A record 3,100 students received their diplomas during the 2012 California State University, Dominguez Hills Commencement May 18 and 19 at the Home Depot Center Tennis Stadium. It was the first time in several years the ceremonies spanned two days, with this year’s exercises split into five college-based ceremonies.
As expected the days were filled with big smiles, hugs, cheers, balloons, confetti, congratulatory signs and a generally festive atmosphere as faculty, administration, staff, special guests, and thousands of family and friends celebrated as master’s candidates were hooded and undergraduates moved their tassels from right to left.
While many undergraduate students pushed through their studies in roughly four to five years, others experienced an extended educational journey. Dorothea Jones, 45, of Wilmington got her bachelor’s degree in sociology during Friday’s College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences ceremony after 20 years of fitting academics into married life, raising three children and holding down a full-time job at Harbor UCLA Medical Center.
“I won’t believe it until I walk across the stage. I’m still thinking, oh, they might not call my name,” Jones said as she waited in line to enter the stadium.
Among the new graduates who walked across the stage and shook hands with or hugged university administrators and faculty were students who are the first in their families to receive a college degree.
Marco Ramirez, 24, achieved success perhaps beyond the wildest dreams of anyone in his family, whose highest level of education was junior high school. Ramirez earned his bachelor’s in computer technology with an emphasis in homeland security, and plans to earn required certifications to work in forensics for the government.
“It’s a huge honor for myself and for my family,” he said.
Meantime, another family is racking up degrees from CSU Dominguez Hills. Steve Vargas, 29, his wife, Mayra Beltran, 25, and his sister Marisela Manoochehri, 33, together received their bachelor’s degree diplomas during the College of Professional Studies commencement ceremony.
When Vargas and Beltran were still just dating, they and Manoochehri decided to transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College to CSU Dominguez Hills because of the quality programs offered in their respective fields. It also came highly recommended by Vargas’ other sister, Mercedes, 32, who graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. Vargas entered the communications program with an emphasis in advertising and public relations. Beltran majored in child development, and Manoochehri in liberal studies with an emphasis in human development.
Vargas said the university’s small classes were an advantage to learning because, “The professors have more time to interact with each individual student. They can be more than just your professor; they can be your mentor and help you succeed in life.”
The married couple of one year is expecting their first child later this year. Vargas said he’s certainly open to another generation graduating from the university. But for now, about 40 relatives cheering from the stands will do.
With a record number of graduates walking—400 more than last year—a record number of supporting family and friends attended commencement ceremonies. During the College of Business Administration and Public Policy ceremony, the largest of the ceremonies, the Home Depot Tennis Stadium was filled to standing-room-only capacity. That is one indication of the university’s growth.
The campus has changed quite a bit from the time alumnus and chairman of the California State Board of Equalization Legislative Committee Jerome E. Horton (Class of ’79, B.S., business administration) graduated. Commencement then took place on the front lawn of the university, years before the stadium existed.
“It looks like a university now. They’ve built a number of new facilities and expanded their academic curriculum,” he said, adding that he authored legislation for the Home Depot sports complex to be developed adjacent to the campus. “[CSU Dominguez Hills] still has a community flavor. It’s still an important part of the community.”
But 33 years later, he was here to see his daughter, Myeshia Horton, 24, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in digital media arts (DMA), with her sights set on working in the entertainment industry as a creative executive director for a television network.
Building experience already, Horton, along with her schoolmate Danayia Stedham, created, produced and presented on Student Research Day in February, a video public service announcement “Spray, Tuck, Zip,” that offered tips for tick protection when hiking. She also completed an internship at BET (Black Entertainment Television) network. She chose the university for its quality DMA program, but some encouragement from her parents didn’t hurt.
The tables were turned for some parents who were on the receiving end of support. Such was the case for Diana Homayounfar Shahedi, whose husband, three children, and members of her extended family were there to see her graduate. An Iranian native, Shahedi moved to the U.S. with her family in 1990. Coming from a country where she said women are not encouraged to become educated, and with a limited command of the English language but a desire to exercise her mind, Shahedi began taking classes at West Los Angeles College before transferring to CSU Dominguez Hills. What would take most other students one or two times to read, it would often take her 20. She has just graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in studio art and several honors draped around her neck.
