Ruben Zecena told his fellow Columbia Basin College graduates Friday night to go home, eat some chocolate and be proud of who they've become and their accomplishments.
"To all of the students graduating here today, your work has paid off," said an excited Zecena, Associated Student Body president. "I want to encourage all of you to take the reins. ... If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but it is not in your heart, it is not success at all."
Graduates should tap into their own talents as they move forward and contribute to the world, Zecena said.
His speech came after almost four dozen students collected diplomas for a Bachelor of Applied Science. The Pasco school also handed out almost 1,300 associate degrees and one-year certificates.
Family and friends packed Kennewick's Toyota Center for CBC's 57th commencement.
President Rich Cummins told the crowd that the nation's community colleges -- which provide quality, low-cost access to education -- serve more students than any other sector of higher education.
"Graduates, this isn't the end, it's the beginning. That's why it's called a commencement and not a completion," said Cummins, who recognized his own daughter, Eleanor, as being the school's youngest graduate Friday. She is 16, received an associate degree in arts and sciences with high honors and is heading to University of Washington.
Duke Mitchell, chairman of CBC's board of trustees, said all those seated before him in caps and gowns had at least one important thing in common -- they're all now Columbia Basin College alumni. That's something of which they should be proud, he said.
"Graduates, you've achieved a great milestone in our life. You have earned it through long hours" of studying, he said. "... We wish you the very best life has to offer."
Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg was recognized as CBC's outstanding alumnus.
Hohenberg said he came from a family that didn't have a lot of money, but they recognized education was very important and Columbia Basin College afforded him the opportunity to push on with his dreams.
Each graduate has the ability to not only be inspired, but to inspire others and to create hope, he said.
"Columbia Basin College has given a lot of people hope," Hohenberg said. "Do great things not only for yourself, your family and friends, but for the community."
Zecena thanked his parents for pushing him to be the best he can be. The student leader's family came to the United States when he was 10 so they could have a better life.
"They taught me the best thing I can do to serve others is to be myself," said Zecena, who planned to eat chocolate cake after the ceremony. "Class of 2013, we did it!"
The Mid-Columbia graduation schedule wraps up today with CBC's radiologic technology pinning at 11 a.m. in the school theater and the nursing pinning at 2 p.m. at the Richland High School auditorium.