a priority and the faculty and staff have helped them succeed, she said.
Edmonds Community College enrolls a large percentage of students with disabilities. Minority students have risen from 33 percent to 40 percent in six years.
The daughter of a World War II veteran, Hernandez said the college has worked hard to make it more welcoming to those who served their country. Under her watch, the college completed a $1 million Boots to Books and Beyond campaign to support the Veterans Resource Center on campus.
Mainly, she has wanted to make the college more accessible. That has included establishing two scholarships with the EdCC Foundation for students who’d been homeless or incarcerated.
She often has told people: “Edmonds Community College, where community is our middle name.”
Hernandez was drawn to the Northwest after a co-worker in her native Texas mentioned the beauty of the region. She visited the state and then started applying for jobs. Before becoming EdCC president, she earned her doctorate and worked her way through the ranks at the University of Washington and Shoreline, Cascadia and South Central community colleges.
EdCC plans to begin its nationwide search for a new president this summer. The college serves more than 20,000 students a year, including 1,400 international students from 62 countries. In the fall, it will offer its first Bachelor of Applied Science degree, which is in Child, Youth and Family Studies.
Carl Zapora, chairman of the college’s board of directors, said Hernandez is committed to building a better community.
“The college is in excellent shape thanks to her many contributions and especially for her leadership in providing exceptional educational programs and building community partnerships,” he said.
Hernandez plans to stay busy after she retires. She hopes to continue on with the Lynnwood Rotary Club and Boys &Girls Club of Snohomish County, among other activities.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.