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Awards & Honors

College Dream Comes True for Fullerton
Mom Earning Top Honors at Commencement


May 19, 2003 :: No. 239

Sunshine Lawson
Sunshine Lawson

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Ever since she was child, Sunshine Lawson dreamed of going to college. Counselors, teachers and friends all told her it would be impossible.

At age 33, the single mother of three will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in a double major from Cal State Fullerton, and she will be receiving the President’s Associates Scholastic Award, the university’s top honor for academic achievement.

She will be graduating summa cum laude, having achieved a 4.0 grade point average in both of her majors — Afro-ethnic studies and criminal justice.

“One of my goals is to be a role model for my children in getting an education,” she said. “I want to give them the message that if mom could do it, they could do it.”

Her quest to inspire her children — all students at Sunny Hills High School — is all the more remarkable because mom is blind.

She considers her blindness, which came about as the result of a violent assault years ago, as a “limitation and not a disability.” Her professional goal is to become a university professor and to conduct research to help others in need.

As a Ronald McNair Scholar, Lawson plans to continue her education in a doctoral program. (The Ronald E. McNair Scholars program prepares traditionally underrepresented students for doctoral studies and is named for one of the astronauts who perished in the Challenger space shuttle tragedy.) Following graduation, she’s slated to attend a monthlong training class at the Braille Institute to study computer training in voice recognition technology.

“I can say in all honesty she is the best student I have instructed in my 15 years of university teaching, which includes Washington State University, Arizona State University and USC,” said James Lasley, CSUF professor of criminal justice. “In the classroom, Ms. Lawson almost always emerges as a discussion leader and is highly admired by her peers.”

The Fullerton resident will receive her President’s Associates award, which carries a $1,000 cash prize, at the campus Honors Convocation May 30. The next day, she will be recognized at commencement exercises for Afro-ethnic studies graduates. On June 1 she will be recognized again, this time at the ceremony for criminal justice graduates. She is scheduled to be a commencement speaker at both college-based exercises, which follow the 8 a.m. universitywide ceremonies on May 31 and June 1.

Lawson has won a number of awards and presented research at conferences at UC Berkeley, the University of Maryland and the John Jay Criminal Justice College. She also helped to organize a drive to provide teddy bears for the youngest victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and plans Christmas parties for a children’s home.

Her research projects have included evaluating a computer program to prevent child abduction by predators who frequent online chat rooms, analysis of data relating to sex crimes against minors in Huntington Beach, as well as several studies in connection with the Afro-ethnic studies program. Lawson also has completed a number of certificate programs, including basic applied forensics and technical writing.

“I can say in all honesty she is the best student I have instructed in my 15 years of university teaching,”
- James Lasley, CSUF professor of criminal justice

Lawson, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in New York, says she is a living example of the motto “When life give you lemons, make lemonade.” She adds: “The source for me to make lemonade from the negative experiences in my past has been the countless positive experiences I have had at Cal State Fullerton.” She praises her professors, mentors and fellow students for helping her succeed in her academic journey in pursuit of a degree while majoring in two subject areas.

“If I soar,” she told an interviewer, “it’s because they’ve given me the feathers to soar. Cal State Fullerton has been a tremendous inspiration and driving force in my life.

“Unlike all the other students who have had the pleasure of seeing the beauty of our campus, I have felt the beauty of our campus. This is a special place that creates special graduates.”

Other than her children, Lawson is without any other family members in California. “Cal State Fullerton is my family,” she says with great pride.

Media Contacts: James Lasley, professor of criminal justice, at 657-278-3401 or jlasley@fullerton.edu
Dave Reid, Public Affairs, at 657-278-4855 or dreid@fullerton.edu

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