Posted on by

USU Resource Center Graduation Celebrations Strengthen Community Spirit

By Teagan Davidge

University Student Union (USU) Resource Centers, including the Pride Center, the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) and the DREAM Center hosted graduation celebrations last month to recognize students’ academic accomplishments and look back on special USU memories.

The first one held was the UndocuGraduation, an event for all graduating Matadors who identify as undocumented, DACAmented, or mixed-status. At this DREAM Center ceremony, students shared the exciting moment with their loved ones in an intimate environment.

“It was a really beautiful thing to see to see [the graduates] with their families,” said DREAM Center Manager Irvin Rendon. “It’s a time to celebrate all of their accomplishments and the resiliency they showed throughout their time here at CSUN.”

The banquet-style event featured cultural performances from Ballet Folklorico and Aztec dancers while Mediterranean food was served.

“We are already looking forward to our ten-year anniversary, which will be in 2025. We are thinking about our past: how the DREAM Center came about and how the undocumented community was welcomed on campus ten years ago,” said DREAM Center Supervisor Karen Castillo. “We have been reminiscing about that, but also highlighting the opportunity to move forward and take flight. We are looking forward to the future of the undocumented student community.”

Graduates were called to the stage to be draped with sashes by two important figures in their life, typically parents, partners or children. They also were gifted diploma frames sponsored by the Premier America Credit Union.

“It was nice to see the graduates thank everyone when they went [on stage], knowing that their accomplishment wasn’t just accomplished by themselves. It was a community effort,” Rendon said. “We’re always trying to emphasize the power of community at the DREAM center and that was really emphasized by all the graduates.”

Ana Miriam Barragan Santoyo speaking at the 2024 UndocuGraduation event
UndocuGraduation keynote speaker Ana Miriam Barrangan Santoyo. Photo by Briana Walden.

CSUN alum and keynote speaker Ana Miriam Barragan Santoyo said a very small percentage of undocumented students obtain a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree in their lifetime. The DREAM Center provides a university space for these students to be welcomed in an often-difficult environment.

Castillo said the DREAM Center is making a difference for students.

“As a student, you’re focused on your own path. You may come into the DREAM Center once or twice, but we also have regulars that are here constantly. Every experience is different here at CSUN. We want to hold the space for all of them,” said Castillo. “Even with all the challenges and barriers in place for our community, [the graduates] were able to persevere and be in a room filled with the community.”

At the VRC Graduation Celebration, veterans and military-connected students celebrated completing one journey and beginning another surrounded by their family, friends and community of peers.

“The aim of the event was to prepare graduates for post-grad life with support and connections they need to reach their next goals,” said VRC Manager Robert Graves. “This is just one step in their path to success, and we would love to see them continue [to blossom].”

The VRC gathering highlighted 77 military-connected graduates at the commemorative lunch. Attendees fondly recalled spending many hours in the VRC, studying alongside their peers. They were praised by staff and administrators for their hard work and endless dedication.

“[The graduates] have built this amazing support system at the VRC that will stay with them after graduation,” Graves said. “We want to especially recognize the time away from their families and homes spent pursuing their degree.”

Senator Caroline Menjivar speaks at the 2024 VRC Graduation Celebration
VRC Graduation Celebration keynote speaker Senator Caroline Menjivar. Photo by Briana Walden.

CSUN alumna and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Senator Caroline Menjivar was the event’s keynote speaker. She said being a CSUN veteran undergraduate makes her uniquely connected to the graduating veteran experience.

Awards were presented to the Outstanding Graduating Veteran, and the Outstanding Service Veteran, and recognition was given to two remarkable military-connected Matadors.

“Impactful, meaningful events like this with inspiring keynote speakers encourage veterans continuing in their education to get excited about their own VRC graduation in the future,” said Graves.

The Rainbow Graduation Celebration hosted by the Pride Center and the Queer Studies Program, honored LGBTQIA+ graduates, allies and Queer Studies minors for their tireless academic commitment.

“Celebration and community were the two things resonating with folx. Through the smiles, through the laughter, through the snapping and clapping—hearing all of that generated the things you want to see and feel when in a space like that,” said Martel Okonji, the Pride Center manager. “We want to allow graduates to recognize that life is pretty hard. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s not worth navigating.”

More than 50 graduating seniors walked the stage during the ceremony, each commended for their resilience by a room of proud supporters. Several scholarships, including the Tanni Block Memorial LGBTQIA+ Scholarship, the Pride Center Scholarship, and the Wong-Sayaman Equality Award were awarded to exemplary graduates.

Tre’vell Anderson speaks at the 2024 Rainbow Graduation Celebration.
Rainbow Graduation Celebration keynote speaker Tre‘vell Anderson. Photo by Steven Wein.

Journalist, podcaster and author Tre’vell Anderson was the keynote speaker. The celebration featured a performance by the director and founder of Grupo Folklorico Fusion Mexicana in Ventura County, Adrian Castellon Robles.

“One of the things that our keynote hit on the head, which I’m so happy about, is remembering what came before you. I think especially in the LGBTQ+ community, we don’t see a lot of role models or a lot of representation. At times we don’t feel like we’re supposed to exist, but we’ve always been in existence, we’ve always been here,” Okonji said. “We’re bold, we’re courageous and we’ve been carrying the torch since the torch has been lit.”

The celebrants surrounded by encouraging community members, friends and family, expressed validation and hopefulness for the future, officials said.

“My favorite part was being able to experience the fluidity of the community, seeing representation in so many different ways and so many different lights,” said Okonji. “Also, I think the walk we all did at the end, for the Matador tradition of the rose, just put the cherry on top.”

Scroll back to the top of the page