College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences held an emotional Convocation

Graduates from CAHSS 2023 Convocation

Graduates from CAHSS 2023 Convocation | Photo by Brent Dundore-Arias

May 24, 2023

By Walter Ryce

The first event of CSUMB’s 2023 Commencement was the Convocation for the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. It took place in the impressive space of Rabobank Stadium, part of the sprawling grounds of the Salinas Sports Complex. 

The start of the ceremony was delayed to let more guests navigate traffic, park and take their seats; the graduates, dressed in their gowns and stoles, were assembled on a nearby lawn. The college was graduating a record 690 students.

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Diane Ruiz speaking at the CAHSS Convocation
Photo by: Brent Dundore-Arias
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Students smiling next to each other at the CAHSS Convocation
Photo by: Brent Dundore-Arias
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Students excited at the CAHSS Convocation.
Photo by: Brent Dundore-Arias

The delay gave the grads more time to chat with each other, dance to settle nerves, take photos and reflect back on the days and nights, the semesters and years, the struggles and sacrifices and joys that had brought them to this moment. 

“I chose CSUMB so that I could stay close to my family,” said Alyssa Padilla-Neligh, who majored in Spanish language and Hispanic culture. “[After graduation] I want to stay and serve the community that has supported me.”

She works for the USDA and intends to be a conduit between such agencies and the ag community. She says her major helped her polish her Spanish reading, writing, listening and speaking skills for medical and legal communication. 

Maria Villasenor, a professor of humanities and communication, said the day was tinged with sadness as it signaled her last year at CSUMB, but also called it the “proudest day of the year." 

As the members of the college waited, a giant video screen above the convocation platform cycled through photos of the graduates. 

Juanita Cole, the dean of CAHSS, circulated among the students, taking in the atmosphere and emotion of the moment, including a mother and daughter crying together in the parking lot. 

“One student, a psychology major, said she didn’t get accepted to a grad program she applied for,” Cole said. “I told her, ‘Get involved in the summer, do an internship, and try again next year.’ Just to encourage her.”

Once the ceremony got underway, it ran according to plan. The students were escorted in a procession by their faculty to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Once they were seated, Jeff Jones, professor and chair of the Music and Performing Arts Department, greeted the assembly as emcee and introduced the singer of the “National Anthem,” Celine Lee, also from his department. 

Cole spoke next, recognizing veterans among the grads and those who had earned academic honors, and acknowledging the challenges the campus has faced, including the pandemic, remote learning, and racial and equity reckonings. 

“Remember your hustle and remember your passion,” she said. “Don’t let anything or anyone break your soul! With these two things as your guide, I am confident that you will find success and happiness in whatever you choose to do.”  

Nicole Hollingsworth spoke as a representative of CSUMB alumni, telling the grads that they are joining a veritable nation of more than 4 million graduates of the CSU system. 

Student speaker and Dean’s Medal awardee Diane Ruiz shared personal accounts of having to overcome childhood abuse, gang influences, rejection and feelings of failure. She said it was OK not feel OK, and encouraged those who were struggling to seek help. 

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said. “I had one choice and that was to rise.” 

At that, her fellow graduates and the audience applauded. 

Next, Cole presented a special posthumous degree to Riley Reinhardt in honor of her sister, Raeann Reinhardt, who had tragically died last summer before completing her Bachelor of Arts in Human Communication. 

“We are proud of Raeann’s accomplishments and share in your grief over her life ending too soon,” Cole told Riley. 

It came time to call the graduates’ names and for each of them to walk across the stage, shake hands with their dean and chairs, receive their degree certificates, and take a photo. Families and friends in the stands hollered and cheered as each name was called. The accompanying slideshow of student photos on the jumbotron cycled through moments of academic work, fun activities, community service and blossoming growth, serving as a tribute to the students' journeys. 

The family of graduate Diana Madera was sitting among the bleachers with thousands of other supporters of the grads. 

“She had worked two jobs while studying,” said Nicole, Diana’s aunt. “And she was a double major. We’re so proud.” 

Diana’s mom added that her daughter's accomplishment is an encouraging example for her two younger brothers, who were also there in support and could witness a ceremony they may someday be part of as college graduates themselves. 

Everyone — grads and guests — were invited to attend the Commencement later in the afternoon to collectively, across all colleges, extend the celebration and jubilation a little longer. 

Go to the Commencement web page for videos, photos, the digital program and more. 

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