What Stanislaus State students heard, and had to say, at university commencement

Even before civil rights icon Dolores Huerta delivered a rousing “Sí, se puede/Yes, we can” message during her keynote address at Thursday morning’s commencement, that feeling was in the air among graduating students at California State University, Stanislaus.

Ahead of the pomp and circumstance, a handful of students interviewed were feeling good about the career or grad-school path before them. And where there was student loan debt, there seemed to be little worry.

Alyssa Nand was receiving her master’s of arts in English literature and has a couple of job interviews coming up. She plans to work as an editor in educational publishing. She’s doing some looking locally, but mostly far away.

“Bigger cities have bigger opportunities and that’s the plan, to go to a bigger city,” Nand said. “I’m willing to go wherever the job takes me. I love this area, this is my home, but it’s time for a little change.“

As for student debt, she has none. She’s fortunate that her family paid for her education, Nand said.

Also getting her MA in lit was Amber Youngman, who already teaches English at Johansen High School in Modesto and intends to stay the course. An area native who went to Riverbank High, she said she has no plans to leave the Golden State.

Unlike Nand, Youngman said she does have student debt — enough that she’ll probably be paying until she’s in her late 40s. But with her career well under way, she’s not sweating it, she said.

Damian Fernandez and Curtis Azevedo both earned bachelor’s degrees in communications studies, and both are aiming to make serious money. “Six figures and a pension,” Azevedo answered when asked what his goals are as he enters the work force at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is below 4 percent.

Fernandez’s answer? “Just make a lot of money, man. Six figures, that’s the goal.” He’s undecided about what’s next for him. He might go for his master’s degree, he said. “Right now, I’m employed with Verizon, so I might see where that takes me.”

He’s graduating debt-free, Fernandez said, because he worked enough 60-hour weeks to pay his way through college. As for staying in the area or leaving, he’ll go “wherever God takes me,” he said, but he was born and raised in Modesto and loves it here.

Azevedo has a debt load, but more because he used to fly helicopters than from being a student, he said. He aims to get into “something managerial,” but doesn’t yet know in what field. He, too, is local and has no immediate plans to leave, but eventually sees himself living outside California because of the high cost of living here.

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Joe and Connie Madruga, immigrants from the Azores, are about the see the youngest of their five children graduate from California State University, Stanislaus. All five siblings from left, Helen Wolf, Isabel Haley, Paul Madruga, Teresa Madruga and Daniel Madruga earned degrees from the Turlock university. Courtesy of the Madruga family

Daniel Madruga, receiving his bachelor’s in accounting, will graduate Friday in the last of Stan State’s three commencements. Thursday morning’s was for the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Thursday evening, the College of Education, Kinesiology and Social Work and the College of Business Administration participated. And Friday morning comes the College of Science commencement.

Madruga is the youngest of five siblings — the children of Joe and Connie Madruga — all to graduate from Stanislaus State. Sisters Helen Wolf and Isabel Haley both studied liberal arts and became teachers, he said. His brother Paul studied business finance, and sister Teresa Madruga studied psychology.

His parents are immigrants from the Azores, Madruga said, and stressed to their children the importance of studying hard, getting good grades and going to college.

“If I came home with a B, it was basically like I got an F,” he said. All the siblings grew up doing dairy work and helping with their dad’s landscaping business on the side, Madruga said. The message to them was clear, he said: “You can go to school and learn or you can stand outside in the August heat.”

Out of high school, Madruga attended Merced College, with no idea what he wanted to major in. So he came away with an associate degree in sociology and transferred to Stan State, where he ended up majoring in accounting.

Up next is the UC Davis Graduate School of Management in San Ramon, Madruga said. He’s not sure yet what he wants to do career-wise, but an MBA will give him the flexibility to “do whichever job I want,” he said.

Madruga said he’s not looking to leave California, but probably will leave the Central Valley for a metropolitan area. In that way, he’s unlike his brother and sisters, who remain in Stanislaus and Merced counties.

“I think my older siblings really like the area and tailored their employable skills and the jobs they got to that more than anything,” he said.

Across the three commencements Thursday and Friday, a record number of 3,562 students were eligible to participate, CSU Stanislaus spokesman Brian VanderBeek said. That includes all undergraduate and graduate degrees, credentials and certificates and surpasses last spring by 125 students.

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Student speaker Emily Yonan addresses her fellow grads during the California State University, Stanislaus, commencement for the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences on Thursday morning, May 23, 2019. Deke Farrow

Thursday morning’s student speaker was Emily Yonan, graduating with a BA in political science. She’s continuing on to law school, to become an attorney who advocates on behalf of the vulnerable, she told her fellow grads. Yonan urged them to use their degrees not only to benefit themselves, but also others, even if that’s just one other person.

She also had words of reassurance for those whose path remains unclear: “We are all Warriors through and through, and as Warriors, we can do anything. And if you still don’t know what that anything is, that is OK. You will find your calling in due time, and when that time comes, don’t be afraid to answer that call with boldness and courage. Because that is what you have been preparing for, and you are more than ready for it.”

In her words to the diverse field of graduates — the majority the first in their families to earn college degrees — Huerta also seized on CSU Stanislaus students being Warriors. The co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers of America urged the young people to be warriors for justice.

She told the students they’re fortunate to have in many cases have grown up in the Valley, among an ethnically diverse population. And she led them in a chant of “people power,” which she called upon them to yell loudly enough that the “haters out there” — the neo-Nazis, the homophobes, the misogynists, the bigots, the sexual harassers — all could hear.

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.