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Commencement 2019 Excitement Continues as New Grads Celebrate

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Commencement celebrations continued Saturday as thousands of Titans took their long-awaited walks across the stage, signifying the years of study and work that preceded this day. To cheers from family members and friends, they tossed their caps into the air in celebration and hugged their peers. One excited family member cried out, “That’s my sister!” upon hearing her sibling’s name as she was called to the stage, eliciting chuckles from the audience.

College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Rebecca Clark, who is earning two bachelor’s degrees in biological science and chemistry, aspires to become a professor and win a Nobel Prize. Her classmate Erika McCracken, the first in her family to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree, is planning to attend graduate school to become a physician’s assistant.

The graduating seniors shared their stories of hard work, late-night studies and sacrifices in their commencement addresses to fellow graduates in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “We are closing one door, but opening many others that have countless possibilities,” said McCracken, who is earning a B.S. in biological science.

Clark, who will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall to work towards earning a doctorate in analytical chemistry, also reminded classmates that each is about to embark on “many amazing journeys. The possibilities are endless and they’re all there in front of us.”

Dean Marie Johnson welcomed the 468 undergraduates and 116 graduate students earning their mathematics and science degrees and the estimated 5,000 cheering family and friends inside Titan Stadium: “In the days to come, you will be challenged — professionally and personally,” Johnson told the Class of 2019. “Your Cal State Fullerton education has prepared you to tackle these challenges. Tackle these challenges with your brain and with your heart. Use your degree and use your compassion.”

At the end of her address, Johnson paused to honor a special graduate — promising biological science major Brittany Heinz, who passed away in April. She had hoped to help others through a career in pharmacy. Everyone in attendance stood for a moment of silence in her memory. Her family — father, Larry, mother, Vicky, sister Lindsey and brother Josh — were in attendance. Her brother took the stage, wearing her graduation sash and carrying a cap adorned with her photo, as the college recognized the cum laude graduate with a posthumous degree.

College of Humanities and Social Sciences — History, European Studies, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Geography, Ethnic Studies (African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicana and Chicano Studies) and Aging Studies

“My first year here, I never left the fourth floor,” said Ryan Koyanagi, the student speaker representing the Department of Geography. “We carved out a little niche with food and fridges, all our photographs and maps and memories … it felt like home. Today, we are on the cusp of leaving ‘our home.’ We are heading out for new experiences, new adventures. But home is something you take with you … like a hermit crab. As we prepare to leave, we’re not alone. There are communities to help and build. Remember, many of our parents left their homes to build new ones for us. ”

Leaving the comfort of campus for new experiences was a theme that resonated throughout the campus as multiple student speakers thanked their families, professors, friends and fellow students. While the day represents a milestone in their lives, they hope to continue to learn and reach out to others.

“As you make your way in the world, remember there are nearly 300,000 Titan alums for you to lean on, look to and link with as members of your Titan family,” said President Fram Virjee as he addressed the graduating students.

“Today we feel an overwhelming pride,” said Kimberly Madrigal, the student speaker representing the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. “We were tested and we survived. We are here because we sought to improve ourselves to help ensure a better future. I come from a poor immigrant family and I am the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. There have been people and programs who have assisted us along the way. Thank you to those who believed in our possibilities even before we believed in ourselves.”

College of Health and Human Development — Nursing  

“I know that you are the best in nursing care and anyone would be lucky to have you taking care of them,” said Laurie Roades, dean of the College of Health and Human Development to the 271 proud graduates and candidates earning bachelors,  masters and doctorates from the School of Nursing. “Our world — without a doubt — needs more people like you.”

“I am thrilled you have dedicated your life to service,” said Berenecea J. Eanes, vice president for student affairs. “But remember you are now at the beginning of another journey. You will be faculty and leaders of the future.”

“Today you are our colleagues, not students,” echoed Stephanie Vaughn, director of the School of Nursing.

The school’s three student speakers voiced admiration and respect for their fellow students, “who missed their son or daughter’s soccer practice to study, who worked full-time and still managed to finish a paper, and especially our DACA students who were unwavering in their devotion to serve even in these uncertain times,” said Paola Molina. And thanks went to their families, for understanding “nursing is not just a job, it is a calling.”

“Remember that what we do always matters,” said Nyela Wilson. “Do it well, with integrity and respect.”

“Our ability to influence nursing is only limited to our imagination,” said doctoral candidate Sandra Hall. “Be bold, fierce advocates, teachers, leaders, researchers.” 

College of the Arts

As College of the Arts Dean Dale A. Merrill welcomed students and their families to Titan Stadium, he also thanked the college’s dedicated faculty members.

“Our faculty have been the catalysts for our students’ creativity and academic progress,” said Merrill. “Today, we are indeed proud of this graduating class.”

A performance of “Wait ‘Til You See What’s Next” by students graduating with degrees in musical theatre followed heartfelt speeches from graduating Titans Sara Crapes, Maggie Riordan, Shirley Chikukwa and Rachael Ward.

“I’ve developed some amazing relationships in the four years I’ve been here, and I know that all the rest of you have as well. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Theatre is built on telling stories about the relationships between people. It’s built on the foundation of collaboration, of good chemistry and good teamwork,” said Riordan, graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in theatre. “We can show that our work here was valuable, and we’ve grown in a sense that we are able to relate to people better, work harder and communicate our art in a way that brings others into our own journey.” 

“Life after school is weird and scary and so full of possibilities, so go out and be a force in arts and in the world,” said Ward, who is graduating with a B.A. in dance. “I encourage you all to leave here with that same motivation you had to finally nail that third pirouette in ballet or complete a composition piece that you actually ended up liking — and run into life after university knowing you are ready to take it all on.” 

Mihaylo College of Business and Economics

Under a cloudy sky, Morteza Rahmatian, dean of Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, welcomed the crowd and expressed what an honor and privilege it was to witness such a tremendous milestone in the graduates’ personal and professional journeys.

“Like your family and friends, we are proud of your hard work and your success. You have met the challenges, and you are ready to take the next step in your career,” he said.

President Fram Virjee noted that he felt a special kinship with the Class of 2019 because they were the first commencement class with whom he has spent an entire year.

“Because of your excellence and how high you reached as Titans, a new campuswide theme emerged during the time you’ve been here,” he said. “We have come to recognize ourselves as a university of significance. You breathed life and significance into this university, and the impact you have made on your soon-to-be alma mater is exceeded only by the impact I expect, know and believe you will make in this world.”

Student speaker Praise Dekpoh, graduating in business administration-economics, spoke about how leaving her home country of Togo, West Africa, at the age of 17 to attend Cal State Fullerton was the best decision she ever made.

“The experience has made me a truly global citizen, aware of our uniqueness and appreciative of our commonness,” she said.

“I am closing one chapter with a grateful heart; I am opening another one as a businesswoman. It is with pride that I receive this degree, which will allow me to bring my modest contribution to my community back home.”

For More Information

Commencement ceremonies will continue throughout the weekend. For more information, visit