SDSU: Record number of students graduate

May 25, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus class of 2001 gathered Thursday night for the campus' 41st commencement with a record 303 students graduating.

Individuals from all over the Valley gathered to celebrate the graduation.

Roberto Gonzalez, 23, of El Centro was one of the graduates.

"I was so nervous," said Gonzalez as he prepared to walk on stage and be handed his diploma.

"The first thing that I thought of this morning was ‘I'm graduating today,' " said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez was born in Mexicali and moved to the U.S. during the sixth grade.

He graduated from Central Union High School in El Centro in 1996 and from Imperial Valley College in 1998 with an associate's degree in psychology.

He earned bachelor's degrees in both industrial organizational psychology and Spanish at SDSU-IV. He hopes to earn his master's degree in psychology within the next year.

Gonzalez is preparing to move to Washington, D.C., where he will work at an internship at the National Science Foundation for 10 weeks.


He said his biggest inspirations throughout his life have been his family and teachers.

"Teachers have always said I have something more to offer and always had high expectations of me. They have helped me a lot and it hasn't been easy but I'm moving on and I'm happy to be here," he said.

He said he is nervous about moving to Washington.

"It's my first time in Washington, D.C. It's also the first time I will live by myself. I've never really lived away from home and I'm a bit nervous because I'm going to get a little bit of the real life," he added.

"But I'm happy to be going for the experience," he said. "It's going to broaden my view on life."

Gonzales hopes to learn more people skills and cultures.

"I'm used to seeing the Hispanic culture here, but over there we're the minority. I also want to enhance my leadership skills."

Gonzalez hopes to use those leadership skills to return to the Valley and help students become leaders.

"I think the Valley has a little lack of emotion. We are unique, being next to the border. I want to teach students to take advantage of everything that is offered," he said.

"We're kind of apagados (turned off)," he said.

"What I learn in the future I will come back and teach in the Valley," he added.

Gonzalez said he struggled academically during his early years in this country.

"I fought my way through bilingual classes. I didn't like it because I though to myself ‘I'm in the U.S., I need to learn English,' " he said.

"In eighth grade all I got were Ds and I couldn't go higher," he said.

He said he finally learned English fluently in high school.

Rosa Moreno, SDSU-IV assistant dean for student affairs, said of Gonzalez, "One of the striking things about Roberto is he is constant. He is always looking for ways to improve his skills.

"He has a sense of adventure and wants to come back to the Valley and help his community," she added.

Another student who struggled to finish her education was Olga Leon, 26, of Brawley.

Leon has a learning disability and it slowed her learning rate.

"Some classes were really hard for me but I kept going and going. I taught myself to learn at my own pace," she said.

Driven by her parents and the fact that she was going to be the first one in her family to graduate from a university, Leon earned her bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

"I would like to help juvenile delinquents go in the right direction and help them realize what their doing is wrong and that they can change if they really want to," she said.

Leon is volunteering at the Imperial County juvenile hall. While there she realized she likes working with youths and counseling them.

"When I got there I couldn't believe how bad some of them were. That's why I want to help them and counsel them," she said.

Said Moreno: "They say if you're a Latin female you have two challenges, being a Latina and a female.

"Leon has three, the third being her learning disability," she said.

"Olga was never afraid of asking for help and that is a lesson to all disabled students, to take advantage of all the services being offered," said Moreno.

"Students with disabilities usually feel guilt and shame but I look at them as pioneers because they teach us the services they need to help in their education," she added.

Leon said after receiving her diploma, "I finally did it. I was so excited to be up there. I couldn't believe I finally graduated because I was struggling a lot.

"I'm excited and ready to get a job," she said with a smile.

At the commencement ceremony Thursday, Anthony Longoria started the ceremonies as he sang the national anthem.

Stephen Weber, president of San Diego State University, gave a clear speech in Spanish, for which colleagues and students applauded him.

Douglas Patiño, former vice chancellor of the California State University system and a Calexico native, said of Weber's Spanish-speaking efforts, "We're proud of you, we're proud of you."

Patiño, the keynote speaker, told the graduates he and the entire CSU system were proud of them and proud of the growing academic reputation of SDSU-IV around the state.

Ann Marie Martinez, 23, of Calexico was awarded both the academic excellence and the outstanding student awards.

She thanked friends, family and her teachers for helping her.

After the ceremony graduating students embraced the hugs of friends, family and significant others. Some shed tears while others simply couldn't stop smiling.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3435.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles