CSUMB’s 27th annual Commencement combined tradition with new elements

Students cheering after turning their tassels during the 2023 Commencement Ceremony. | Photo by Katie Tozier

May 22, 2023

By Walter Ryce

CSU Monterey Bay held its 27th annual Commencement send-off for all of its graduates in one day and in one place — Sunday, May 21, 2023, at Salinas Sports Complex — the first time commencement hasn’t been divided across two days since 2016, and the first time ever that it’s been held at that venue. 

The day started early in the morning, with CSUMB staffers preparing for the arrival of graduates and their guests, setting up concession booths, cooking food and brewing coffee, and manning stations for parking and guest services. 

The first event of the day was the convocation ceremony of the College of Art, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the well-outfitted Rabobank Stadium. It was the first of three convocations for the day. 

The college’s graduates, as well as their families, friends and supporters, began arriving. The students passed through the gates to the staging area, where they gathered, chatted and took photos with fellow students in their majors, as well as the college’s faculty, dean, and staff members. 

Luis Camara, the chair of Cinematic Arts and Technology, said the new venue worked well, but his focus was primarily on the students.

“They went through COVID,” he said. “They learned filmmaking at home over Zoom and came out the other end strong filmmakers. I’m impressed. This is a great group of students all around.” 

As with most graduations, traffic was heavier than usual, so in order to give more time for guests to arrive, organizers delayed the 9 a.m. start time by about 30 minutes. 

Then it began with the playing of Sir Edward Elgar’s iconic “Pomp and Circumstance” — the first of four times it would be heard that day. 

The rest of the convocation — from the procession of the college’s graduates and faculty into the stadium, to the speeches by the dean and student speakers; from graduates walking the stage and having their pictures taken, to their recessional march out of the stadium and into the arms of their loved ones — proceeded as planned. 

“It went great,” said Peter Harbist, a humanities and communications major originally from Sacramento. “I was pleasantly surprised. It was well-organized and expedient.” 

1 / 3
President Quiñones celebrates the graduating class. | Photo by Katie Tozier
2 / 3
The stadium erupted in applause at Commencement. | Photo by Brent Dundore-Arias
3 / 3
Students celebrating after Commencement. | Photo by Brent Dundore-Arias

A buffer of time was built in between that first convocation and the afternoon Commencement ceremony at the rodeo arena. 

That gave graduates and their guests time to enjoy each other’s company and take pictures, roam the grounds, and find their way to the new Commencement Festival at the midway where they could enjoy food and drink concessions, shop at gift booths, listen to music pumping from DJ Khosmo’s sound system, hydrate at water bottle stations, retreat to a lactation room or park a stroller. 

As with the first college convocation, the big afternoon Commencement started later to allow more guests to arrive. That paid off with more people sitting in the stadium stands when that ceremony began, again with “Pomp and Circumstance.” 

As is CSUMB custom, the platform party formed a phalanx of two lines at the entrance, cheering and clapping for graduates walking past. The graduates were seated in front of the stage facing the platform party, backdropped by thousands of their supporters in the stands, who cheered, waved and hollered. 

After the national anthem, President Vanya Quiñones took to the podium for her first Commencement address at CSUMB. 

“Welcome, everyone, to a remarkable day in the lives of these graduating students and for California State University Monterey Bay,” she began. “As I look out at our more than 2,400 undergraduate, graduate and credential students, I want to say today is about celebrating you!”  

And then, with her customary accessibility and playfulness, she took a selfie of the entire proceedings from the stage to post later to #CSUMBgrad. 

She recognized the perseverance of the class for enduring the global COVID-19 pandemic. She recognized different groups of graduates, including veterans, student-athletes, those who belong to affinity groups (many of whom attended special stole ceremonies throughout May), and more, inviting each group and, eventually, the entire graduating class, to stand and be recognized. 

“Look around you,” she said. “This is our Otter raft!”

After telling the individual stories of some of the students, Quiñones turned the podium over to keynote speaker and KSBW-TV news anchor, Dan Green.  

“Let me hear a whoo!” he cried. And many obliged. “We’re going to do that a lot.” 

His message to the graduates was to find something they love, to be true to themselves, because life is too short and hard to “not do something you care about.” 

He entreated them to print and bring their resumes with them as they seek out jobs and careers, saying that it would distinguish them from other applicants. 

Next up was Dr. Bettye Saxon from the CSUMB Foundation Board, who told the assembled students that by becoming college graduates, studies show they will have increased their salaries, stability, benefits, networks, opportunities, growth and satisfaction for the rest of their lives. 

“Remember a day like today, your graduation, a day filled with the love of family and friends celebrating your success,” she said. “Encased within that memory is all the positive energy that will propel you forward and place you on your rightful path.”

Quiñones recognized two university supporters and donors who were recently bestowed honorary degrees — the late Robert Darwin, who received a Doctor of Humane Letters, and Roberta “Bertie” Elliott, who received a Doctor of Science. 

Next, Provost Katherine Kantardjieff recognized students who had achieved academic honors, and presented to Quiñones the candidates who had earned master's and baccalaureate degrees, and teaching credentials.  

And then came the key moment of the day: Quiñones formally conferred on the students their respective degrees.

“Congratulations to all our graduates!” she announced. “Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in recognizing this 27th graduating class of California State University, Monterey Bay.”

The new graduates and their supporters in the stands shared in cheers and applause. 

That zenith moment did not conclude the day’s events. That would come a few hours later, when the remaining four colleges held their convocations in two ceremonies — two colleges in each — in two venues within the Salinas Sports Complex. 

Even though the day was devoted to the graduating class as a unified whole, every student was individually counted and every student was personally recognized.  

Estrella McDaniel, who majored in communications and plans to pursue graduate studies at Hofstra University in New York, is the first in her family to earn a college degree. The top of her mortar board was decorated with flowers and the words “She believed she could, so she did.”
McDaniel said she will miss CSUMB’s atmosphere and welcoming community. 

“I just loved the environment. I liked that it was right next to the ocean,” she said. “It just felt like home and really was community-based. Everyone was close and there were lots of things to do.” 

At the end of the day, Kantardjieff, who is retiring, allowed herself to reflect back. 

“I spent 35 years of my career in the CSU because I believe in the mission – to educate, elevate and innovate,” she said. “We are transformational.”

Meanwhile, Quiñones, who will complete her first year as president of CSUMB in the coming months, spent much of the day between the ceremonies talking with students, admiring their stoles, leis and decorated caps, and of course, taking dozens of selfies with them.

“Walking around the midway after commencement, I saw grandparents and parents beaming with pride, children looking up to our graduates, and the graduates themselves so confident and ready to take on the world,” Quiñones said. “I love that CSUMB was able to create such a wonderful celebration to culminate the accomplishments of our new alumni.” 

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

Read about the convocation ceremonies for: