Twenty-four years ago I graduated from California State University, San Bernardino’s College of Arts & Letters, and last Saturday I was honored to join my father in representing the community as platform guests at commencement for the same college. This time, however, I was not the one being recognized. I was there, instead, to help award my father, Hardy Brown, the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters – now Dr. Hardy Brown
During my academic career, I have marched and received diplomas in several ceremonies…each time my dad was there to cheer for me, hug me, and congratulate me on the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. For the first time there was an opportunity for me to do the same for him. As we marched into the packed Coussoulis arena with thousands of cheering families and friends and hundreds of ebullient and enthusiastic graduates, the spirited mood was infectious. You can put a price on tuition and tangible expenses incurred while attending college for four or more years, but you can never put a price on the value of the education you receive or the lifelong friendships you forge. It is, to quote the Master Card commercial, Priceless.
“We cannot choose where we come from,” my dad wrote in his remarks, “but we can choose the direction we are going.” His opening statement resonated with the majority of graduates who filled the seats of the arena floor. During his commencement remarks President Tomas Morales asked all graduates who were the first in their family to graduate college to stand. Surprisingly, fewer students remained seated than those who rose to thunderous applause. I was stunned to see so many stand. And then I thought about the significance of that moment.
According to research on first-generation college students, “those who do not have a parent with a college degree often lag behind other students in grades and graduation rates.” These students often don’t feel like they belong in college unlike continuing-generation students (those with at least one parent with a four-year degree) who don’t experience similar gaps in opportunity and achievement. Because these students come from families with more higher education experience, they are able to better navigate college norms, rules, and expectations.
More than 70 percent of graduates at CSU San Bernardino are the first in their families to earn a college degree. While many other colleges and universities are trying to figure out how to get first generation students through college successfully, if Saturday’s impressive number of graduates is any indication, CSU San Bernardino is definitely doing something right. The university’s aggressive and effective retention programs and strategies are working. As a CSUSB alum — and now the daughter of two alums as well — I want to congratulate all of the Inland areas graduates this year. And remember it’s not where you come from it’s where you are heading that really matters in life.
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