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Stan State Class of '22 Commencement: That's a Wrap!

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Stanislaus State wrapped up its commencement ceremonies this evening as the final graduates of the class of 2022 had their degrees conferred by President Ellen Junn, completing two solid days of celebration on campus.

The first of four commencement ceremonies were held Thursday morning as graduates from the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (CAHSS) were the first to walk the stage of the outdoor amphitheater on the Turlock campus for the university's 62nd commencement.

Junn watches Star Spangled Banner performance

Before her speech, President Ellen Junn takes a moment to enjoy the performance by Joseph Saeteurn (Bachelor of Music, Music) as he sings the Star Spangled Banner during the College of Science commencement on May 27. 

2022 Grads Hugging Business and Psychology

Two graduates share a hug during the 2022 Commencement Ceremony. (Photo Kimberly Horne)

In total, Stan State awarded 3,130 bachelor or post-baccalaureate degrees within all four colleges, while another 306 were awarded credentials. At the first ceremony of the series, degrees were conferred on 704 graduates, including the first five degrees ever awarded in Stan State's newest major, Creative Media.

At the CAHSS ceremony Thursday morning, an excited crowd of about 3,500 filled the amphitheater to mark the first large, in-person commencement ceremony at the university since prior to the pandemic.

At each ceremony, families and guests arrived with their graduates for the check-in process, where they were required to show ID’s, tickets, and proof of COVID-19 self-screening, before being escorted together to awaiting chairs of five.

Celebrating with Hope, Determination, and Recognition

The opportunity for graduates to sit with their guests was one positive take-away from students who graduated in the same manner last year, according to Kristina Stamper, Director for Communications & Creative Services. She said many students expressed a desire to keep that going for this year’s ceremonies. Unlike last year’s much more socially distanced event, this year students were allowed to bring up to five guests; last year greater social distancing regulations meant each graduate could only have two guests.

“We are lucky that this pandemic, while still present, is not stopping our students and families from gathering on one of the most important and pivotal days of your lives." --President Ellen Junn

In remarks given by Stan State President Ellen Junn, she commended the class of 2022 for having succeeded through the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“We are lucky that this pandemic, while still present, is not stopping our students and families from gathering on one of the most important and pivotal days of your lives,” she said. 

Junn also offered graduates three pieces of advice:

  1. honor your family’s roots,
  2. follow your dreams as you continue to build your knowledge and your skills, and
  3. embed service into your life using integrity and kindness.

“The world needs all of us to do our part in giving back and making this a better planet,” she said. “So, find something that you love outside of yourself and provide service to that greater good, by volunteering, reaching out, and making a difference.”

Hat 1

A decorated hat at the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences ceremony on May 26, 2022. 

Speaker for the faculty, Dr. Dana Nakano, took a somber shift from the original focus of his speech to honor the victims of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas earlier in the week and less than a week after a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. 

“My heart is heavy with the unnecessary loss of life that we have witnessed in this last week to mass shootings and to a system that refuses to take responsibility and action,” Nakano said, garnering applause from the audience of students, families and faculty.

He said while his original speech had been filled with great jokes and wisdom, those words no longer felt appropriate. He shared excerpts from “Kids Who Die,” a 1938 poem by Langston Hughes, which he noted still holds true today.

Graduates, too, expressed melancholy. While elated at the opportunity to participate in the largest ceremony in three years, some also expressed their sorrow at not getting to experience much of college life over the past couple of years. For some, like Heather Antonini (Bachelor of Arts, Psychology), commencement was the first time many had seen their classmates outside of Zoom.  

Antonini

Heather Antonini, center, with her girlfriend, left, Keely Nunez, mom, right, Terra Abeyza, and dog, Penny. Antonini was surprised at how well she did in her online classes after classes went remote. (Photo Emily Ascencio)

Antonini, who worked full time and went to school at night while working on her degree, had only been at Stan State for one semester before the campus shut down in 2020.

“It was quite difficult, [I was] in a high-crisis job, and going to school at night, it was challenging for sure,” she said.

She moved out of state last year and traveled back this week for the ceremony. A reentry student, Antonini said the years of life behind her actually helped her in her college experience.

“Coming back to college after taking like 13 years off, it’s taken me about nine years to finish my bachelors, and I changed my major, so coming back to school older has definitely been more rewarding,” she said.

