In past years, New Student Convocation at CSUDH marked the formal start of the academic year. First-time and returning students joined faculty, staff, family, and friends to celebrate an exciting journey of personal and educational discovery. Energy, passion, and not a little swagger featured prominently in the festivities.
This important tradition was reluctantly cancelled this year after heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Hilary saturated the Activities Field on campus and made it unsuitable for the celebration. President Thomas A. Parham says that despite the cancellation, the underlying message of the event is something he wants all Toros to take to heart not just as the fall term begins but throughout the academic year.
“Convocation has always been an essential academic ritual for me. It’s a moment when we all come together and commit to a set of values and principles that guide this educational institution,” says Parham.
“More than this, convocation is a time when I assure our students that I see them and that they belong here at CSUDH. Some may feel excited about being admitted but might not be convinced that they really belong. I want them to know that they do, and that we’re ready to support them with everything from basic needs and mental health services to financial aid and individualized academic advising in our new Student Success Centers.”
Above all, says Parham, students need to have confidence in themselves and know that it is a sign of strength to ask for help when they need it. “Everybody is capable of succeeding. I believe that, and I need our students to believe that. If you find yourself struggling, remember that your time at CSUDH is not an individual effort but an exercise in collective survival. We are all in this together.”
The community of scholars beginning their academic journey this fall at CSUDH reflect a wide range of backgrounds and experience. Some have overcome steep barriers to the pursuit of their dreams. Others have faced physical and emotional challenges. All have worked hard to be here.
At 16, Frankie Williams is likely one of the youngest members of the incoming class. She graduated from Students on the Academic Rise High School in Lancaster with an associate’s degree from Antelope Valley College and begins at CSUDH as a Presidential Scholar.
Williams was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, crutches, and a leg brace to aid mobility. “It can be difficult navigating life with a disability,” she says. “People always look at you differently.”
Williams hasn’t let that hold her back. She plans to study art and might eventually pursue a career as an educator like her parents. “Right now, I’m just excited to see where college will take me. It’s kind of nerve-wracking because I’m adjusting to it at the same time as I’m adjusting to adult life and learning to do things for myself.”
Since about the age of five, Diego Barahona wanted to be a professional soccer player. He grew up in the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw area and attended Cathedral High School. “College was never really a part of my future plans,” Barahona says.
After graduation, Barahona spent two years training with Major League Soccer teams, first with the LAFC and then with the Las Vegas Lightning. He worked out alongside international stars Gareth Bale and Denis Bouanga. “I was a little star-struck by Bale, but he gave me some great advice,” says Barahona. “He told me to keep my head down and work hard, and that nothing ever comes easy.”
At age 20, Barahona decided to give college soccer a chance. “I texted Coach Pat and Coach Eddie to let them know I was interested in CSUDH. I saw what they were trying to build last season, and I wanted to be a part of it,” he says, adding that his decision to major in communications might help him down the road with media sessions.
Destiny Ramirez says she chose to pursue a master’s degree in social work at CSUDH because of her own experience in the foster care system. “I spent about a year in the system. My teen years were hard. I had a social worker who helped me at a time when there was nobody else to do that,” she says. “I’ve seen the impact that social workers can have, and that has inspired me.”
Ramirez was raised in Montebello and earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from CSU Los Angeles. She hopes to work as a school counselor. “I’ve seen the impact that social workers can have in the lives of students, and that has inspired me to want to help others the way I got help when I needed it.”
Also a member of this term’s incoming Presidential Scholars, Lorelei Fuller says she’s always put her education above everything else. She graduated McBride High School in Long Beach as valedictorian and chose CSUDH over several other larger schools.
“I’ve been interested since high school in the inequalities of our society, and I want to find ways to serve communities of color, which so frequently get underserved by our justice system,” says Fuller. She chose CSUDH in part because of its commitment to diversity and social justice, and she hopes to continue her studies in law school after graduation.
Fuller admits to feeling a little anxious about college but says she’s ready for the challenge. “I think it’s time for me to do big things. I love being on campus. It just feels like the next four years are going to be very good.”
Being present and active on campus is something that Parham strongly encourages. “I don’t want our students to have drive-by interactions where they go to class, get a sandwich at the student union, and then drive home. I want them engaged in different internships and research projects. That’s all part of a robust college experience.”
Like Fuller, Parham sees good things ahead for CSUDH. “This is an exciting time in the Toro Nation. I am proud and honored that they have selected California State University, Dominguez Hills as the place that can nurture their dreams and aspirations.”