Commencement 2014 was a time for celebration and joy for nearly 3,000 students at California State University, Dominguez Hills, but the event also held a somber reflection to honor four students who died in the past year.
During the ceremonies held on May 16 and 17 at the StubHub Center Tennis Stadium, the university awarded four posthumous degrees to Marcela Franco, Tommie Rimmer, Rene Romero and Reyna Diaz-Ramirez. Each had been an active member of student life at the university before their deaths and were well-known for service to their communities.
Reyna Diaz-Ramirez, a senior majoring in liberal studies, died in her sleep in late December 2013, a week after completing her final classes. The 26-year-old dreamed of becoming an elementary school teacher and worked as an after school enrichment teacher for six years, touching the lives of more than 300 children. Her sister accepted the B.A. in liberal studies on her behalf.
Rene Romero, a senior majoring in digital media arts and audio recording, died June 2013 in a car accident not far from campus. CSUDH alumna Stefanie Ramirez (Class of 2011, B.S., sociology), was also killed in the accident.
Romero was a member of Sigma Pi Fraternity and worked as a first counselor and multimedia chairman for the Greek organization. He was also an active part of campus, working with the Office of Student Life as a new student orientation leader and visiting high schools and community colleges to recruit students to CSU Dominguez Hills. His parents accepted the posthumous B.A. in digital media arts/audio recording on his behalf as a team of Romero supporters cheered in the stands with signs and specially made T-shirts.
Rimmer, a senior majoring in communications and public relations, died in August 2013 due to health issues just as the fall semester was set to begin. He was active on campus, serving as the ASI director of legislative affairs and participating in the March for Higher Education in Sacramento. Rimmer’s sister accepted the posthumous B.A. in communications/public relations degree on his behalf.
Marcela Franco, a junior majoring in psychology, died June 2013 as a result of the senseless shooting at Santa Monica College. She and her father, who worked at the college and also died that day, were at SMC to register her for summer courses to ensure she could stay on track for graduation.
Franco was a well-known and heavily involved student, volunteering with the Office of Student Life’s Food Pantry Program, Welcome Week activities and the Service Learning, Internships and Civic Engagement team. She was also a member of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology, and a certified trainer in TIPS, an alcohol education program. Her mother, sister and cousin accepted the posthumous B.A. in psychology on her behalf.
Stephanie Vasquez (B.A. psychology) knew Marcela Franco from one of her classes.
“We didn’t know each other too well, but I could tell she worked really hard,” Vasquez said. “It’s really thoughtful and touching for the university to award her the posthumous degree, you can tell she was working really hard to get it.”
“Posthumous degrees are a bittersweet process for everyone, but they are a way to recognize the hard work and commitment of the students and often their families,” said Susan Borrego, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs. “I had the privilege of speaking with all of the families and they were all appreciative, proud and touched by the university’s recognition. I’m proud that the university recognized their incredible work.”
Borrego said that she personally knew Franco and Rimmer, making the calls to their families especially hard, but “very special.” She added that Romero’s mother and two aunts also attended CSUDH, making his recognition especially meaningful to his family. An airplane flew overhead during the ceremony, waving a banner with Romero’s picture and the words “Congrats Rene, we are so proud of you.”