Whether clad in suits, shorts, ties, spiked platform pumps, or flip-flops—or adorned with money leis, bedazzled caps, distinctive sashes or honors ropes—the graduates from the Class of 2013 at California State University, Dominguez Hills honored commencement in their own style.
In front of proud moms, dads, children, extended family, and friends, roughly 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students received their diplomas on May 17 and 18 in the Home Depot Center Tennis Stadium situated on the university’s campus during five ceremonies: The College of Arts and Humanities and College of Extended and International Education, College of Business Administration and Public Policy, College of Education, College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, and College of Professional Studies.
“Congratulations, you did it!” Interim University President Willie J. Hagan said to graduates in his welcoming speech. “I know I speak for all the Cal State Dominguez Hills faculty and staff when I say we are extremely proud of you and all that you’ve accomplished.”
CSU Dominguez Hills was a good option for Kelvin Rutledge, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology after transferring from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, because the program aligned with his focus on the social aspect of psychology.
The first-generation college graduate, who was supported at commencement by well over a dozen family members toting big congratulatory bouquets of flowers and even bigger smiles, said earning his degree was indeed a huge accomplishment and, “It felt like a big weight off my shoulders.”
So much so that after graduating, Rutledge is taking some time to relax and explore another interest—acting—before he commits to a job or further education.
Melissa Norman, who graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts with a performance option and a minor in communications, may go in the other direction and shy away from acting.
The theatre program’s academic approach to theatre—with its emphasis on reading—suited Norman’s style of learning. The drama studies and her experience writing a one-act play, “A Work in Progress,” for her senior project have opened up the possibility of becoming a playwright or screenwriter.
“I’m sort of at a crossroads. I don’t know if I want to pursue acting or perhaps the writing aspect of performing,” Norman said. “I’m taking a year off to see where I am both professionally and emotionally. In a year, if I’m ready for more schooling I’ll go for my master’s degree.”
During her exploratory year, she plans to audition for roles to see whether she still has a passion for acting, as well as do some writing for Brannon Frias Productions, a Los Angeles-based theater company run by former CSU Dominguez Hills theatre student Eduardo Frias and alumnus Greg Brannon (Class of ’11, B.A., theatre arts), which produces original theatrical works for performances in New York and L.A.
“I jumped majors. I started off in accounting, went to business, decided to try nursing, but then I settled on criminal justice because I’ve always tried to enforce doing the right thing and doing good, seeing good in people as well,” said the Buena Park resident who will participate in an internship this summer with the La Palma Police Department before his official summer 2013 graduation.
Garagin transferred from CSU Fullerton—where the program is impacted—to earn a Bachelor of Science at CSU Dominguez Hills, and discovered a few unexpected perks.
“I decided to transfer to a school with more available classes,” he said of CSU Dominguez Hills. “I see more availability of everything. …peers, the teachers, and the parking is great!”
Garagin is among the many at the university who are first-generation graduates, but only by a slim margin.
“I have an older brother who decided to go back to school. He’s actually graduating in June in Chicago. So, I beat him, I’m graduating right ahead of him. I’m very excited,” Garagin said, adding about his commencement, “My mom is here, and my brother. … I’m happy. My mom was always working [to support us], so I’m sure this will make her proud.”
With nearly 30,000 guests in attendance over the course of the five college-based commencement ceremonies, family involvement was clearly an important part of the graduation experience as well as the academic journey. Sometimes family members even provided support along the way by being present on campus.
Phi Kappa Phi honor society members and sisters Sandra and Rita Cuevas, Summa Cum Laude and Magna Cum Laude respectively, backed each other up as students here and both graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Health and Human Services.
“I’m very happy we are graduating together,” Sandra said of reaching the milestone with her twin sister. “We always do everything together.”
Together, the two CSU Dominguez Hills Latino Student Business Association members have conducted internships at Paramount High School and social work agencies, volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club in their community, and are long-time members of their church choir, as well as having performed belly dance during the university’s dance concerts.
“We also dress alike,” Sandra said.
Students, particularly alumni/graduates, often serve as role models for members of their families outside of the university.
Samantha Hernandez not only graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration as a single parent, but she helped to organize the two-day commencement event as a part-time staff member of the university’s Office of Ceremonies and Events.
“In my junior year of high school … counselors, instead of telling me how to fix my grades, they just told me to go to a two-year college instead of a four-year university. They were really wrong,” the Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority member said. “Getting my degree, it feels great. It feels like I’ve accomplished something that I’ve strived for in so many ways. All my struggles would have made me quit if I wasn’t strong enough to fulfill my goal.”
The former Educational Opportunity Program student and Toro Network president will undoubtedly be an inspiring role model for her 14-month-old son as he grows up, as well as serve as an example for other up-and-coming students. When she was a sophomore, she was the featured student in a Spanish-language video, “La Universidad: Un Sueño Alcanzable” (College: A Possible Dream), produced in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education to promote college attendance among children of Latino families.
Hernandez’s achievement also enables her to give back to her mother who supported her through college, in perhaps the most appropriate way, by being be a university graduate role model for her.
“My mom is the primary reason I continued my education. She said that the greatest thing that she could ever leave us with, is our education. And she’s pursuing her degree so it makes me feel good that she can see what her ultimate finish line will look like,” Hernandez said.
High-achieving role models who hail from professions related to each of the commencement ceremonies served as keynote speakers, hoping to provide graduates with one last bit of inspiration as well as recognizing their accomplishments before they leave the university with their diploma in hand and their future in sight.
California State Controller John Chiang told the graduates, “What you’ve done, not only in the classroom but elsewhere, is absolutely awe inspiring. I am so proud of your individual and collective achievement, your resilience, your tenacity and your hard work. … I am so excited about your graduation and the prospect of you making a difference in this world.”
Along with Chiang, speaking to the graduates were two-time alumna Nancy Carlson (Class of ’94, B.S. nursing; ’96 M.P.A.), who is CEO of Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in San Pedro; Congresswoman Janice Hahn (D-Calif, 44th District); alumnus Sam Enriquez (Class of ’85, B.A. economics), senior editor of Page One at The Wall Street Journal; and John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Drawing cheers, Deasy addressed the College of Education graduating class, saying, “You are joining what I absolutely believe to be the most honorable profession in the world, and you are making yourself stronger to continue in the most honorable profession in the world.”
One such graduate is eight-year Navy veteran José Arias, a transfer student from Santa Monica City College, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies.
“I have enough units to teach child development [in a private school] … but the laws changed recently, so I had to come back to school,” said the Culver City Star Prep Academy teacher who wants to become a science teacher in a Los Angeles area public middle school.
“I heard that [CSU Dominguez Hills] had a good teacher program and that was right. It’s culturally diverse. … This [university] teaches you how to teach a diverse group of students,” he said. “Teacher support is really good, as well as were my classmates. It’s a family because the classes are small. It’s a very nurturing and intimate environment. Very friendly.”
Offering encouragement to students still working toward their degree, Roxy Rodriquez, past secretary of the CSU Dominguez chapter of the American Marketing Association, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in marketing, said, “Always keep your head up. Do what your heart desires. Don’t let anybody bring you down regardless of your race or gender. You are powerful, you can make it happen.”
Photos for this story are courtesy of University Communications and Public Affairs, and Brown and Gayden Productions, whose catalog of 2013 CSU Dominguez Hills commencement photos are available for viewing and to purchase at photos.brownandgayden.com.