Office of the President

Remarks at 2015 Commencement

Dr. Ochoa addresses the graduates, friends and family at Cal State Monterey Bay's 19th Commencement ceremony.

Commencement is a special day in the life of a university. It represents the culmination of years of effort, by our students and their families certainly, and also by our faculty and staff.

When today’s graduates came to CSU Monterey Bay as freshmen or transfer students, you were uncertain of what to expect from this place. Some of you already had friends here. Others didn’t. Some of you knew exactly what you wanted to study. Others had no idea. You all shared the feeling, however, that this would be the best place to pursue your educational dreams. And through happy times and difficult ones, you did exactly that. You may have started out wondering if you could succeed here. Now, at the end of this journey, I hope you look back over these years amazed at how much you have been able to achieve.

That is what the best kind of college education is all about. It is a time for learning how to live with others, and how to be yourself. It is a time of challenging your imagined limits. It is a time to learn that what once seemed impossible is actually within reach, with the assistance of supportive friends, a helpful mentor, an inspiring faculty or staff member, and a reassuring parent or friend on the other end of those late-night phone calls. And a lot of hard work.

In each of your individual ways, you have come into our university community, built a community, and made it your own. And we hope this is something you can take into the next chapters of your life. No matter where you go from here, there will be issues to face, causes to champion, people to help. May you make that next place better than you found it, just as you did here at Cal State Monterey Bay. Thanks to all of you.

Today’s graduating class includes students from 24 states and 18 foreign countries --including two each from France, Bangladesh, Germany, Japan and El Salvador and 45 from Mexico.

We have eight 20-year-olds in this class, including the Singh twins -- Chand and Charn -- who came to us from North Salinas High and are graduating with degrees in Human Communications.

And, in the category of lifelong learners, we have Bruce Albright who is picking up a bachelor’s of arts degree in Spanish, to go along with a bachelor’s and master’s degree he earned earlier. Bruce doesn’t turn 88 until August.

There are as many great stories as there are students who are graduating today. I would like to talk about just a few of them.

During her years at CSUMB, Ania Flatau has worked to build a sense of community and raise awareness of disability issues at CSU Monterey Bay and beyond. Born with spina bifida, she uses a wheelchair to get around . . . and to play basketball, and take ballroom and salsa dancing lessons and a host of other activities. The kinesiology major is applying to graduate schools in occupational therapy,working to earn a certificate to teach Zumba, and hopes to be certified as an Inclusive Fitness Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. And she’ll dance with the American Dance Wheels Foundation at the Pan Games in Toronto in July.

Congratulations Ania.

Nicole Irigoyen grew up in challenging circumstances, but that didn’t deter her from wanting to explore the world, and make it a better place. She took advantage of the opportunities CSUMB offers to study abroad – spending time in Taiwan, Turkey and Indonesia– and plans to attend graduate school in a field related to women’s development in emerging economies. The communication design major also does volunteer work with cancer groups and women’s empowerment organizations.

Congratulations Nicole.

Shwan Rashid has traveled a very long distance -- in terms of miles and obstacles overcome-- en route to today's graduation. A Kurdish refugee from Iraq, he worked for the U.S. government there, escaped when Saddam Hussein threatened to kill those who had worked with Americans, and was given asylum. Once in the U.S., he established an exporting business while pursuing his degree.

Despite the upheavals in his life and having to deal with health issues, his grit and determination have brought him here today.

Congratulations Shwan.

Located as we are on the site for the former Fort Ord, Cal State Monterey Bay has a continuing commitment to help our nation’s veterans achieve their educational goals. Among the veterans in the graduating class is Melissa Jimenez, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her drive to serve people during difficult times in their lives led her to earn a master’s degree in social work.

Congratulations Melissa.

Marybell (Bell) Farber is a Native of Puerto Rico. She is in our multiple subjects credential program. She is a mother of 4: ages 17, 14, 10 and 3; her eldest is going off to college next year. In addition to being a full-time student and a mother, she has been working a part-time job. Her typical day involves being up early to prepare herself and her family for school. She then has to be at her student teaching placement for most of the day before attending classes at CSUMB.

While she was in the credential program, she worked part-time until late in the evening. Afterward, she had to make time to do homework and be ready for yet another full day. Her future students and colleagues will be well served by Bell who represents the CSUMB Vision well.

Congratulations Bell.

Stan Bouyea worked at CSUMB for a number of years as a facilities supervisor. During that time, he took courses in the business department and needed only to do his capstone project when he left several years ago to take a job at Stanford Medical Center. His employer allowed him to come back to campus this semester to take the capstone course. And now he's graduating.

Congratulations, Stan.

For Alex Westerlund, her time as a mentor in the Student Support Services program and as a residential adviser helped her learn how to help fellow students who were struggling in a variety of ways. “I have grown beyond gaining a college degree and stepping out into the world,” she said. She’s graduating Summa Cum Laude, in four years, and with no debt. She’s graduating with a degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences and plans to earn a Ph.D. in American Deaf Studies and counseling.

Congratulations Alex.

Jennifer Riccobono traces her passion for nursing to the days when she was a patient herself. She was diagnosed with cancer at age9. At that point she experienced first-hand the power of a passionate nurse. After recovery, she began working toward her dream. She started as a Licensed Vocational Nurse, later graduated from the MPC Nursing Program and was part of our first Bachelor of Science in Nursing class, which graduated in December.

She was hired by the Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula, which is where she wentthrough her cancer surgeries and treatment. She said: “It is amazing to think about it, and I think about it everyday – that I have come full circle. During treatments, I would visualize myself working as a nurse at CHOMP – and now I am – and CSUMB helped me get here.”

Congratulations to Jennifer and to all of our amazing graduates.