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Honoring the University’s
Oldest Graduating Senior


May 21, 2003

Marie Helen Daniel
Marie Helen Daniel

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“Information Is Power” was Helen Daniel’s motto as she worked for 50 years to earn a college degree. Now, this spring, the 68-year-old is to receive her B.A. in ethnic studies, concentrating on Chicano studies, at Cal State Fullerton.

Among those cheering at the May 31 Commencement ceremonies will be her husband of 50 years and their five college-graduate offspring. Also, among others congratulating Helen, will be a representative of Continuing Learning Experience who is to present her with CLE’s annual award as one of the oldest graduating seniors “who reflects CLE’s appreciation for learning and achievement.”

Marie Helen Daniel, who prefers just “Helen,” was the first of six siblings, all of whom graduated from high school. Among her earliest memories, however, is having her mouth taped shut as a kindergartner for speaking Spanish! As she grew up, she determined to perfect both her English and Spanish, and comments, correctly, that she believes she has no trace of an accent in either language.

Another happier, long-term, memory is of the encouraging influence of Leah Randolph, a grade-school librarian in the then little town of Los Alamitos. A very caring, young Jewish woman, transplanted from New York, she took great interest in the little girl.

Helen’s mother had become a single parent by the time high school graduation approached. A first-generation citizen of a family from Mexico, her mother believed high school was more than enough education and, further, the family needed Helen’s monetary help. College was out of the question.
It was difficult for young Marie Helen Oviedo, who had concentrated on college prep courses, reigned as Homecoming queen, been a songleader and copy editor of the annual, to go to work at the telephone company. A year later, she married sailor Harold Daniel, who saw active duty in the Korean War as a crew member of an LST (Landing Ship Transport.)

Over time they had four daughters and two sons, one of whom died at birth.

Now, Helen proudly relates, among them there are two AA degrees, a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a bachelor’s in education. Helen’s son is a Realtor. One daughter is a graduate of the Fashion Design Institute; another is a dance major and the third, an athlete. In addition, there are four grandchildren, including a doctoral candidate in biology at UC San Diego.

Earlier, Helen had continued singing professionally part time and attended as many night school classes as possible. At the same time, she was involved with her children’s education, and when the last one entered the first grade she took a part-time job with the Anaheim elementary school system as a bilingual community liaison. Soon she was with the Anaheim High School’s Title One program in a similar position.

When UCI opened a new medical clinic, Helen again worked as a liaison to connect the community with the clinic, translating, making presentations in the community and bridging the cultural gap. Through the years, Helen worked as a full-time liaison for many different entities, including Fullerton College (for 12 years), where she earned her AA degree, and UCI. All the while she continued to sing professionally; she enjoyed it and the family needed the income. She taught and played the guitar and sang at her church, managing to be a church school leader of Cub, Boy and Girl Scouts at various times.

The Daniels have lived in the same house in Anaheim for over 41 years. Helen had attended public schools, and they are proud that all the children were able to attend Catholic elementary schools.

They have no immediate plans to change their lifestyle, having traveled extensively over the years. However, they anticipate a special celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary in November of this year.

And so, after 50 years of staying on the trail in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, Helen Daniel finally will claim it this year and be saluted with other top graduates at the university’s May 30 Honors Convocation. Along the way, she has demonstrated outstanding academic perseverance. CLE is proud of her and very pleased to present her with its Continuing Learning Experience Award for 2003, along with a check for $250.

Media Contacts: Elizabeth Seton Stone, CLE vice president, external relations at 657-278-2446
Paula Selleck, Public Affairs, 657-278-2414 or pselleck@fullerton.edu

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