Their faces filled with joy, relief and just a hint of hesitation, close to 3,000 students crossed the stage in the 2014 California State University, Dominguez Hills Commencement ceremonies as loved ones, faculty and university staff elatedly cheered them on.
Over the span of two days—on May 16 and 17 at the StubHub Center Tennis Stadium— the five college-based commencement ceremonies highlighted students’ diversity, perseverance and incredible drive to succeed and accomplish their goals, as well as congratulations and words of wisdom and advice from a variety of speakers.
“This is a very special place”
With the largest number of graduates—nearly 700—the College of Health, Human Services and Nursing kicked off the festivities with fanfare and a keynote speech from Bob Blair, chief administrative officer of Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center.
“This is a very special place,” Blair said about CSUDH, as he recounted one alumna’s extraordinary success as a Kaiser employee. Anthonia Chugbo, who received both her bachelor’s in nursing (Class of 2005) and her master’s in nursing administration (Class of 2012), used the knowledge and insight gained during her time as a student to find innovative solutions to the problem of Kaiser patients with chronically high hypertension, especially among African Americans, Blair noted in his speech.
Her efforts included culturally distinct cooking classes, targeted giveaways and diversity counseling—strategies so successful that other offices in the region soon followed suit and implemented them to help their own patients.
“When you speak with Anthonia, it’s clear that her education here enabled her to be the leader she is today,” Blair told the audience. “It’s a place that breeds doers and dreamers, rolled into one. The kind of people who make a difference in their communities and in the world. As you launch into your careers, thanks to alumni like Anthonia, your good reputation precedes you.”
“Success Means to Persevere”
CSU Dominguez Hills President Willie J. Hagan also gave a rousing speech to graduates about living a life without regrets.
“Life is short when you’re older looking back on it, but as you get older, you realize it’s the same distance when you’re young looking forward,” Hagan told the crowd of graduates and their loved ones, with a recommendation to live life to the fullest. “I encourage you to whoop and holler in pain or joy and to live a life so that at the end you can shout, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”
David Romero (B.S., nursing) knows firsthand how fragile life can be. His beloved mother died from breast cancer in 2009, spurring him to pursue his degree, despite juggling a full-time job as a nurse and numerous family commitments at home.
“I was her caregiver to the end,” the 29-year-old said, adding that he was graduating and walking in commencement because of her support.
“If my mom was here, all I would want is for her to give me a big hug and say she’s proud of me,” he said, getting visibly emotional. “I did it for her as much as for myself.”
Like many other students, Romero is also the first in his family to graduate from a four-year university. His entire family, including his 75-year-old father, waited eagerly to see him walk across the stage and joyfully cheered him on from the stands.
“Seeing them here makes all that hard work so worth it,” Romero said.
Associated Students Inc. (ASI) President Gavin Centeno spoke to graduates about how many of those in attendance, like Romero, had persevered despite hardships. He pointed out that CSU Dominguez Hills has a sizable population of students who work full time, have families, or are veterans.
“As we look through our history, success was never easy. Success means to persevere, be determined and to never give up,” he said. “Today we make history because we know what success means and the struggles to get there.”
Deborah Presley (B.S., nursing) said she identified with Centeno’s message of struggling to succeed. Presley had been attending school on and off for the past two decades in between working full time and raising her family. She’s currently the director of nursing at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, but says that it was always her dream to go back to school and get her degree.
“It took me 21 years, but here I am,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, really. I’m trying to hold back the tears.”
In the midst of the celebrations, there were also moments of somber reflection. The university presented posthumous degrees to four students who had died in the past year: Tommie Rimmer, Marcela Franco, Reyna Diaz-Ramirez and Rene Romero. Click here to read more about each student.
During Friday’s College of Business Administration and Public Policy ceremony, keynote speaker Dan Beckerman told the standing-room-only audience of his unconventional pathway to success and how taking risks in his career paid off.
Beckerman, president and CEO of AEG, one of the world’s leading presenters of sports and entertainment programming (and owner of the StubHub Center), recounted how after his own graduation, he turned down well-paid “safe” job offers in corporate finance and banking to follow his true passion by working for an NBA team—despite the fact that he was paid a pittance. He says the money didn’t matter, however; he was finally getting to do what he loved.
“I would spend the next 20 years working hard, testing myself and occasionally venturing out of my comfort zone both personally and professionally, fighting the urge to play it safe,” he said. Eventually, Beckerman helped build AEG from scratch into the company that it is today by resisting fear of the unknown, and urged graduates to do the same.
“My unconventional piece of advice for you today is that sometimes when an opportunity comes up that makes you uncomfortable, give it a shot anyways,” he said. “As I stand here today and feel your enthusiasm and energy, I truly believe that the world is yours for the taking.”
One person who is taking that advice to heart is Kishore Ramlagan, 24. The business administration major interned for the LA Galaxy and StubHub Center as a student and is now working full time as a marketing coordinator for the StubHub Center.
In his speech, Beckerman gave high praise for Ramlagan, saying that his hard work and business savvy remind him of a particular person.
“He’s exactly like I was 20 years ago,” Beckerman told the crowd. “He’s better looking, he’s smarter and he’s more hard working than I ever was…but other than that, we’re exactly alike.”
Ramlagan was shell-shocked when Beckerman spoke about him.
“It’s just such an honor to hear that,” said Ramlagan, who looks up to the AEG CEO and hopes to one day follow in his footsteps.
Ramlagan said that his education at CSUDH taught him how to put theory into practice and propelled him into his future.
“My education here made me a well-rounded individual,” he explained, pointing to consistent interaction with his professors and small class sizes as evidence that he and other students received a personalized education tailored to their strengths. He credits the university for putting him on the path to a bright future.
“I never thought I’d be where I’m at,” he said. “Just being here graduating means the world to me and my family.”
Keynote speakers for other ceremonies also doled out wisdom and encouragement to the graduates in equal measures. They included Dr. Geraldine Knatz, former executive director of the Port of Los Angeles; Yvonne Brathwaite-Burke, who has served four terms on the Los Angeles County Board Supervisors and Los Angeles Metro; and Jamienne S. Studley, the acting under secretary of education for the U.S. Department of Education.
As Ramlagan took in the day’s festivities—the balloons, flowers, his friends graduating beside him and the cheering throngs of family and friends—the reality that he was really there sunk in.
“There’s something that CSUDH gave me, and that’s the will to finish what I started. And I’m finally here after a very long road,” he said, placing his hand on his mortarboard. “I’m so proud to be a Toro.”
For more photos from commencement 2014, click here for the CSUDH Flickr account and click here to watch each commencement ceremony on the CSUDH YouTube account.