CAHSS Grads Focus on Perseverance, Central Valley Ties

CAHSS student speaker Katrina Thomas-Grey

The CAHSS student speaker, Katrina Thomas-Grey, addresses the crowd. (Signal photo, Kimberly Horne)

The CAHSS student speaker, Katrina Thomas-Grey (Bachelor of Arts, Criminal Justice), shared her story of perseverance through a life filled with unforeseen challenges due to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2002.

The mother of four hit a snag early on in her Stan State career, earning a C in one of her first classes in 2020. After that, she maintained high grades and a spot on the dean’s list after promising herself she would do better.

“I had to talk to myself, so I said, ‘Girl, is this what you really want to do?’ and I said, ‘Yes, girl. I’m all in,’” Thomas-Grey said, noting that the C was the lowest grade she got at Stan State.

Thomas-Grey congratulated her fellow classmates for making it through an unprecedented time but stuck it through. 

“As we leave here with our heads held high, we found that inner strength to go through COVID, and do everything that we did to get to this point,” she said. “And I just want to say congratulations everybody. I appreciate you all.”

Two honorary doctorate degrees were awarded during the Thursday morning event to Stan State alumnus, Jeani Ferrari and her husband John. The Ferrari’s, second-generation farmers with long roots in philanthropy and community activism, generously donated to the efforts of the J. Burton Vasché Library in 2020. Their donation funded the two story agriculturally themed mural donning the main entrance of the lobby, which also bears their name.

Hat 2

A decorated hat at the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences ceremony on May 26, 2022. 

Addressing her fellow classmates, ASI President Cynella Aghasi congratulated her fellow Warriors on making it this far.

“Here at Stanislaus State, we call ourselves warriors. And as warriors do, you, graduates, have embraced the uncertainty, held on to your commitment to your goals, after semesters and years’ worth of hard work and mental exhaustion to make it to this very day,” she said, adding that the legacy graduates leave behind will leave stepping stones for their success as well as future generations for Warriors who follow.  

Graduate Larissa Vasquez (Bachelor of Arts, English) was excited to be the first in her family to earn a bachelor degree.

“It means a lot to show that pathway to my siblings that they can also do it, and then just to myself, that I was able to do it,” she said.

Vasquez said her college experience wasn’t an easy one, having transferred from two universities before settling in at Stan State.

“When I finally came to Stan for an in-person experience, it was everything that I expected, it was really nice coming here and being able to be here for as long as I did,” Vasquez said.

Morghen Harris was at commencement to support her brother Bradley Harris, who was receiving a degree in Sociology.

“[This graduation] it means a lot. I feel like it means a lot because when we were 12, our mom passed away,” Harris said. “So, we’ve been through a lot and just to see him graduate today is a huge accomplishment.”

Sabrina Mijares (M.A., English) was at the ceremony to receive her master's degree. She missed out on a traditional ceremony in 2020 when she should have walked the stage to receive her bachelor degree.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to be celebrated, I guess, so it’s nice to be back and be able to celebrate,” she said.

A courageous moment came during the distribution of diplomas when Caitlin Cox (Bachelor of Arts, Communication Studies), who uses a wheelchair for mobility, and her service dog, Fritz, who donned a matching graduation cap for the occasion, were left standing on the stage with nobody to help them exit.

Caitlin and Fritz

Signal reporter, Caitlin Cox and her service dog Fritz. (Photo Kimberly Horne)

In what couldn’t have been more than a total of ten seconds, hardly long enough for the crowd to notice anything was wrong, two women came to Cox and Fritz’s aid. First, Jeanie Ferrari, who had just received an honorary Doctorate came to Cox's side, taking her diploma to help free her hands and move off stage. When Ferrari began to become wrapped in Fritz’s leash, it was President Ellen Junn who leaped into action, taking the handles of Cox’s wheelchair, and pushing her down the ramp with tremendous good cheer.

Cox said she had no idea who was pushing her down the ramp and assumed the huge uproar of cheers from the audience was for Fritz.

“I didn’t even know who was pushing me, to be honest, I thought that it was like amazing, I thought everybody was cheering for Fritz, because he was so cute with that cap,” she said, “but I realized they were cheering for me too.”

