Each year, the college recognizes graduating students for their achievements as well as their hard work and perseverance in seeking an education at De Anza.
Click on each name or scroll down to read more about these amazing students!
Two students were selected for this year's President's Awards by Interim President Christina G. Espinosa-Pieb.
- Eric Esparza is is transferring to the University of California, Berkeley and wants to become a lawyer.
- Shelly Michael is transferring to Columbia University and plans a career in public service.
Du Bois and Sankofa Awards
Four students were selected for awards by the Black Faculty, Staff and Administrator's Network
W.E.B. Du Bois Awards for Academic Excellence – honoring the renowned scholar and civil rights advocate.
- Alaric Hill is graduating with a Liberal Arts degree and a football scholarship from Waldorf University
- De'Von Johnson is graduating with degrees in Business Administration and Liberal Arts
Sankofa Awards – named for the Ghanaian bird symbol for applying past knowledge to achieve progress.
- Abdelkareem Khogali is transferring to San José State and plans to study civil engineering
- Billy "Artie" McNeal is graduating with degrees in Liberal Arts and Kinesiology
Genevieve Kolar is the recipient of this year's A. Robert DeHart Memorial Scholarship, named for De Anza's founding president. She served as student representative to the Foothill-De Anza district board of trustees for 2019-20.
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The $2,000 President’s Award is presented annually to graduating students who have overcome adversity and show great perseverance in seeking an education at De Anza.
Eric Esparza is used to working hard and looking out for others. He’ll be doing both as he pursues his dream of becoming a lawyer, after transferring to the University of California, Berkeley, this fall.
“My dad always told me: Do something you’re passionate about,” said Eric, 19.
A first-generation college student and a son of Mexican immigrants, Eric had been accepted by the University of California, Riverside, when he graduated from San José’s Del Mar High School. But then his brother was severely injured in a criminal assault. Eric opted to stay home and attend De Anza, so he could help care for his brother and put less strain on their family finances.
Since they were boys, Eric and his brothers have helped their father with his landscaping business. He didn’t stop working on lawns and gardens while he attended De Anza, where he majored in Business Administration. He also found inspiration in exploring his heritage through classes in Latinx and Chicanx history and art, which led him to join other students in revitalizing the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) club on campus.
After a bachelor’s degree and law school, Eric’s goal is to become a prosecutor and help people who, like his brother, have been harmed by others. He also wants to be a role model and apply his perspective, as a son of Latinx immigrants, to improving the justice system.
While grateful for his family and his heritage, Eric said he found a new sense of community at De Anza. Fellow students and instructors encouraged him to apply to Berkeley when he didn’t think he’d get in.
In his time at De Anza, Eric said he learned that “no matter how many obstacles stand in my way, I can still make it.”
When Shelly Michael first enrolled at De Anza, she planned to major in business. But she soon developed a passion for advocacy, activism and social justice.
Shelly, who is this year’s DASB president, is graduating with degrees in Political Science and Liberal Arts. She's transferring to Columbia University – the next step on a path she hopes will lead to graduate school and a career in public service.
The 20-year-old is a first-generation college student who moved to the U.S. from Israel as a child. She graduated from Sunnyvale’s Fremont High School and was accepted by a four-year university, but tight finances led her to choose De Anza instead.
Her interest in civics was sparked by a first-quarter class taught by political science instructor Jim Nguyen. That led to volunteering for SIREN, a Bay Area immigrant-rights group, and joining De Anza’s Public Policy School, which trains students to advocate on public issues. Along the way, she interned with Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Cupertino, and U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, and made trips to Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
She also sought DASB office, running with her friend, Maya Burns, who was elected vice president. They worked on successful efforts to replace the college mascot and raise the minimum wage for student employees on campus.
It wasn’t easy to balance college obligations with a part-time job and a long commute from Gilroy, where her family moved to buy a house they could afford. Shelly said she had to find her own way as a student, since her parents had no experience with college. Fortunately, she said, her instructors and other campus mentors helped along the way.
De Anza, she added, “is an incredible and diverse community” with “some of the most unique, smart and capable individuals you will ever meet in your life.”
W.E.B. Du Bois Awards
Recipients of the W.E.B. Du Bois Awards for Academic Excellence are selected by the Black Faculty, Staff and Administrators Network (BFSA) and receive $1,000 each, provided by donors through the President’s Fund.
Alaric Hill, 20, saw his hard work pay off this year: He’s graduating from De Anza with a degree in Liberal Arts and a football scholarship from Waldorf University in Iowa.
Alaric plans to study social and behavioral sciences at Waldorf. Once he finishes his bachelor’s degree, he has set his sights overseas. He wants to join the Peace Corps and do humanitarian work in other countries.
“I’d like to travel and hopefully see how I can make an impact,” he said, adding that he’d like to teach English and work on agriculture and sustainability projects.
Alaric graduated from Prospect High School in Saratoga, where he played football for three seasons. He was a wide receiver at De Anza for two years. During that time, a bout with bursitis in his left hip set him back for a while, but he recovered and feels stronger than ever.
“Alaric is a hard-working football player who is academically motivated and a social justice warrior,” said Anthony Santos III, De Anza’s head football coach. “He’s a loyal teammate and a dedicated friend to everyone he came in contact with.”
During his time in college, Alaric also worked overnight shifts as a security officer for a local tech company. He said he took pride in maintaining his GPA while meeting his other obligations.
Alaric said he enjoyed playing football alongside his teammate and best friend, Conor Collins, who graduated over the winter with a scholarship to play football at Dixie State University. They’ve been friends since age 5 and are “like brothers,” Alaric said.
Alaric also praised his coaches at De Anza, including wide receivers’ coach Stephen Amoako. “He helped me become a better athlete and a better man.”
