SOME 50,000 CELEBRANTS — including nearly 10,000 participants in caps and gowns — attended commencement ceremonies this year. The events were marked with inspiring speeches and keynote addresses complete with advice, words of wisdom and hearty congratulations.

“I have sat in your seat, getting my undergraduate degree, my master’s and my doctorate, listening to numerous commencement speeches. So, I asked myself what did I want to know when I was graduating, sitting where you are today?” Willie J. Hagan, Cal State Fullerton interim president, said in his welcome. “What life lessons do each of you need to know to help you have an even more fulfilling future?... When I was young, I wish I knew friends and family are more important than material things. You may total up your wealth at the end of your lives, but I guarantee, if you do not feel the richness and wealth of having family and friends, you will feel poor.”

While investing in careers and the stock market might bring wealth, he said, “be sure you also invest in your family and friends while you are young.”

When he was young, Hagan added, “I wish I knew not to spend so much time worrying about what other people thought about me. A lot of time, a lot of life, is wasted trying to meet other people’s expectations. Time is valuable, finite. Don't waste it worrying about what other people think or trying to be someone you’re not.”

He also advised graduates to face fears  and not procrastinate.

“My father-in-law was going to travel the world with his wife when he retired. But, she died of cancer before he retired. Neither one of them traveled anywhere, let alone the world,” he said. “Live your life now. It's okay to plan for the future, but live your life now. ... I guarantee, when you are older, the regret of not doing something you should have done, but were afraid to do, far outweighs the regret of being rejected or of failing or making a mistake on something you did do.”

Delivering the keynote addresses for the universitywide ceremonies were John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, who spoke May 19; and Martha J. Kanter, undersecretary of education, who spoke May 20.

Berry challenged graduates to “try to lead by example” and “make sure ‘The Hunger Games’ remain a fantasy and never a reality.”

Speaking at their respective commencement ceremonies, students also offered their thoughts on lessons they’ve learned, and they thanked their CSUF professors and mentors. Some cried as they recalled the sacrifices they and their families made for their success and rejoiced in their visions for the future.

Emily Nguyen Wieber, a biological science major, a scholar in the Southern California Ecosystems Research Program and a McNair Scholar told her classmates: “I grew up in an impoverished province in Vietnam with a disabled father and mother who had to work 12-14 hours a day at a local mill to support our family. ... Going to school was my way to escape poverty. ... My passion is for knowledge. My passion is for science. When I transferred to Cal State Fullerton, I came to a whole new world of possibilities. I was so inspired by the former president, Dr. Milton A. Gordon. His passion for teaching was motivating to me as a new student. It is here that I found faculty, mentors and students who have lifted me up when I felt like it was too hard and led me to resources that helped me to excel. Professors are so passionate about their voice; they have compelled me not only to achieve my goal, but to surpass what I thought even I could do.”

Other notable graduates who were recognized during commencement included those graduating with the highest academic honors — magna cum laude, summa cum laude and cum laude — and the following:

  • Maureen K. Fox, International Understanding Award recipient; 
  • Benjamin Higgins, recipient of the Giles T. Brown Outstanding Thesis Award;
  • Andres Carrillo and Melanie Yamabe, the Alumni Association's Outstanding Senior and Outstanding Graduate Student awardees;
  • David G. Jones, one of the oldest graduates and recipient of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Award;
  • Kelly H. Kim, cancer survivor and Kettering Public Administration Fellow;
  • Eliza M. Ramirez, recipient of the 2011-12 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement;
  • Ryan Kidder, winner of the grand prize and People’s Choice awards in the Emulex “Art of Convergence” competition;
  • Beena Ajmera, a multiple award winner as an undergraduate and graduate student;
  • President’s Scholars Jeanette Chadwick, Eleni Christodulelis, Ashley Davis, Lanae King, Brittany Menchaca, Angelica Torrez and Melanie Yamabe;
  • McNair Scholars Danielle Gibbons, Brittany Herrick, Diego A. Ceballos, Dominique L. Johnson, Skye N. Parral, Angie Rodriguez and Nhi Troung;
  • Guardian Scholars Samar Abu-Qamar, Cody Lyn Brown, Tara Nicole Ibe, Talitha James, Alina Jin-Marcellus, Danny Martin, Onikah Porter and Kevin Villicana; and 
  • Second Lieutenants Jacob Albers, Sarah Enamorado, Joe Lopez, Frank Loxsom, James Loxsom, Thu Hong Pham and Tina Tu.

As a special tribute to their parents and friends, human services majors, led by Rocio Almaraz, staged a flash mob dance. While dancing alongside her classmates, Almaraz got an even bigger surprise — from her boyfriend, Alex Carrillo, who had arranged for the flash mob members to keep on dancing when the song playing over the loudspeaker switched to Bruno Mars’ “Marry Me.” He popped the question, and she said, “yes!” — Mimi Ko Cruz