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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Graduates at SDSU's 2021 Commencement. Graduates at SDSU's 2021 Commencement.

Commencement Honors Resilient and Diverse Classes of ’20 and ’21

SDSU hosted seven ceremonies over three days at Petco Park. These are just a few of the highlights.
By SDSU News Team

San Diego State University celebrated its 2020 and 2021 graduating classes, along with their parents, families and friends in a first-ever commencement at Petco Park.

It was an even more important and touching occasion because commencement activities were held in person after about 14 months of predominantly virtual education and engagement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today’s graduation celebration is unlike anything we have seen in the 124-year history of this university,” SDSU President Adela de la Torre said during commencement. “After so many months apart, we are delighted to be able to honor your accomplishments together and in person with peers, family and friends making this celebration even more special and memorable.”

Here are some highlights from a week of celebration:

Historic Moment

SDSU’s first graduation ceremony was held in 1899 with 26 students at what was then the San Diego Normal School. This May, an estimated 20,517 graduates were eligible to participate in commencement ceremonies as part of the 2020 and 2021 clases.  

For the first time, and due to the global pandemic, ceremonies were held at Petco Park.

“Many things have changed at this institution over the past century and a half: its name, location, and size; the range of its academic offerings; the scope of its ambitions,” said SDSU College of Sciences Dean Jeff Roberts.

“The pandemic has shown our institution and its people to be strong and resilient,” Roberts said. “The pandemic has not changed, could not change, the unwavering commitment of San Diego State University faculty and staff to provide an unparalleled educational experience to every one of the men and women we are lucky enough to attract as students.”

A Diverse, Well-Prepared Class

The parents of 81-year-old James Marino immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900’s from Sicily, Italy. The family came to reside in San Diego’s Little Italy community, where he grew up.

While Marino began his studies at SDSU in the 1950s, he had to take a pause to go on tour with his band, “The Strangers,” who had a popular song called “The Caterpillar Crawl.” He tried for a degree again during the 1960s, but left again to raise his family.

It was in 2018 that Marino connected with SDSU’s Heather Foster, eager to finally complete his degree after a successful career in the video production and entertainment industry. On Thursday, he earned his Bachelor of Science in applied arts and sciences with a major in television, film and new media critical studies.  

Other members of the 2020 and 2021 graduating classes are:

  • Jose Miguel Alvarado, who has earned the distinction of Outstanding Graduating Senior in the College of Arts and Letters. He encouraged graduates to understand the connection between poetry and prayer and to find ways to connect with others in ways they were not able during the pandemic.
  • Graduate Victor Penera, who is beginning a full-time position with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, and urged his fellow graduates: “Do not be afraid to fail. Do not be afraid to fail. Do not be afraid to fail.”
  • Tyler Shiver, who graduated with a degree in social work with an Air Force ROTC Leadership Studies minor, and will be commissioning as a second lieutenant into the United States Air Force.
  • Gabe Floresca-IgtanloIc, who earned his degree in theater performance and is the recipient of SDSU’s Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award. This honor is given each year to a graduating senior who has demonstrated exceptional entrepreneurial achievement.
  • Outgoing College of Business Council President Christie Keller, who earned her degree in finance and will be working as a corporate client banking analyst with JP Morgan, said: “SDSU prepared me in so many ways both in the classroom but definitely out of the classroom as well. It gave me so much leadership experience, which has enabled me to grow personally and professionally through various workshops, mentors, clubs, and outstanding faculty.”  

A Thank You to Parents and Families, Faculty and Staff

President de la Torre called on graduates to appreciate those who helped them to reach this milestone in their lives.

“Today’s commencement ceremony is not only symbolic of your accomplishments, but also is a testament to the support structures around you — family, friends, faculty and staff — who believed in you every step of the way, sharing your anxiety, fears and frustrations and transforming them into the energy that propelled you forward,” de la Torre said. “It’s been a group effort.”

Health Professions, Student Advocacy in the Spotlight

University leaders lauded those in the health professions, many who have been at the front line. More than 300 SDSU nursing students were trained to administer COVID-19 vaccines across San Diego. The students are now at county vaccination sites directly assisting with vaccinations.  

“I want to congratulate all of the graduates, and recognize that you are ready to explore new and thrilling opportunities that will have an impact on the broad spectrum of health and human services, and a profound effect on individuals and communities throughout the world,” said Steven Hooker, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “I’m very proud to be your dean.”

Leaders also acknowledged those who have advocated for environmental sustainability, equity, justice and basic human rights. De la Torre  acknowledged the hundreds of students who danced all night during the Dance Marathon at SDSU, raising more than $372,000 for patients and families at Rady Children’s Hospital of San Diego.

“You are all stronger and better prepared for whatever life brings because of what you accomplished and also when you accomplished it,” de la Torre said. “If anyone wants to know what it takes to maintain focus and commitment in chaos and uncertainty, they can look to our 2020 and 2021 graduating classes and see what you are made of.”

Seven Honorary Degrees Recipients Recognized

Thuan Dinh Nguyen was honored with the Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his significant accomplishments and impact in education, with more than 20 years of service to the field.

A former refugee from South Vietnam, Nguyen survived jail and torture before the age of 5. Today, as chief operating officer for AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), Nguyen oversees digital teaching and learning for the nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting underserved students. Nguyen has held executive roles in information technology, instructional technology, safety and security, communications and public relations, and has been recognized nationally.

“I want to thank my parents who, like so many immigrants, made countless sacrifices so that my siblings and I could have a better life,” Nguyen said during the commencement ceremony. “I am not sure that I could have shown the same courage.”

SDSU awarded seven honorary degrees this commencement season, including three held over from 2020. Other recipients are: Steve Doyle, Walt Ekard, Jose Padilla, Jessie Knight, Joe Kiani and Nicole Clay.

Moment of Silence

SDSU Provost Salvador Hector Ochoa took a moment to remember faculty, staff and students lost over the past two years during their military service, as well as the countless lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SDSU President, AS President Charge to Graduates

President de la Torre encouraged graduates to remember that “with this diploma come also new obligations,” and to remain connected to one another and to the university.

“We know that you will continue to pay that investment forward so that future students can walk in your footsteps and relish in their unique SDSU experience,” de la Torre said. “We are exceedingly proud of what you have accomplished, who you are becoming, and even more, of who you will continue to become.”

Christian J. Holt, outgoing Associated Students president, called on graduates to remember the “Concept of One,” a leadership charge he and other officers developed this academic year.

“The Concept of One is essentially everyday leadership in action. It is truly that one kind gesture that you may have given a stranger or friend that made a life-changing impact on them and led them to pursue something they may have never thought of before,” said Holt, a College of Health and Human Services graduate. “Leadership is not about the awards, titles, nor accolades. It is about inspiring people to be better versions of themselves and the impact that one is able to leave on others.”