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President’s Scholars Celebrate Upcoming Graduation

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“You set the bar for the rest of our 40,000 students. You are the physical manifestation of ‘Titans Reach Higher.’ And we celebrate your accomplishments.”

With those words, Cal State Fullerton President Fram Virjee welcomed the hundreds of guests who gathered to celebrate the upcoming graduation of 23 President’s Scholars. The graduates are continuing a tradition that began 39 years ago when the university began the merit-based program.

In commending the graduating class, Virjee noted that with the inclusion of the 2018 class, 456 President’s Scholars have graduated from Cal State Fullerton.

“Our President’s Scholars have a graduation rate of 98 percent and near perfect GPAs across the board. On campus, they serve as student leaders in ASI (Associated Students Inc.), as orientation leaders, resident advisers and more. In the community, they support organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club, Giving Children Hope, Night to Shine Prom with the Tim Tebow Foundation and many others. In total, they perform more than 3,000 hours of service both on and off campus.

“And, as President’s Scholars, this makes them MY scholars,” he added. “I couldn’t be more proud. To these scholars, I am confident that you will lead this community, state and nation into a bright and vibrant future.

“So tonight we welcome our 21 new incoming scholars and celebrate our graduating seniors!”

Berenecea Johnson-Eanes, vice president for student affairs, also welcomed the attendees, thanking them for their support.

“With commencement coming, this is the best time of year — a chance to recognize the accomplishments of our students,” she said. “Thank you to our supporters. We could not do what we do for our students without your support. And to our benefactors, please realize that your gift of education to our students never stops.”

Students who are selected as President’s Scholars spend up to four years in a comprehensive, rigorous program that offers experiences and opportunities in academics, leadership, service and mentorship.

President’s Scholar Jordan Bean shared some of her memories with the crowd.

“I remember as part of our freshman group, we were invited to have lunch with the president of the university,” she said. “We were nervous, and I think the organizers overestimated our skill in using plastic utensils. I believe three forks broke. But even then, we were bonded. If someone’s fork broke, a person at the other end of the table would begin a conversation to distract the president. This unity and looking out for one another has carried on throughout our four years at Cal State Fullerton.

“I started the program with fear and anxiety, but joining this group has been a life-changing decision. To my classmates, thank you for sharing your love, joy and friendship. I love you all.”

President’s Scholar Andrew Nguyen addressed the crowd with a personal story of how the other scholars helped him get through a particularly rough time when his father was diagnosed with cancer.

“My father was the sole support of our family, and when he was diagnosed, I seriously considered leaving the program,” he admitted. “I felt my family needed me. I developed anxiety, and then I realized that I would need my scholar family more than they needed me.

“The empathy they showed was incredible — driving me home when I needed a ride, giving me something to eat, teaching me salsa and how to lift weights … they changed my life. Not only are these beautiful people, but they demonstrate that Titans not only reach higher but reach out.”

During the event, four students — a record number — became the recipients of the Verne Wagner Passion Award, recognizing a scholar who goes “above and beyond.” They are Jordan Bean, Laura Fong, Charmaine Lim and James Shade.

“Verne Wagner is not only a maternal presence for our scholars, she is the inspiration for them to continuously reach higher,” said Virjee. “She is a welcoming force, a wonderful warm hug and an encouraging constant presence.”

Also recognized that evening with the Community Partner of the Year award was the organization Giving Children Hope.

Members of the President’s Scholars Alumni Board also were present, and graduating seniors were encouraged to join the group. Incoming freshman Amaris Alosie was awarded the President’s Alumni Award Endowed Scholarship.

At the conclusion of the evening, First Lady Julie Virjee invited graduating seniors to present each incoming scholar with a ribbon and CSUF pin to welcome them to the President’s Scholars community, starting what is hoped will become an annual tradition.

Members of the 2018 graduating class of President’s Scholars are:

  • Rene Arevalo, B.S. mechanical engineering
  • Jordan Bean, B.S. biological science-cell and developmental biology
  • Antonio Carrera, B.S. and M.S. computer engineering
  • Trevor Casby, B.A. business administration
  • Omar Chavez, B.S. kinesiology
  • Joshua Christ, B.S. computer science
  • Laura Fong, B.A. business administration
  • Arielle Garcia, B.A. psychology
  • Alejandra Gutierrez, B.S. child and adolescent development
  • Rachel Herzog, B.A. business administration
  • Natalie Jansen, B.S. child and adolescent development
  • Kevin Lam, B.S. kinesiology
  • Charmaine Lim, B.S. nursing
  • Michelle Neu, B.A. communicative disorders
  • Andrew Nguyen, B.S. kinesiology
  • Dana Nguyen, B.S. biological science
  • Zachary Pinney, B.S. kinesiology
  • Michael Romero, B.A. computer science
  • Ryan Scherer, B.S. electrical engineering
  • Isabel Serrano, B.A. mathematics
  • James Shade, B.A. mathematics
  • Tyler Siedentopp, B.S. kinesiology
  • Gabrielle Szczeblowski, B.S. biochemistry