CSUDH Alumni Reunite and Lead 2013 Graduates in Commencement Processional

Alumni Don Manning and Cheryl McKnight flash the Toro sign to commencement onlookers.

Alumni Don Manning (Class of ’08, B.S., business administration) and Cheryl McKnight (Class of ’01, B.A, anthropology; ’06, M.A., English) flash the Toro sign to commencement onlookers.

Whether recapturing the cap-and-gown experience, making up for a missed opportunity to participate in commencement, or reconnecting with the university and former classmates, 54 California State University, Dominguez Hills alumni gathered in full regalia on May 18 to lead the 2013 graduates from the College of Arts and Humanities and College of Extended and International Education into the Home Depot Center Tennis Stadium.

“The alumni commencement processional is an important element of community engagement for the university. Alumni have the opportunity to meet with university administration and faculty—some who were once their professors—and fellow and future alums. These sorts of activities help alumni maintain their ties to CSU Dominguez Hills and they can serve as inspirational examples for graduating seniors,” said director of Alumni and Family Programs Gayle Ball-Parker (Class of ’78, B.A., psychology).

Before sitting for a group photograph with University President Willie J. Hagan and leading the commencement processional, alumni engaged in conversation with each other over refreshments and cake during a private pre-ceremony reception in the Home Depot Center clubhouse. In addition to having the opportunity to meet with the commencement platform party, alumni also connected with fellow former Toros.

Alumna Candi Luin (Class of ’03, B.S., business administration: information resources), an administrator for the Los Angeles Community College District admissions and records office, who attended the processional to visit her alma mater and to reunite with a former business major classmate, also found herself making some new friends among CSU Dominguez Hills alumni.

“It feels good to talk to other alumni here and see what they are doing,” said Luin, who was a senior when Welch Hall was being dedicated in 2003. “I decided to come back in exactly 10 years since I graduated.”

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CSUDH alumni celebrate the joy of commencement.

One of Luin’s new acquaintances Sylvia Ballard (Class of ’88, B.S., public administration), who works as a senior business systems analyst for the Rand Corporation, also celebrated a significant milestone—25 years since graduating from the university.

Also a first-time participant, Ballard said it was especially rewarding to connect with alumni now, because as a student who worked during the day and attended classes in the evening, she wasn’t able to make significant associations with schoolmates then.

Alumna Barbara Brown (Class of ’11, B.S., public administration), an administrative coordinator for United Water Environmental Services, who participated in the alumni processional for the first time, not only made friends at the event, but as a returning student—this time pursuing a certificate in purchasing through Extended Education—she felt like an ambassador of sorts.

“I do feel like I’m an alumni host. People ask me questions because I’m still here,” she said of being a student at the campus. “I really like this school. The professors are very personable and I like the fact that it’s a very diverse campus.”

In fact, one of the hallmarks of the university is its diversity, evidenced by a student population that is 23 percent African American and 45 percent Hispanic. These are some of the qualities that have kept the interest of alumnus Juan Carlos Mendez (Class of ’97, M.A., multicultural education).

“I love this place. I’m so happy that it has grown and prospered,” said Mendez, who is a pastor at the Centro Christiano Bet-El in South Gate. “I want to see [CSU Dominguez Hills] grow even more.”

Mendez, a retired teacher and assistant principal of Los Angeles High School who served as a member of the CSU Dominguez Hills School of Education Advisory Board from 1996 to 1998, said he participated in the alumni processional to help strengthen the ties between the university and the Latino community, where it can have “a tremendous impact” especially on minority youth.

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Alumni Advisory Council member and alumna Delarie Brooks (Class of ’82, B.A., communications) and alumnus Juan Carlos Mendez (Class of ’97, M.A., multicultural education) receive a hearty welcome from the crowd during the 2013 alumni processional.

“I think Cal State Dominguez Hills prepares students for the real world,” he added.

Luin, who is the first among 11 siblings to earn a college degree, agreed, saying, “Having that degree under your belt, that helped me get my foot in the door for a job.”

Alumna and professor of Spanish at El Camino Compton Center Axa Maradiaga (Class of ’93, B.A., Spanish; ’96, M.A., education: Spanish literature), has helped prepare many students for the workforce as well as continuing their education—many of her students transfer to CSU Dominguez Hills, where she taught Spanish for one semester.

She returned to her alma mater to connect with her former professors and to support students on their graduation day.

“I came to see my ex-students from Compton Center getting a degree,” said Maradiaga, adding of her own experience as a student at the university, “It’s the greatest school. I got a great education.”

A shining example of the university’s popular motto, “Once a Toro, Always a Toro,” alumnus Don Manning (Class of ’08, B.S., business administration: management and human resources) appreciates how his education has benefited him and since his graduation has made it a priority to stay connected to his alma mater by serving on the Alumni Advisory Council.

“I wanted to give back to the CSU Dominguez Hills community in some way. My involvement as a student, I knew a lot of people, so I figured being on the council would help me stay connected and allow me to give back to the campus, which has given so much to me,” said Manning, who this year was also the keynote speaker at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Questioning Transgender Allied graduation celebration held a few days prior to commencement.

He added that by participating in the processional, alumni not only provide support for students and their families but they also demonstrate how soon-to-be alumni can stay connected with the campus while commemorating their graduation for years to come.

“It was wonderful to walk into the stadium. We get to relive the moment,” Manning said. “Yes, we graduated officially once, but going into the processional again, we get to celebrate it all over again. It keeps my school spirit alive.”

To view more photos of the alumni processional and pre-reception, courtesy of Brown and Gayden Productions, CLICK HERE.

For more information about contributing and becoming involved visit the Alumni Association website or call (310) 243-2237.