Spirits were high as 10,000 graduates and candidates for graduation celebrated at Cal State Fullerton’s May 16-17 commencement ceremonies. Approximately 60,000 attended the ceremonies.
Following the procession, led by Faculty Marshal Scott Annin, the 2015 Outstanding Professor of the Year, CSUF President Mildred García welcomed the graduating students, friends and families to the 2015 ceremonies. She advised the new graduates to keep learning, give back and remember their alma mater.
“As you venture out into the world, share with us the many milestones of your life and career, visit your favorite professors and remember, you are a Titan…and no matter how far your journey takes you, you always will be! And remember: Titans reach higher!”
Sean Walker, professor of biology and chair of the Academic Senate, arguably got the biggest chuckle of the day when he approached the microphone and proclaimed: “Avengers, assemble!
“I always wanted to say that before a large group,” he said. Then he continued, “I started a new book last week written by David Brooks, “The Road to Character.” Brooks discusses two kinds of virtues: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the things that help you get a job. Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, reflect your character and the relationships you’ve built.
“One of the things that has always struck me about CSUF students is their commitment to gaining their resume skills while demonstrating strong character. I look at the time students spend volunteering in the community, as well as helping each other and their families. The things that all of you have accomplished and will accomplish give me hope for the future.”
Julián Castro: Sunday’s Keynote Speaker
Sunday’s keynote speaker was Julián Castro, 16th secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and former mayor of the city of San Antonio. Overseeing 8,000 employees and a budget of $46 billion, Castro has charged HUD with one goal: giving every person, regardless of that individual’s station in life, new opportunities to thrive, noted President García in her introduction.
“As I stand here today, I see a diverse group of students,” Castro said to the audience. “Your degree offers you a gateway to opportunity. It is clear that the Class of 2015 possesses determination and resolve. Many of you worked to pay your tuition. Many are the first in your families to graduate from college. You demonstrate passion and persistence in accomplishing your goals.”
Castro then talked about the “life lessons” he learned growing up in San Antonio.
“My twin brother, Joaquin, and I were raised by my mother and grandmother,” he said. “My grandmother came to the United States from Mexico when she was six years old. She was pulled out of elementary school to work. She and my mother were hard workers and served as maids, cooks and babysitters.
“When my brother and I attended a middle school orientation in 1986, the director told the group, ‘Look around. Half of you won’t be here by high school.’ My mother took my brother and me and enrolled us in different school. I still remember her words: ‘I wouldn’t put my boys in a place that didn’t believe they would graduate.'”
Castro and his brother did graduate from high school and both went on to Stanford. Castro also received a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
“My brother and I applied to several schools and then waited to see where or if we’d be accepted,” he recalled. “I was so excited to see a packet from Stanford. Not a letter, because that would mean a rejection, but a packet! And my brother was accepted as well!”
Then came the bill — about $28,000 per year, per person.
“My mother made about $20,000 a year, and my grandmother got a few hundred dollars each month from Social Security,” he said. “There was no way those two women could afford to send us to Stanford.
“The only reason I’m here is because I’m from a hardworking family, and I worked hard,” he said. “And this nation also worked for us. There were Pell grants, Perkins loans and work study programs. This nation rewards hard work with opportunities. It offers the ability to achieve our dreams.
“Many of you may have grandparents who picked crops, made beds, worked in factories or fought overseas. They worked hard for your opportunities. My hope is that one day you may be able to watch your own children walk across the stage to accept their diplomas.
“Your education has prepared you to succeed in the working world, and our nation needs you to succeed.
“America is the undisputed land of opportunity,” he concluded. “Your graduation is a victory for you and your family, but it is also a victory for America because we need you. That is what today is all about.”
Saturday’s Keynote Speaker: Richard Lui
Saturday’s keynote speaker, Richard Lui, is an MSNBC dayside anchor who anchored for 12 years with the cable and satellite channel, as well as on NBC and CNN Worldwide.
Lui described how his grandfather, a farmer in China, came to the United States in 1909.
“As you might imagine, there wasn’t much demand in America for a poor farmer who spoke Chinese,” he said. “And so my grandfather began cutting hair. He first practiced on his sons. Eventually, he became a barber and had his own shop. He was a personal innovator. He worked hard so his children could have more opportunities.”
When Lui graduated from business school, he turned down a lucrative career as a consultant and instead accepted a position as a news anchor in Singapore.
“I was interested in journalism from the time I was a 13-year-old listening to broadcasts on a transistor radio,” he said.
He also knew that as an Asian man, the first thing people would notice about him was his ethnicity.
“But as I grew older, I began a new journey of understanding and accepting who I am. I think for many Titans, this is your story, too,” he continued. “One in three students at Cal State Fullerton is Hispanic. One in five is Asian/Pacific Islander. There are many international students. You represent the success stories of CSUF.
“There is something else I think you should know,” he said. “My grandfather came to this country illegally,” he said. “He was a ‘paper son,’ meaning that he changed his name from Wong to Lui. He used fake papers and pretended to be the son of a family that was already here.
“My grandfather gave up his birth name to come to this country to seek new opportunities. He went from being a farmer to being a barber. I challenge you all to become personal innovators like he was. Do something you didn’t think you could do.”
As he acknowledged the graduates, José L. Cruz, provost and vice president for academic affairs, told the audience: “Today is the commencement of your future. All of us who have watched you along this path — family, friends, faculty, staff and administrators — are proud to have been a part of your journey to success. We have witnessed the strength of your character, marveled at the depth of your dedication and been humbled by your commitment to your communities. We may think of ourselves as teachers, but it is all of you who teach us, day after day, the greatest lessons in perseverance, integrity and courage.”
At the College of Communications commencement ceremony, Sarah Del Rio (B.A. communications), walked across the stage as her father, Delfino, was choked with emotion.
“We come from a very hardworking family, but Sarah is the first in our family to graduate from college. She juggled so many responsibilities and spent so many hours studying to accomplish her goals,” he said. Sixteen of her family members were at the ceremony, describing it as a “memory to last a lifetime.”
Titans Reach Higher to Thank Loved Ones
As student speaker Lauren Spraggins ended her Sunday address in Titan Gym to the more than 270 fellow grads in human services, she said: “This journey is not accomplished without those who stand behind us, beside us and in front of us.”
On cue, those in caps and gowns stood up in unison, turned toward their family members and friends watching from the stands, as the song “Time of My Life” played from speakers. The grads waved to those who supported their journey to their degree. Then the music turned to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk!” and the grads danced and celebrated. The medley ended with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” as classmates stood arm in arm, swaying and singing to the Hawaiian version of the song while a student on stage strummed along on a ukulele and a banner was raised on stage that read: Thank You! in different languages. The crowd whooped and hollered as the grads sat down, ready to walk across the stage to be recognized for their accomplishments.
“We wanted to feel like we were united — and do something extra special for our graduation day,” said Cassandra Jablonski, one of the flash-song organizers, after the college ceremony. “It was one last way to have fun and to go out with a bang.”
Jablonski, who will next pursue a master’s degree and a career working with at-risk youth, added: “I don’t think I would have made it this far without my family; their financial and emotional support made it possible for me to do my best. This was a way to say ‘thank you’ to them for believing in me.”