CSUMB celebrates full, in-person commencement for Class of 2022

Photo: Graduate walking and holding diploma

Class of 2022 graduate who just received a diploma | Photo by Brent Dundore-Arias

May 24, 2022

By Walter Ryce

It finally happened.

On the morning of Friday, May 20, CSUMB welcomed thousands of students, family, friends, and employees to be part of the first in-person, outdoor, maskless graduation ceremony since 2019.

It took place at the newly renovated CSUMB stadium, home of professional soccer team Monterey Bay Football Club, under a bright sunny sky. A record 2,345 students were set to graduate over the course of three commencement ceremonies — one on Friday and two on Saturday.

Students in graduation caps and gowns gathered early on the baseball field adjacent to the stadium, grouped by their majors, and amped on nervousness and glee.

Some were dancing to music played by DJ Khosmo, tracks like “Vivir Mi Vida” by Marc Anthony, “Celebration” by Post Malone, “Hot Damn” by Bruno Mars, and “Victory Lap” by Nipsey Hussle.

Meanwhile, the emcee at the baseball field, Victor Torres, pumped up the graduates, congratulating them and calling them OGs, or “Otter Graduates.”

College of Business and College of Health Sciences and Human Services

The first set of graduates assembled on the baseball field at about 1:30 p.m. on Friday.

Daniel Figueroa (Business) transferred from Hartnell College and has liked CSUMB for its proximity to the ocean, its quality of professors, and the campus.

“It was a lot of walking [to get to class on campus],” he said. “But I would just skateboard between classes.”

He currently sells insurance but plans to move to Los Angeles to work in cannabis sales.

He said graduation day was odd because after four years of working toward this day, it snuck up and “came out of nowhere.”

Jessica Guitierrez (Master of Social Work) works for Child Protective Services in Monterey County and wants to use her new degree to help the community by working with families and children with special needs.

She had what she describes as “two hard pregnancies” while studying for her degree and said that CSUMB faculty and staff have been like a family.

Her advice to young people considering coming here: “Do it. It’s so worth it. You’ll never find a more supportive school.”

Meanwhile, family and friends made their way from the two stadium parking lots and surrounding lots, bought concession snacks and gifts of Hawaiian leis and kukui nut necklaces, and flower bouquets, and walked into the newly renovated stadium to find their seats.

Kathryn Grose of Vallejo was there for her boyfriend, a business major concentrating in entrepreneurship. A computer science major with a concentration in data science, she was due to graduate the next day.

“We met during our freshman year,” she said. “We motivated each other and were always hoping to graduate together.”

Nicole Escalon’s younger brother was graduating with a Master of Business Administration. Although there was a jumbotron screen to get a better view of the proceedings, their father had a camera with a telephoto lens which he would use to try to spot his son from afar.

“I’m proud of him,” Nicole said of her brother. “He’s very smart and intelligent. He goes above and beyond.”

She was also proud to report that he is a member of the Tachi Yokut tribe of Santa Rosa Rancheria in Kings County.

Natasha Washington was there for her daughter, a kinesiology major who was set to walk across the stage in a few minutes.

“We are happy and excited,” Washington said. “This is a great experience. We’ll go out and eat afterwards and celebrate.”

The procession of the platform party, faculty, and graduates finally made their way from the baseball field into the stadium, taking their seats.

President Eduardo M. Ochoa addressed the capacity audience of more than 5,000 spectators and graduates.

“Commencement represents a great milestone, the culmination of years of hopes and dreams,” he said. “You made it. Congratulations.”

After telling the stories of several students and their journeys to this moment, Ochoa turned the podium over to the guest speakers and then delivered his keynote address.

“You are leaving us now, but you will always be graduates of CSUMB, and you will always have a connection with us and have a stake in how the university grows and develops,” he told the graduates. It would be his last address to CSUMB students as their president.

Then Provost Katherine Kantardjieff commenced the reading of graduate’s names and their walk across the stage to be hooded or receive symbolic diplomas, which was accompanied by the whoops and cheers of their families and friends and picture taking.

After the graduates had returned to their seats, Kantardjieff presented the candidates as having fulfilled the requirements of their degree, and Ochoa then conferred upon them their “degree that you have earned, with all the attendant rights, privileges, and responsibilities.”


