In ceremonies throughout the Southland this week graduates will move their tassels to the left side of their mortarboards and proceed on their next steps in life. Forty-five years after it enrolled its first students, California State University Dominguez Hills graduated the largest class in its history a few days ago.
To accommodate its 3,500 graduates, Cal State Dominguez Hills scheduled four ceremonies in the main tennis stadium of the Home Depot Center next to campus. Student body president Joy Masha, who graduated that day, addressed her classmates with good vibes.
"I am truly proud of each and every one of you," said Masha. "And if I can look you all in the eye: I love you, I appreciate you, and I know that you’re going to succeed. So this is what I want you to do: you’re going to look at the person to your left and to your right and you’re going to say, 'You look good in that black robe.'"
Students fidgeted in those traditional black robes under the midday heat. The most anticipated – and longest – part of the ceremony was the reading of their names. In the stands, about 15 rows up, Ray Aldridge of Carson barely heard the name of his 21-year-old daughter, Raeshawn. "I got my master's from Cal State Dominguez back in 1979 so this is a very, very big thing for me to keep on the family tradition. She’s our second person to graduate from Cal State Dominguez."
Many graduates’ relatives agreed that the emotional slide of looking for work would follow the high of this ceremony. Virginia Freijo of Torrance cheered on her cousin George Moran as he graduated with a theater arts degree. "For kids his age, he’s gone through some interviews this week but hasn’t had any luck, so towards the end he said, ‘Why should I graduate, it’s not even worth it.’ But I said, no, it’s worth it, you have your degree in your hand, keep on going, keep on going, now go for your master's."
After the deans read the last student’s name, university President Mildred Garcia said the words everyone was eager to hear. "Students, move your tassels to the left."
She encouraged the newest alumni to be proud of Cal State Dominguez Hills, one of the most ethnically diverse public universities on the West Coast. English major Damarcus Moon said that student body is one of the reasons he enrolled. "I didn’t want to go to a school where I was necessarily the minority. The minorities are the majority here. This is the closest thing we have to a black college, being around Latinos, Latinas and African-Americans, it’s really a beautiful thing."
It’s also a university that enrolls a significant population of students outside the typical, 18-to-21-year-old range, such as Sarita Mantravadi, a 13-year-old graduating with a BA in biology and a minor in Africana studies. Mantravadi wants to be a doctor. She scored a 28 last year, just below the national average, on the MCAT medical school entrance exam.
She wanted her mother to stand by her side during ceremonies, she said, because she’s learned a lot from her. "I think the best piece of advice is to enjoy what you’re doing. You know, don’t be sad about what you’re doing, it’s so awesome to have such a great opportunity here and I think it’s super cool. I’m so excited."
Cal State Dominguez Hills administrators have pushed to grow its enrollment in recent years, and that effort’s begun to pay off. But in response to state funding cuts the university let go more than 100 full- and part-time lecturers.
Anne Soon Choi, who teaches interdisciplinary studies, agreed that the campus is feeling the pain of budget cuts. "It’s been a tough year, but it’s been even tougher for students, so we’re hoping that the governor will think about shoring up the budget and remember students and faculty, especially the CSU system where our students basically, we provide the workforce for California."
For the time being, graduates are reveling in their accomplishments and paying attention – perhaps for the only time – to the lyrics of their alma mater.
O give us wings to fly, to spurn our night;
Where, Earthbound, we aspired to don the wings of joyous flight
Let friendships soar in human harmony