College Dream Comes True for Fullerton
Mom Earning Top Honors at Commencement
May 19, 2003 :: No. 239
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
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
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
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
“I can say in all honesty she is the
best student I have instructed in my 15 years of university
- 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
Other than her children, Lawson is without any other
family members in California. “Cal State Fullerton is my family,”
she says with great pride.
||James Lasley, professor of criminal justice,
at 657-278-3401 or
Dave Reid, Public Affairs, at 657-278-4855 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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