This year's West Hills College alumnus of the year knows West Hills better than most. After spending two years at what was then Coalinga College in the mid-1960s, he went on to spend his career in community colleges and in fact has dedicated the last 11 years of it to West Hills-first as president/superintendent and currently as chancellor.
But no one probably had college president in mind for Frank Gornick when his coach called him into the football office at the University of Arizona in 1964 to tell him that his grades weren't up to par and he was going to have to leave the university.
"My GPA (grade point average) was microscopic," Gornick says, "and my choices were to head back to my hometown of Chicago and a job in the steel mills or to find a community college."
Childhood friend Dan Goich was being recruited from Coalinga College to play football at the University of Arizona at the same time and the two connected in Arizona . Goich, a graduate of U.C. Berkeley who went on to a successful professional football career, told Gornick about his positive experiences at Coalinga.
A call to Walt John son, the Coalinga College football coach, launched Gornick on his community college path.
"To this day, I still have long-standing personal and professional relationships with faculty and staff from my days as a student in Coalinga," Gornick said. "The affirming nature of the community and the support they gave the college, its activities and the individual students was a determining factor in my ability to complete college."
Not only did Gornick earn his associate degree at West Hills, but he went on to earn a bachelor's and a master's degree from Sacramento State University and finally a Ph.D. from St. Louis University .
Quoting the West Hills slogan, Gornick said, "I'm living proof that Once You Go Here, You Can Go Anywhere."
"Not only did I go here, but I met my wife, Gloria, here and our two daughters were both educated here. Gornick's youngest daughter, Christina, will graduate from West Hills during ceremonies this Friday.
Dr. Barbara Hioco, president of West Hills College Lemoore, will introduce Dr. Gornick at the ceremonies on Friday. She said the selection committee chose Dr. Gornick for his long-time dedication to the college and because he is an excellent role model for students.
"Frank is the classic example of a kid from a working-class family who wasn't very academically motivated," Hioco said, "but community college made a big difference in his life and he, in turn, has spent his life in service to community colleges.
"The turn-around in West Hills Community College District since his professional arrival here in 1993 is nothing short of miraculous," Hioco said. "Not only did he lead the efforts to revitalize the campus in Coalinga but he and our board of trustees also had the vision and foresight to put a local higher education bond on the ballot that when passed in 1998, allowed us to build state of the art science and technology facilities throughout the district and our new campus in Lemoore."
"Our selection committee felt that Dr. Gornick was long overdue for this honor," Hioco concluded.
Gornick will be the featured speaker at graduation ceremonies this Friday at 7 p.m. at West Hills College Coalinga. Graduates are asked to report at 6 p.m. to the college gymnasium.
This will be the last joint ceremony for West Hills College Coalinga and West Hills College Lemoore. Accreditation for the Lemoore campus is expected in June and future ceremonies will be held separately.
Darlene Georgatos, director of district enrollment services, said that about 475 students have filed graduation petitions for the current academic year. Usually a little less than half of those students go through ceremonies, she said.