GWC Police Academy Graduates 58 New Officers in One-of-a-Kind Event

A graduating police recruit receives her badge before a mostly-empty theater.

A graduating police recruit receives her badge before a mostly-empty theater.

MARCH 13, 2020, HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA – Golden West College’s Regional Criminal Justice Training Center held a unique graduation ceremony under newly-ordered restrictions on public gatherings.

During the course of their training, they survived being shocked with a Taser, walking through a building filled with tear gas, and being sprayed in the face with pepper spray — or as it’s more commonly known by its street name, Satan’s Sweat.

That was all just par for the course for the 58 graduating recruits of Golden West College’s Regional Justice Training Center Academy Class 161.

Like every class that goes through the academy, they also completed 1,000 hours of instruction, 95 hours of physical training, 91 hours on the shooting range, 75 hours practicing arresting control, 58 hours of investigative report writing and numerous tests and homework assignments.

They knew going in that they would have to persevere through all of this, and they did it commendably. All for the opportunity to serve as law enforcement officers.

However, no one was counting on the curveball that would be thrown at them just as they were preparing to celebrate their achievements at their graduation ceremony on March 13, 2020. With California’s governor banning gatherings of more than 250 people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it suddenly became clear that they would not be able to have their families and friends in attendance as they received their badges and swore to uphold the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.

“Today’s graduation is obviously a little different than any of our other graduations,” began Ron Lowenberg, Dean and Director of the Regional Criminal Justice Training Center, as he greeted a mostly empty theater. “We’ve been doing this since 1960, and we’ve checked the records, and this is the first time that we’ve had to do something like this.”

The decision had been made the previous afternoon that the graduation ceremony would be held, but only the recruits from Class 161, their counterparts in Class 162 (who were scheduled to graduate in August) and the training officers and police agency leaders who have sponsored recruits would be in attendance. Family, friends, and all other well-wishers would be able to view the ceremony from their homes as it was live-streamed over the Internet, but were not allowed in the theater.

“With the support of the Coast Community College District and the Administration of Golden West College, we recognize the importance of this occasion,” Dean Lowenberg continued. “So we didn’t want to outright cancel the graduation. These young men and women have done way too much work for their respective agencies.”

During the ceremony, the class was addressed by their Executive Training Officer, Sergeant David Natividad of the Orange Police Department; their Class President, Savannah Cornelison; and the keynote speaker was Cypress Police Chief Rod Cox, who, in an emotional moment, announced his retirement from full-time law enforcement.

Chief cox, himself a graduate of GWC’s Academy Class 102, implored the recruits to “Treat all citizens with dignity, fairness, and impartiality … and most importantly, never underestimate the impact your family has in relation to your responsibility as a peace officer. Friends and fellow law enforcement officers are important, no question. However, it is your family that will keep you balanced and hold you accountable. They are the ones who will worry about you while you’re on duty. They were here before you attended the Academy. They were by your side as you were trained here, and they will be here with you long after your badge is retired. Calm their fears and assure them of your professionalism by your proper actions. Never let the job consume you. Always, always find time for them.”

Law enforcement agencies that hired recruits from Class 161 include the Alhambra Police Department, Anaheim Police Department, Brea Police Department, CA Department of Motor Vehicles, Cypress Police Department, Fountain Valley Police Department, Garden Grove Police Department, Hawthorne Police Department, Huntington Beach Police Department, La Habra Police Department, Monterey Park Police Department, Orange Police Department, Palos Verdes Estates Police Department, Placentia Police Department, Westminster Police Department, and Whittier Police Department.

Throughout the ceremony, family and friends who’s presence was so acutely missing from the theater, were able to send messages of congratulations and love through the live stream chat feature, which can be played back synchronously with the video on the Golden West College YouTube channel:

A gallery of photos taken prior to the ceremony can be found on the GWC gallery site:

While this graduation ceremony was unique in the nearly 60-year history of the Academy, each and every one is a solemn, joyful and moving experience — and well worth attending if you ever have the opportunity.