Crowds filled James R. Parks Gymnasium at Barstow Community College on Friday to champion the graduation of 321 students receiving 405 degrees.

BARSTOW — In this tight-knit city, where successes are often a shared story, the community particularly revels in proving doubters wrong.

Hence, it was not unexpected that crowds filled James R. Parks Gymnasium at Barstow Community College on Friday to champion the graduation of more than 320 students receiving 405 degrees. So many came out, in fact, the overflow was sent to the nearby Performing Arts Center across campus to watch a live-stream.

"One distinct thing I remember growing up, 'Just because I came from Barstow, I wasn't going to do anything with my life,'" said student speaker Arthur J. Ramirez. "At one point in my life, I considered it to be true. But eventually I came to the realization that the place of one's birth is irrelevant. It is what we do with the gift of life that determines who we are."

Ramirez, who has lived here for 20 years and plans to attend UC Santa Barbara, seemingly expressed the sentiment of those forced to fight the stigma of hailing from a small city on its own island. Yet they still, administrators and students will suggest, have every ability to carve an ambitious path forward.

"So do not listen to those who would try to bring you down," Ramirez added. "We are the living proof that the stereotype is a myth."

Maybe as fitting in Barstow as anywhere, the sense of community was broached often during Friday afternoon's ceremony, with Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre assuring that "community pride stands behind each of you."

She specifically recalled the journey of an inspiring young graduate working more than full time on top of acting as a student worker. She lost her child last year and still she summoned the strength to graduate with honors Friday.

Administrators underscored the challenges of others here, a graduating class which included foster children, first-in-the-family degree earners, former homeless, veterans and active duty military. Many could have given up when met by trials, said Dr. Khushnur Dadabhoy, BCC vice president of Student Services.

But they didn't and instead "realized a beautiful dream."

In doing so, they became part of the 38th percentile of Californians to hold an associate's degree, BCC Superintendent/President Dr. Deborah DiThomas noted.

"Because we knew you," she said, speaking on behalf of the faculty, "we are better."

Shea Johnson can be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.