Before more than 160 community and civic leaders, CSUDH faculty and staff, family members, and corporate and private donors, Deion Paysinger called his ability to “stand before a crowd of this size and speak” an “accomplishment.”
Paysinger was one of 24 scholars honored at the California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) Presidential Scholars Benefit, the primary fundraising event for the university’s most prestigious academic merit-based scholarship program.
“Most of my life I was utterly shy. I walked the halls of University High School with my eyes fixed to the floor, and at times I would even sweat as a crowd of students walked toward me. I was not comfortable being the center of attention. Yet, somehow I began acting. …I even played Steve Urkel on ‘Family Matters’ along with Jaleel White in the final season of the show,” said Paysinger, who found acting with the help of a friend and is now a theatre arts major at CSUDH.
“So I returned to school, and received a 4.0 after my first semester, which was highly encouraging. I continued to dedicate myself, and here I am today a Presidential Scholar,” added Paysinger, who plans to write and direct theatre and cinema projects after college.
The Presidential Scholars program has awarded more than 150 scholarships to freshmen and transfer students since its inception in 1990. Students are selected for the program through a juried application process. They receive full payment of in-state fees, an allowance of books and supplies, a lap-top computer, complimentary parking permits, as well as support and guidance while they are students at CSUDH.
The scholarship program is funded by corporate and private donations to support approximately two dozen students annually. This year’s fundraising benefit included President’s Sponsors Shell and Toyota Motor Sales, Diamond Sponsor The StubHub Center, and Platinum Sponsors American Honda Motor Co, Kaiser Permanente, and the Watson Land Company.
During his remarks, CSUDH President Willie J. Hagan talked about what a “pleasure” it was to speak with the parents of the scholars at the benefit and to discover where the scholars got their “enthusiasm and “hard charging” work ethic. He also discussed the true meaning and purpose of the annual Presidential Scholars benefit—to give thanks.
“When I thought about tonight and what I was going to say, I thought to myself that this is a thank you event. It is about thanking the donors, the supporters of the Presidential Scholars Program,” said Hagan. “I also thought about what we are thanking them for. We are thanking them for the scholarship they’ve provided for our students, for providing a bridge for them to a better life, and for rescuing these bright students from financial uncertainty. We are thanking all of you for those things, and much more.”
This year, the Presidential Scholars benefit program was emceed by two of the scholars: Zara Angela Orozco, a clinical science major, and Candi Tillman, communications.
“One of the strengths of the program is the diversity we encompass; in age, life experiences, and personal and professional interest. We all have a unique story to tell, and the Presidential Scholarship is important to each of us for different reasons,” said Tillman, who also said one of the “scholars’ goals” for the evening was for the audience to get to know each one of them a little better.
To help make that happen, the scholars created short video clips to share what being a Presidential Scholar means to them and how the honor has and/or will change their lives.
“Being a presidential scholar means retaining a standard of academic dedication and serving the community by developing the kind of initiative necessary for leadership. My presidential scholarship is … giving me the opportunity to interact with faculty members with unique perspectives in their respected fields, and also with like-minded students committed to excellence. I’m very grateful for the open doors and the recognition that a Presidential Scholarship affords.” –Camilla Saunders, English.
“Being a Presidential Scholar these past couple of years has meant not having to worry about getting all my classes, or how I’m going to pay for them or my books, or parking for that matter. It means taking the financial burden off my hard-working mother, which is something that I’m extremely grateful for.” –Cynthia Acosta, liberal studies.
“Being a Presidential Scholar means that faith has been placed on me to be a good role model, to be an active community member, and to be a leader. I will forever cherish this opportunity that was given to me—I will be an active community member, and I will be that good role model, and yes, I will be a leader.” –Wendy Ortega, child development.
All the scholars were presented special medallions to wear during commencement on May 20-21 to signify them as Presidential Scholars.
Gayle Ball-Parker, director of the Presidential Scholars Program, expressed during her remarks how working with the scholars motivates her to “come into campus every day,” and she described how “great” they are and committed to the campus, their communities, and each other.
“I work with them day-by-day and week-by-week, and I cannot express to you how great these young people are. I was going to call them ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing,’ but they say that all the time,” said Ball-Parker. “So, I was looking through the thesaurus earlier and some of the related words were ‘fascinating,’ ‘profound’ and ‘deep.’ They’re all those things and much more.”