‘You are today’s celebrities,’ President Harrison tells graduates

On a sunny, breezy morning, President Dianne Harrison shared a few pieces of advice with the 1,000 graduates of California State University, Monterey Bay, and told the stories of several of them.

President Dianne Harrison“Rather than bringing in an outside celebrity who really doesn’t know you, YOU, our graduates are today’s celebrities,” she told the graduates and a capacity crowd of 8,000 of their friends and family members, “and that’s the story I want the community to take away from today’s commencement.”

She reminded students that graduation symbolizes not the conclusion of something but the commencement of all that awaits them.

“There is no ‘do over’ button in life. But if we are fortunate, we have opportunities throughout our lives to make a strong new start – to take advantage of new pathways that present themselves,” Dr. Harrison said.

Today is such a moment, she told the graduates, and so was the day they arrived at CSU Monterey Bay.

Scott BellShe shared the story of Jena Cleveland, who suffered from teachers’ low expectations until she arrived at CSUMB. At the university, she discovered the thrill of doing hands-on research, and is now headed to the Ph.D. program in molecular cell and developmental biology at UCLA.

Alana Tweed was another of the students whose story was shared by President Harrison. Tweed, a business student, is the first in her family to attend college. She took advantage of the services offered through the Educational Opportunity Program on campus, took on leadership roles, spent a semester abroad, and did an internship at the Naval Postgraduate School that turned into a full-time position. She’ll pursue a master’s in business administration in the fall.

Dr. Harrison also told the story of Sean Capistrano, a participant in the university’s Pay It Forward scholarship program. As part of that program, he mentored youngsters at the Boys and Girls Club while he, in turn, was mentored by a local business executive. Capistrano parlayed an internship with the local accounting firm of Hayashi and Wayland into a full-time job.

student-athletesInterspersed among the student stories were pieces of advice gleaned from Dr. Harrison’s own distinguished career, her experience as the mother of two college students as well as “what I have learned from you.” She summed up that advice near the end of her remarks:

• Continue to develop the skills that allow you to act confidently
• Be flexible, stay open to new pathways and take advantage of new opportunities when they present themselves
• Stay engaged with your community and participate fully as citizens
• Demonstrate courage and leadership, knowing you can overcome challenges
• Always treat people with respect and appreciate our differences
• Don’t ever stop reading, questioning and learning

The ceremony opened with the traditional welcome in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese, delivered by members of the faculty. That was followed by the National Anthem – sung by Jonathan Bell, a music major and member of the graduating class.

The morning’s first speaker was Scott Bell, winner of this year’s President’s Award for Exemplary Student Achievement.

students in robesBell told students to be mindful and take responsibility for their actions. “I think it’s a key component of happiness,” he said. He followed that with a reminder that “you don’t have to understand everything,” and acknowledged that he grapples with that concept. “In seeking to understand everything we encounter, we may overlook the true beauty and value of what lies in front of us.”

He urged students to take risks. “Do one thing that scares you every day. Only by taking risks do we discover and overcome our limits and boundaries. . .”

Bell will pursue a master’s degree in psychology at Sonoma State University in the fall, with the goal of going on to a Ph.D. program.

more studentsTwo faculty members were honored during the ceremony. Frances Payne Adler was awarded emeriti faculty status, acknowledging her distinguished service to the university. Dr. Scott Waltz was acknowledged for winning this year’s Griffin Award for outstanding teaching.