De’Von Johnson is graduating with degrees in both Business Administration and Liberal Arts. He plans to continue his studies toward a career in accounting – but even though he’s good with math, he didn’t always have an easy time in class.
De’Von, 24, credits some of his success to the Math Performance Success program, a De Anza College Learning Community that provides extended instruction, specialized counselors, peer tutoring and a supportive network of classmates who take part in various activities. De’Von said the MPS instructors were especially helpful.
After graduating from Homestead High School in Cupertino, De’Von has taken classes at De Anza for nearly six years. An Environmental Studies course taught by Alicia De Toro was one of his favorites.
When other classes were more difficult, he found support through De Anza’s Disability Support Services program, where counselor Esther Halwani encouraged him to persevere.
“De’Von is a hard-working student,” said Halwani. “He is committed to his educational goals, no matter what challenges come his way.”
The most recent quarter was especially challenging for many De Anza students, as classes moved online because of the coronavirus. De’Von said he missed coming to campus and seeing instructors and friends in person. But he was able to email instructors when he had questions and keep in touch with classmates by texting.
De’Von said he’s thinking about pursuing another degree, possibly at De Anza, before continuing on to a four-year university.
“I think De Anza is a great place for students, including those with disabilities,” he said. “They can get great help here.”
Recipients of the Sankofa Award are selected by the Black Faculty, Staff and Administrators Network (BFSA) and receive $1,000 each, provided by donors through the President’s Fund.
Abdelkareem Khogali left Egypt with his family three years ago because his parents thought their children could get a better education in the United States. He found that and more at De Anza.
The 20-year-old is graduating with a Liberal Arts degree, with an emphasis in Science, Math and Engineering. He is transferring to San José State this fall, where he plans to study civil engineering before continuing on to a master’s degree.
Abdelkareem had hoped to play soccer when he first enrolled at Mount Pleasant High School in San José, but it was the wrong season, so he tried track and field instead. He grew to like running so much that he came to De Anza in part because of its well-regarded track program – even though the campus is a 40-minute commute from his home.
As a sprinter, Abdelkareem specialized in 400-meter and 200-meter events. He was also captain of this year’s men’s team, which made a strong showing this spring before the coronavirus outbreak forced a cancellation of their season.
“He definitely had the respect of the whole team,” said Track and Field Coach Nick Mattis, who added that Abdelkareem was named captain because he was hard-working and “led by example.”
Abdelkareem said he was determined to maintain a strong GPA while competing as an athlete. The shift to online classes was a challenge, but he learned new ways to research online and he appreciated the chance to communicate with instructors through online chat.
“I always ask questions,” he said. “I always took the opportunity to get extra credit, whenever possible.”
While studying full time, Abdelkareem also worked part time in a frozen yogurt store. He plays guitar for fun.
Billy "Artie" McNeal
Artie McNeal took the long way to college: The 50-year-old Army veteran worked as a truck driver, security officer and carpenter after completing his military service in the 1990s. It wasn’t until much later that he decided to enroll at De Anza.
Artie, whose first name is Billy, uses his middle name with friends. He is graduating with degrees in Liberal Arts and Kinesiology. He would like to continue his schooling and become a chiropractor, or pursue certification to work as a strength coach for college or professional athletes.
The Santa Clara resident is also currently training a disability service dog named Ivory. He found the husky-shepherd mix through the Animal Rescue Foundation, which provides service dogs for military veterans.
It wasn’t easy going back to school at his age, he admitted. “I went to school so long ago, I kind of had to start over from ground zero.”
But he liked his instructors and being around younger students. He grew fond of talking basketball with Math instructor Mo Geraghty, a fellow hoops fan who taught him in Statistics.
“Artie told me in the first week that he was worried about passing the class, but he would work hard to learn the material,” Geraghty recalled. “Eventually he was working with other students and actually teaching them. He always kept his sense of humor and because of this, other students would follow his example and work hard as well.”
Another highlight was participating in De Anza’s Cross Cultural Partners program, which pairs up students from different countries to foster friendships and build English conversational skills.
Artie’s advice to other students: “Immerse yourself at De Anza. I did, and because of that I made a lot of friends for life.”
A. Robert DeHart Scholarship
The $2,000 DeHart Scholarship is presented in honor of De Anza’s founding president.
As editor of De Anza’s student newspaper and later as student trustee, Genevieve Kolar helped draw attention to important issues that many students confront – including food and housing insecurity.
Those issues are personal for Genevieve, who’s had her own brushes with eviction and economic hardship. She plans to graduate with a Liberal Arts degree and transfer this fall to Cal Poly Pomona, where she wants to study urban planning and continue working on behalf of communities in need.
“I had a really rare opportunity to talk about my own struggles,” she said of her year as De Anza’s student representative to the Foothill-De Anza district board of trustees. “Most students don’t have that, and when they’re in those situations, they can end up dropping out of school.”
Genevieve, 21, said she hadn’t planned for the future after graduating from high school in Oregon. But she moved to San José to live with her father, who insisted she go to college. In her first year at De Anza, she met friends and helpful instructors through the Learning in Communities (LinC) program and support for a learning disability from De Anza’s Disability Support Programs and Services.
At the student newspaper, La Voz, she helped produce articles on topics ranging from sexual abuse to hunger and homelessness. After attending college governance meetings for the paper – and concluding that students need a bigger voice in policy-making – she ran for the position of student trustee. On the board, Genevieve advocated for student housing, raising the minimum wage for student employees, and other issues.
“What really inspired me at De Anza,” she said, “was seeing people from so many different walks of life pursuing their own ideas of success, and their own dreams. It made me feel like I could make my own way.”