Standing in the crowd of proud parents and friends Saturday morning at the Save Mart Center, John and Natalie Toste shot to their feet as their daughter, Lilliana, heard her name called out as the winner of the President’s Medal at the 105th Fresno State commencement ceremony.
“Did you see me? I jumped through the roof. I embarrassed myself,” John said. “We bawled like little babies.”
Lilliana, who already had been honored as a Dean’s Medalist, and also had been recognized earlier this year as Fresno State’s Student Volunteer of the Year, said she was shocked and honored to receive the university’s top graduate award.
“There was so much talent up on that stage – so many people are dedicated to Fresno State,” she said.
As the oldest of five siblings growing up in Lemoore, Lilliana set a high bar for her brothers and sisters, her father said. She majored in communicative disorders – personal because she has two little brothers with autism. Lilliana’s mother futilely tried to hold back tears as she spoke of her daughter.
“She’s worked so hard. She deserves it. It’s a beautiful thing to see – recognition for all her hard work,” Natalie said. “And she did it on her own because every family has their struggles.”
University President Joseph Castro said he was proud of every student’s accomplishments, and this year there is a large number of people with cause to celebrate. He called the graduating class of 5,475 probably the largest in Fresno State history. “As we increase our graduation rate each year, we’ll have a larger and larger class, and I love that.”
10,753 attendance at Saturday’s ceremony
Jessica Miguel said she was overwhelmed and excited after her name was announced as the University Graduate Medalist. “There were so many amazing people in the running, and I had no idea it was going to be me.”
She also was honored as a Dean’s Graduate Medalist for the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. And although it’s an exciting day for Miguel, it’s also a somber one because her time, like that of many others, at Fresno State has come to a close.
Stories of our students’ path to success are just amazing.
Fresno State President Joseph Castro
“Stumbling upon Fresno State and the Kremen program was more than I could have ever imagined,” she said. “The support and the love and the mentorship that I have received has been amazing. I’m definitely going to miss seeing the faculty and seeing everybody.”
Miguel is a first-generation American. Her parents immigrated from Mexico. She is the second in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, and she is the first to get a master’s. She said she also will be the first to get a doctorate.
Castro said: “Stories of our students’ path to success are just amazing. Over 72 percent of them are the first in their families to graduate from college. Fresno State loves them, and we want to stay connected with them for the rest of their careers. And we want them to engage with the students who come behind.”
This degree that I am honored with is really for you.
U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera
U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, a former Fresno State professor, was awarded an honorary doctorate. “This degree that I am honored with is really for you,” Herrera told the crowd of graduating students. “Thank you for you. Everything I’ve received is for you.”
Many on the move?
With so many students graduating and going into the job market, students will find the most success if they’re willing to relocate, said Debbie Young, interim director for the Career Development Center.
“Everyone cannot stay in the Central Valley. So the more relocatable they are, the higher chances of getting work.”
Young said some employers are giving relocation packages, and the market is better than it was during the recession. Many graduates in construction management and marketing have gotten several job offers at a time.
“We have ‘boomerangers,’ we call them, where they do entry-level positions elsewhere, and they come back to the Valley because they still like raising families here.”