College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

Because this college presented the largest single number of graduates, it warranted its own ceremony, which was to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

One of the college’s programs, psychology, is the biggest in the university. Maylen Pinon is one of its graduates.

“Psychology professors are there for you,” she said while waiting to line up for the procession into the stadium. “There’s a lot of group work, teamwork, relationship building.”

She came to CSUMB to stay local and to save money, has already landed a job working with autistic children, and intends to go on to get her master’s degree and do clinical psychology.

Amanda Liberotti (music, with a concentration in recording technology) attended CSUMB for four years and says a highlight has been coming back to campus after being remote and virtual.

She’s moving to Southern California, but has a tentative job in her field with a production company that will tour the country.

Her advice to young people coming to CSUMB: “Get involved. Do things on campus. It makes it better.”

The graduates then lined up behind the platform party and made their way into the stadium, where it was announced that President Ochoa had tested positive for COVID-19 the night before and wouldn’t be able to join them on this day. The audience was shocked but the celebrations of the graduates continued with Provost Kantardjieff conferring the degrees and Lawrence Samuels, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Executive Director of the University Corporation, delivering the key note address.

“Your job,” Samuels told the graduates, “is to take your hope and unleash it upon the world…You are Otters. The world is your oyster.”

He took a moment to talk about Ochoa’s four decades of service to the CSU system and asked for a standing ovation for their soon-to-retire president, which everyone obliged.

In the stands, Jay Patel of Salinas, there for his sister-in-law who graduates in psychology, said he was sad for the news about Ochoa, but elated for his sister-in-law.

“She took a year off of school because of Covid,” he said. “She liked coming here.”

Members of the McLucas and Cahill families were there to support their graduating family member — a sociology major, athlete, and honors student who also took a year off from school (in her case due to her mother’s passing).

“She made us cry at the Black [Affinity] Graduation Celebration,” said Karen McLucas, her aunt. “She said ‘Without you, I wouldn’t have done this.’”

College of Education and College of Science

The crisp wind started to blow in wisps of fog for the final commencement of the weekend. But it didn’t dampen the spirit on the baseball field one single degree.

Ashley Springfield (science, with a biology concentration) took three-and-a-half years to graduate by taking classes in the summer and winter semesters. A highlight of her time has been doing marine biology work.

“Monterey Bay is the hub for whales,” she said. Next, she’s applying for a master’s degree to become a teacher.

She described graduation day as “surreal.”

“It hasn’t set in yet. Maybe it will when I walk.”

And her advice for soon-to-be Otters: “Talk to everybody. Don’t always be on your phone or on social. Say ‘hi’ to everyone. People are friendly here.”

In another part of the field, seven graduates affectionately yell upon seeing a faculty member walk by: “Amiiiiiirrrrr!”

Rosa Ceja earned her bachelor’s degree from CSUMB two years ago, is a couple of classes shy of her master’s degree, and was at graduation for her teaching credential. She wants to teach bilingual math and says there is an increasing need for it.

She said there are 15 in her cohort who have come to walk at graduation, and she’s excited to be in the company of others who want to change their world in some way.

“There are so many students like that,” she said.

The weather in the stadium was warmer and less buffeted by wind. When the ceremony commenced and Kantardjieff went to the podium, she recited some of Ochoa’s prepared remarks.

She relayed an exchange about the College of Science: “Someone said ‘I think this is going to be the most subdued commencement.’ You wait. We scientists know how to have a good time.”

Darren and Barbara Miller were sitting on a curb near the jumbotron. Their son, who received a master’s in environmental science, had been the second name called to the stage in his college.

“That’s better than last time,” Barbara said. “In 2019 when he was getting his bachelor’s, he was the last name called.”

Darren recalled further back, when they first arrived at CSUMB for orientation, Ochoa had greeted the small group of 50 parents.

“I have nothing but respect for him,” Darren said.

After the ceremony, which began at 3 p.m., they planned to go out to dinner at a place of their son’s choosing.

The very last name of this 2022 commencement weekend was that of Sergio Martinez, a statistics major. Asked how he felt about being the last graduate to walk across the stage, he replied, “Exhilarating. And the opposite of faster than light. But it was amazing having everyone cheer.”