She proclaimed, “Anything is possible.”
Mirroring this sentiment, keynote speaker for the College of Arts and Humanities commencement, James Newton Howard, a pianist and the composer of hit movies including, “The Sixth Sense” (1999) “Batman Begins” (2005), “I am Legend” (2007), and “The Dark Knight” (2008), told graduates that while luck plays a part in success, the new graduates should be able to respond when opportunity knocks.
“All of you are here today because you want to achieve the limitless. That’s what graduating from college and beginning your adult life is all about,” he said. “Maybe you had a hard time imagining graduating from this university when you first got here, but through hard work, all lot of all-nighters, way too much fast food, and the guidance and support of your professors and family and your friends, you made it.”
Howard said a by-product of a habit of excellence is confidence and he urged the new graduates to “Accept the fear of failure as a consequence of being human, but reject it as a dominate force in your life. Be uncompromising about finding your life’s work, but be open to becoming something that you can’t even image.”
Brothers Abdullah Alhokair, 27, and Abdulrahnman Alhokair, 24, came to CSU Dominguez Hills together from Riyadh, the capitol city of Saudi Arabia, imagining exactly what they wanted to achieve. They earned their bachelor’s degrees in business administration with the emphasis in finance, and said they plan to continue in their family’s entrepreneurial tradition and are confident that they can create their own international business.
The keynotes speakers for the other ceremonies provided equal measures of inspiration and congratulations to the graduates. They were Antonia Hernández, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Lois Lee, alumna (Class of ’77, M.A., sociology) and founder and president of Children of the Night; Robert K. Ross, president and chief executive officer of the California Endowment; and Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
While CSU Dominguez Hills attracts students worldwide and is one of the most diverse universities in the nation, it is also firmly grounded in the South Bay. So grounded in fact, that Danny Torres, 23, can say he feels right at home at the university. For at least three generations his family owned and farmed the land where University Housing now stands.
Torres, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy, said of his grandfather and the land, “His father owned it. He owned it. My father grew up in it and now I’m learning in it. I play baseball here, so I guess I can say I play in it, also.”
The diversity of the university and its programs in the College of Professional Studies were equal draws for Mark Darcy, 48, who earned his bachelor’s in health science with an orthotics and prosthetics option. Darcy has a logical interest in prosthetics: he is a below-the-knee amputee. He has been working at the Veterans Administration Long Beach Healthcare System for seven years and said CSU Dominguez Hills is the only university in the nation to have such an onsite facility.
He said, “The program here is very well structured. I’m getting the best in prosthetics education.”
Many graduates shared similar thoughts about their respective fields of study. Larry Doty didn’t even have to visit the campus to know it offered him the best option for learning in his field. He graduated from the College of Extended and International Education with a bachelor’s in quality assurance after taking solely online courses. He has been working in the aerospace industry and was recently promoted to a quality assurance engineer position on the contingency he earn this degree.
“I don’t know of any other school that offers a school for quality assurance worldwide,” said Doty, 45, who lives in Signal Hill, adding that he hasn’t met any of his classmates because many of them are in other parts of the country and the world. While he was waiting to enter the stadium for commencement, he met a fellow “class” mate, Anthony Martinez, 33, who lives in Carson and works as a contractor in the local petrochemical refineries.
“The program has been beneficial. I don’t want to be a nurse, I don’t want to be a policeman, this is what I want to do,” said Martinez, adding that he was lucky to find the online quality assurance program at CSU Dominguez Hills because it fit in conveniently with his work schedule.
For those students who had the opportunity to visit campus on a regular basis, the entire university family made their academic experience memorable. Maria Ricario, 45, whose brother is in the undergraduate business administration program, returned to school to earn her master’s in education administration as well as her credentials after working as a special education teacher with autistic children in Los Angeles Unified School District.
“Everyone in the university has been fabulous, up to the secretaries and even the people [who work] in the parking lot,” said Ricario, while her classmate cheered, “You did it, after raising four kids!”
As University President Mildred García said in her opening remarks, “What a beautiful, wonderful day.”
For more photos of commencement, visit the following CSUDH Facebook page albums: