When CSUDH alum Jesus Trejo first saw his invitation to speak at this year’s Dolores Huerta Graduation Celebration, he thought he was in trouble. “To be completely honest, I was freaking out,” he laughs. “I thought they were reaching out because of some parking ticket I forgot to pay when I was going to Dominguez Hills, or maybe an overdue book that I never returned back in 2010.”
Then the up-and-coming comedian opened the letter and discovered it was an invitation to speak at the annual event. “I was genuinely at a loss for words,” says Trejo. “I’m truly honored and humbled by this opportunity to be able to come back to my home turf and be able to speak at the Dolores Huerta Graduation Celebration.”
Trejo’s speech was one of the highlights of this year’s event, held virtually on May 8. The comedian, who graduated with a B.S. in business administration from CSUDH in 2011, has been on a roll lately.
The comic has recently appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late, Late Show with James Corden.” His first one-hour comedy special, “Stay at Home Son,” debuted on Showtime in late 2020. Trejo also appears in the Netflix comedy “Mr. Iglesias,” where he plays a teacher at his real-life alma mater, Long Beach’s Wilson High School.
Trejo took time out from his busy schedule to share his thoughts and advice to the graduating Class of 2021 during the celebration, now in its seventeenth year. The event is one of the largest cultural graduation celebrations at CSUDH, where more than 60% of the student population is Latinx. Above all, Trejo expressed his admiration for all that they’d accomplished during this most trying of years.
“There is something extraordinary, in my opinion, about us Toros,” he told the graduates. “Specifically, this year’s graduating class. You all were able to accomplish something so difficult, on top of all the personal obligations you were already juggling, with the added challenge of the pandemic. To me, that’s simply remarkable.”
“I genuinely think colleges should print on your degrees, ‘By the way, they earned this during a pandemic.’ Earning a degree during a pandemic is like playing a challenging video game and suddenly being asked to play it at the most difficult setting possible,” he joked.
The son of Mexican immigrants who met in the South Bay and settled in Long Beach, Trejo shared his own experiences as a first-generation college student. “I was fortunate enough to be the first in my family to have an education, period,” he told the graduates.
“I witnessed first-hand my parents’ hard work and sacrifice to help me cross the finish line at Dominguez Hills. My father worked as a gardener and my mother cleaned houses. They didn’t want me to struggle like they did. They instead wanted to open doors for me, so that I could have a better life in this country and a different experience than the one they had.”
Although Trejo ended up pursuing a career in the arts, he believes his business degree from CSUDH has been instrumental in his success. “To me, CSUDH was an experience that prepared me for life and moving forward into comedy,” he says. “People think comedians just sit around all day and write jokes, but there’s more to it. Comedy’s only one percent of the gig, it seems. Everything else is administrative work, communicating effectively with my manager, my agent, promoters, and venues.”
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but Dominguez Hills prepared me to multitask, meet deadlines, all that great stuff. Leaving CSUDH, I felt like if I got through that, I could definitely get through anything I needed to for my career.”
The students and other celebrants who listened to Trejo’s speech were appreciative of his remarks. “Jesus was very inspirational and funny,” said Gloria Gandara, lead academic advisor of CSUDH’s Encounter to Excellence, and one of the organizers of the graduation celebration. “He acknowledged the students’ struggle to attain a degree during the pandemic, and through his story showed how to overcome obstacles and persevere with the tools he learned here at Dominguez Hills.”
One student commenting in the chat room expressed their feelings more concisely: “Jesus Trejo is the truth!”
Trejo ended his remarks by challenging the graduates to continue using the tools they had developed at CSUDH. “Even if you’re not ready for your opportunity as you go out into the world,” he said, “I challenge you to show up, one foot in front of the other, and continue to move forward. I challenge you to never shy away from any challenge or struggle that comes your way.”
“Instead, embrace it with open arms. Because no matter what degree you earn today, or what field you end up in tomorrow, trust that you have all the necessary tools to cross the finish line. Trust that the struggle, as painful as it may be at times, it’s still part of the journey.”
“Most people run in the opposite direction when challenges show up, or give up when the struggle gets real. But Toros, we don’t do that. That’s what makes us different.”