The leader of the California State University system spoke Sunday about the value of education and what it takes to graduate from college to a nearly packed church in southwest Fresno.
A crowd of nearly 300 people, young and old, cheerfully welcomed CSU Chancellor Timothy White during a two-hour service at Saints Rest Missionary Baptist Church.
Sunday's event is part of CSU Super Sunday, an annual program where CSU partners with more than 100 African American churches to boost access, achievement and completion of college for historically underserved populations.
Before White took center stage, people who are currently attending a CSU campus were asked to stand.
Briannah Edison, 22, stood up along with two others in the service. She said being a first-generation college student has motivated her to inspire others.
"I want to be the one who starts it off so that my kids will see that they can go to college," she said. "I want to be that person in my family that others can look up to."
White, a first-generation college graduate himself, shared a bit about his story to the crowd. As an immigrant who started off at a community college, he said having a college degree drastically changed his life.
"I didn't come from a privileged home. I had to work my butt off," he said. "I took that knowledge and worked hard and now I'm coming back and giving back."
He stressed how the CSU system is created to serve and help Californians.
"Students of any age who are willing to do the work and have the aptitude -- we're here for them and people shouldn't let the issue of cost get in the way," he said.
White, who was born in Argentina and immigrated as a youth to Northern California with his family, attended Fresno State before moving on to Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay) and then the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned a doctorate in exercise physiology.
After listening to White's speech, Edison said he was an inspiration, especially for those who feel like college is beyond their reach.
"I feel like a lot of people don't even think college is an option because of the cost mainly. So for him to come -- he's a good role model and an example that anyone can go to college. You just have to take the chance."
White's message hit home for 53-year-old Lora Britten, who decided to go to college at 49.
"No matter what, it's never too late," she said.
In April, she will be the first in her family to graduate from a university. She hopes White's speech will encourage the younger generations to dream big.
"If I would have heard it (speech) when I was younger, then I probably would have gone to school then instead of waiting until now," Britten said.
Jaylin White, 14, said college has been one of her goals since she was a young child.
"College is a really big thing in my life," she said. "One day I want to be able to support my own family."
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