MJC graduation speaker is Berkeley-bound. Middle and high school didn’t go so well

Thomas Barker will be the student speaker at the Modesto, CA, Junior College commencement ceremony on Friday, May 3, 2019.
Thomas Barker will be the student speaker at the Modesto, CA, Junior College commencement ceremony on Friday, May 3, 2019.

Modesto Junior College will hold its 97th commencement Friday, May 3, featuring a speech by a history major who had struggled in years past.

Thomas Barker, 21, will talk about his journey during a ceremony that starts at 6 p.m. in the East Campus stadium.

Barker is moving on to the University of California, Berkeley, to work toward a bachelor’s degree in history. He hopes to do graduate studies in the field and eventually become a college professor.

It has not been easy. Barker had a rough time at Mark Twain Junior High School, where he failed to graduate. He was admitted to Modesto High School anyway, then dropped out in senior year.

“Things began to change when my girlfriend Kristy urged me to take a class at MJC,” Barker said in an e-mail to the Modesto Bee. “When I got there, the teachers invested heavily into me and a fire for success consumed me.”

The MJC website says it admits people who are 18 or older, but did not finish high school, if they are “able to benefit from instruction.” That’s Barker. He will graduate with honors with a 3.82 grade point average.

About 600 students plan to take part in the ceremony, out of 1,600 who earned associate degrees and 1,000 receiving certificates in the 2018-19 academic year.

MJC will present the annual Distinguished Alumni Award to Kathy Halsey, senior director of the American Leadership Forum, Great Valley Chapter. She retired in 2010 from a 32-year career with AT&T, the last 17 years as an external affairs area manager.

Student soloist Steven John Trapp will sing the national anthem. Professor Erik Maki will conduct the MJC Combined Symphonic and Concert Bands.

Check out these volunteers

The Stanislaus Library Foundation presented its 2019 Shining Star Awards to volunteers and supporters at an April 21 event in Salida:

  • Former Modesto mayor Garrad Marsh and his wife, Dallas. They have campaigned for the special sales tax that provides most of the county library funding. They also donated vouchers for children in the Summer Reading Challenge at McHenry Bowl, which they own.

  • Mayra Castellanos, who volunteers at the Riverbank branch. She recently went through all of the picture books in the children’s collection to see if they needed repair or replacement.
  • Josephine House, whose work at the Turlock branch includes processing discarded books so they can be sold or recycled.
  • Kent and Ginger Johnson, whose home and garden are the venue for the foundation’s annual Authors Garden Gala.
  • Holly and Paul Caron of Alfred Matthews Buick GMC Cadillac. They are a sponsor of Friends of the Modesto Library and have supported the Summer Reading Challenge Movie Night and other programs.
  • Richard Gilton of Gilton Solid Waste Management. He has provided warehouse storage and a trash bin for the annual Friends of the Oakdale Library book sale.
  • First United Methodist Church of Turlock for providing its social hall for the annual Friends of the Turlock Library book sale.

And finally ...

Texas Roadhouse has joined the Sponsor-a-Hive program at Honeybee Conservancy, which works to protect the pollinators needed for about a third of the nation’s food. The program has provided hives to community gardens, nature sanctuaries and other locations.

Texas Roadhouse has a restaurant on Sisk Road in Modesto and more than 500 others around the nation and world.

The Central Valley almond crop is the largest single user of commercial bee colonies. They have declined in recent years for reasons that could include poor nutrition, pesticides and travel stress.

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