The small snafu was probably something that wouldn’t have happened to someone without disabilities, noted the graduate who hopes to become an advocate and motivational speaker for persons with disabilities, but it’s worth noting it might have been prevented. Cox also added there was a hiccup with handicap seating as well, and both situations, however mild, could have been cleared up with better internal communication.

“It might have been good to note that a disabled student was crossing the stage and would need extra assistance,” she said.

Slight holdups aside, Cox said the ceremony was amazing. She was grateful to be able to sit with her family, like so many others in attendance during the four ceremonies.

“I got to sit by my dad, and my boyfriend was on the other end with my mom and my two aunts in the middle, it was just really cool,” she said, noting having family close during emotional situations is crucial. "Who’s going to have tissues if you’re not with your parents?”  

College of Business Administration Grads Get Respite from Heat

Temperatures were expected to hit 90 degrees by the 4 p.m. ceremony start time for the College of Business, but a breeze rolled in, making for a pleasant evening to celebrate the accomplishments of our future business leaders.

The business degrees awarded to students in attendance allotted for 439 of the 3,130 total bachelor or post-baccalaureate degrees awarded within all four colleges; another 306 students were awarded credentials this semester.

Kayla Lindquist (Bachelor of Science, Business Administration) was the student speaker for the CBA.

“I have no idea what I am doing, and I’m sure many of you don’t either,” she said, “and that’s okay.”

Lindquist continued, saying that while college may be just a pit stop along the way for those ready to start their adult life, for others, it’s more than just a pit stop.

“It’s validation that we have come, conquered, and showed up for ourselves every step of the way,” Lindquist said. “We may not know exactly where we’re headed, but we know that with a diploma in our hand, we have the potential to make something amazing of ourselves.”

Juan MBA

Juan Dicochea earned a Masters in Business Administration. 

Juan Dicochea (MBA, Business Administration) was happy to be part of a graduating ceremony that felt closer to pre-pandemic normalcy.

“This is a big accomplishment, it means a lot,” he said. “You know with the pandemic and with campus being closed down and not being able to be out, to be here as one of the first ones to graduate, it feels special.”

College of Sciences Grads Enjoy Cooler Temperatures, Large Crowds

Degrees were awarded to 731 Stanislaus State students during the College of Science (COS) commencement ceremony Friday morning, making it the largest group of graduates slated to participate in the 2022 commencement ceremonies.

Masters grads 2

Graduates with a Master of Science line up to receive their diplomas during commencement for the College of Science May 27. 

COS graduates and their families enjoyed the coolest weather yet for the third of four ceremonies that took place in the Turlock campus’s outdoor amphitheater.

In a welcome address given by Provost and Vice President Academic Affairs, Dr. Richard Ogle, he said how nice it has been to see campus spaces come alive again, as students, faculty and staff returned to campus after the height of the pandemic.

 “Today, we celebrated our largest gathering in a very long time, and graduates, it is such a pleasure to see you here with your loved ones,” he said. 

Ogle, who is finishing up his first year as provost, has noticed one constant with every person he’s met during his time at Stan State and said it’s carried everyone through some difficult times.

“Your care for one another, and our care for one another, that, to me, exemplifies the warrior spirit,” he said.  

In remarks given by President Junn, she noted the large number of first-generation students that made up the graduating class of 2022, and loud cheers and applause rang out as she asked them each to stand and be recognized.

“We love all of our students, but especially our first gen, because they are pioneers, and courageous to try something new and put your toe in the water and get your degrees,” Junn said.

Jose Raphael Santos (Bachelor of Arts, Psychology) was the event’s student speaker. Being a student speaker at commencement wasn’t something Santos ever thought he would do, he said, but noted that our futures can be uncertain and we tend to think of the worst when faced with the unknown.

“Entering college was such an uncertain time for me and I imagine for many of you as well,” he said.

Santos went on to say that the circumstances of the past several years have demonstrated what an uncertain time it has been for everyone and how unpredictable the world can be.  

“I’m sure I can speak for everyone when I say we have all struggled to find our path through these experiences,” he said. “Although difficult, I want everyone to remember, where the struggle has led you.”

Other COS graduates expressed relief after completing their time at Stanislaus State, and talked about what they look forward to next.

