San Diego State University honored a remarkable group of 2014 graduates at this year’s San Diego State University Guardian Scholars Graduation Celebration.
As former foster youth, wards of the court, unaccompanied homeless and/or students under legal guardianship, each Guardian Scholar walking the stage this year has beaten the odds, overcoming nearly insurmountable obstacles in their journey to earn a college degree.
Among the nine students recognized at the graduation celebration earlier this month was SDSU Associated Students President Joshua Morse. Graduating this semester as a finance major and standout student leader, Morse battled family dysfunction and homelessness for much of his childhood.
“On a personal level, it’s a bitter sweet time,” Morse said in a speech to attendees. “You meet some of the most amazing people you’ve ever met. You meet people who don’t even know you, who support you — people who open their homes, open their checkbooks, and take time out of their schedule to try to impact your life because they believe in you. That true compassion, to have people care about you at that level, for some of us, we’ve never felt that before.”
Conquering such adversity is a rarity. According to Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Reggie Blaylock, less than 10 percent of all foster youth enroll in college and less than 2 percent of those students go on to graduate.
The SDSU Guardian Scholars Program aims to improve those statistics and increase the number of success stories — such as Morse’s — by providing personal, financial and academic support and resources for students with similarly challenging family circumstances.
Including this year’s cohort, 40 Guardian Scholars have graduated from SDSU since the program’s inception in 2007. Eight of those graduates have either been accepted into a graduate program, are currently enrolled in a graduate program, or have obtained master’s degrees.
Jasmine Jenkins, a communication major, will be attending graduate school at Clark Atlanta University in the fall after graduating from SDSU this semester.
“Failure is not an option in this program; you have to do great,” Jenkins said. “And that’s why our graduation rate is over 90 percent, because they push us to be the best we can be.”
It takes a village
In addition to SDSU’s Office of Educational Opportunity Programs and Ethnic Affairs, which operates the Guardian Scholars Program, community support is a key component of the program’s ongoing success.
A portion of Conrad Prebys’ recent $20 million gift to the Campaign for SDSU, the largest gift in university history, is designated for Guardian Scholar scholarships.
The program also received a $1 million gift from SDSU alumni Jim and Janet Sinegal in 2011, a $250,000 donation from Union Bank in 2013 and a $5,000 gift just last month from Thomas Duffey, among many others.
2014 Guardian Scholars graduates
- Vandissa Beard, child and family development
- Jonal Boatwright, social work
- James Davis, recreation administration
- Martin Duvan, civil engineering
- Melissa Gutierrez, psychology
- Jasmine Jenkins, communication
- Christopher Medellin, television, film and new media
- Joshua Morse, business administration
- Tania Tadeo, psychology