Hundreds of family members, friends, fellow veterans and Cal State Fullerton staff members were on hand to honor student veterans Saturday, April 30, at the ninth annual Veterans Appreciation Night. This year, more than 180 student veterans are expected to graduate from the University.
“We are so proud of our student veterans,” said Vijay Pendakur, associate vice president for student affairs. “At Cal State Fullerton, 67 percent of our student veterans graduate. This compares to a national rate of 51 percent. I think some of our students feel that if they survived military service, they can survive college. But we understand that you have acquired wisdom through your military service and by working as a team to support one another.”
“The military changed my life,” said keynote speaker Mary Ann Villareal, director of strategic initiatives and university projects. “I was a 17-year-old living in Texas with my grandmother when I joined the Air Force. Perhaps, like many of you, I saw the military as a way out — a chance to go to college, to see the world. My grandmother was against my enlisting. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the military, but I was her first grandchild and she raised me. But today, I love speaking at events like this because I know she’ll be telling the cashier at Target about her granddaughter who is speaking at a banquet for veterans.
“But we are here to celebrate you,” she continued. “Serving in the military and graduating from college are transformative moments. It changes you. You made a commitment, offered and received support from others, and changed the direction of your life. We congratulate you on achieving this significant goal.”
Five students are recipients of the Veteran’s Scholarship for Success Awards of $1,000 each: Tabatha Maddox ’15 (B.S. human services), pre-health professions studies certificate; Claudia Acosta, M.S. taxation; Yareli Mendoza ’15 (B.A. political science), M.P.A.;
Daniel Nannery, business administration – information systems and business administration – entertainment and tourism management; and Ariana Magana, biological science.
Special recognition also was given to those who will be deployed soon:
- Lt. Col. Mark Waters, professor of military science, CSUF ROTC
- Staff Sgt. Travis Bui, Army Reserves, credential/secondary education
- Spc. Nadine Garcia, Army Reserves, international business
- Yeoman, Second Class Norma Vasquez, Army Reserves, psychology
Veterans in the Class of 2016 earning bachelor’s degrees include:
Lucia Aguirre, health science; Arturo Alfaro, business administration-marketing; Stephen Coffey, communications-public relations; Kyle Collins, kinesiology; Gabriel Franco, communication-public relations; Jose Guevara, public administration; Timothy Hendricks, business administration; Peter Klug, business administration-accounting; Deanne Locker, biochemistry; Sergio Lopez, mechanical engineering; Marco Salazar, criminal justice; Long Hai Trieu, business administration-finance; Jason Valentin Diaz, health science; Norma Vasquez, psychology; Alexander Wong, economics; Channarath Pot, human services; and Christopher Ruelas-Woods, criminal justice.
In addition, Gina Gutierrez-Rawson is graduating with a doctorate of nursing practice (D.N.P).
Three faculty members — Laura Chandler, lecturer in health science; Meriem Hodge, assistant professor of political science; and Kristy Forsgren, assistant professor of biological science — were recognized for their support of student veterans.
Graduating senior Deanne Locker gave the closing speech, describing her life that consisted of raising her siblings while her parents fell into financial trouble and drug addiction.
“When we were evicted, we moved into my grandparents’ house,” she said. “I would work at Carl’s Jr. while going to school. I’d do my homework after all the kids were asleep.”
In high school, she spoke to an Army recruiter and “transformed into a soldier.” She became an Army medic, working with soldiers in the burn unit. She spent 15 months in Iraq as a combat medic and returned to school when her service ended.
“I felt out of place as a student,” she recalled. “I had to work to help support my family, I was a wife, a mother, a philanthropist and now a student. But I found a great deal of support from the Veterans Resource Center, and they encouraged me to continue to strive toward my dreams.”
Locker is waiting to hear if she has been accepted into a postbaccalaureate medical program.