Child Development grads

Ken Yang, Hira Takar, center, and Anicia Torres, who each earned a Bachelor of Science in Child Development, plan to take some well earned time off before coming back for grad school. (Photo Emily Ascencio)

“I don’t have to wake up early to go to class anymore,” said Ken Yang (Bachelor of Science, Child Development). “I don’t have to stay up late studying and cramming and doing homework at the last minute.” 

Anicia Torres (Bachelor of Science, Child Development), who has a newborn on the way, was also ready for the respite, adding that “this feels like a relief, a big accomplishment.”

Anicia hat

Anicia Torres (Bachelor of Science, Child Development) decorated her hat as a reflection on her family and the child on the way. (Photo, Emily Ascencio)

Hira Takhar (Bachelor of Science, Child Development) knows what her plan is:  “I’m taking a year off and then going back to school for a master’s,” she said. 

Yang added that he was in the same boat. 

“I’m taking like a year off to just start working, getting more experience, and then see how I feel about it,” he said. “If I feel like I need to come back and get my master’s then I will, but if I feel like I’m comfortable where I’m at then I’ll probably stay there.”

College of Education, Kinesiology, & Social Work Provides Joyful Close to the 2022 Commencement Ceremonies

The College of Education, Kinesiology, & Social Work (CEKSW) was the last group of Stanislaus State graduates to walk the stage in the fourth and final commencement ceremony of the year Friday. In total, 567 degrees were handed out during the ceremony.

Graduates and their families were greeted with cool weather and a nice breeze upon entering Turlock’s outdoor amphitheater, a pleasant change from the higher temperatures of Thursday.

In opening remarks given by President Junn, she told the audience how lucky she feels to be the president of such a beautiful campus, both in Turlock and in Stockton.

“I am lucky to be amongst some of the most incredible, determined, brilliant, hardworking and extraordinary students, all of you, the graduating class of 2022,” she said. “We honor you today for earning your degree at Stan State.”  

Junn, who said she recently watched her own son graduate from college and graduate school, gave special thanks those who have supported the class of 2022 along the way. 

“We send our heartfelt gratitude to all the parents, family members and friends who gave their love, encouragement, wisdom and support to our students, she said.

Rabia Quiser (Master of Social Work, Social Work) was the final student speaker for the Class of 2022. She said although she and her classmates each shared a different journey along the way, each overcame took life’s barriers and overcame them to get to where they are today.

Student Speaker Education

Rabia Qaiser, the Student Speaker, addresses the crowd. (Photo Kimberly Horne)

“Many of us relied heavily on our support system, we reached out to teachers and mentors, we vented to friends, and we counted on family to help us through it all,” she said. “Regardless of our unique, individual journey’s, I want you to remember that we all faced struggles, we crossed barriers, we overcame obstacles, and we managed all other aspects of our personal lives.”

She went on to say that while some students have aim to earn their degrees for themselves, for others, it’s to make their family proud. Though she initially started her education at UC Merced with an undeclared major just to make her parents proud, she soon found she was also doing it for herself.

“Like many of you, my parents migrated to the U.S. so I could have the opportunity for a better education and a desirable lifestyle,” she said, adding that she grew to love the opportunity for herself. “Before you know it, I had applied to the master’s program of social work simply because I wanted to, not because it was something my parents envisioned for me.”

Vanessa Cruz-Aragon (Master of Education, Education) is planning to get a job as a school counselor at the elementary level. She said it feels amazing to be graduating after all the hard work, and credits the support she received in helping her through.

“With the pandemic it was obviously very hard to stay motivated but you know, with the support of our professors and our faculty, we got here and I’m excited," Cruz-Aragon said. "I feel like it really lived up to our mascot, the Warriors, that we were able to go through it all.”

Sylvia Benitez (Master of Social Work, Social Work) said she has been dreaming about this day forever. When asked what her time at Stan State meant to her, she said it’s the campus that she’ll look back on fondly.

“The campus overall stands out for me, I just really enjoyed it, it was really relaxing,” she said.

Benitez, who hopes to find a career in child welfare, said she really liked the format of this year’s graduation ceremony. 

“I liked that we were able to sit with our family this time,” she said, “I thought it was a really nice touch.”

Signal graphic designer Kimberly Horne as well as reporters Selena Estrada and Emily Ascencio contributed to this story.

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