The 2,517 students who graduated from California State University, Stanislaus as part of the Class of 2015 received more than a diploma.
They also received a call to action.
President Joseph F. Sheley implored the 2,068 students receiving undergraduate degrees and 449 receiving graduate degrees May 28-29 to repay their University through the simple task of speaking up about it.
"All it takes is talking about the value of your University experience and your degree," Sheley said. "Just talk. Talk publicly about your lives, your dreams, and the dreams of your brothers and sisters, your children and friends.
"Tell people — don't wait for them to ask — about the difference that your Stan State experience has made in your life and that your degree will make, in good times or bad, and not just in financial terms. Tell them too that, without more college graduates, our communities — this region — will become increasingly less competitive."
The morning ceremony on Thurs., May 28, honored students from the College of Business Administration and the College of Science.
Student speaker Elita McFadden asked her fellow graduates to consider and appreciate how the power of fate brought all of them together to share the cap and gown experience.
"If anything or anyone else happened in our lives, we wouldn't be who or where we are today," McFadden said. "This moment felt so distant when we were registering for classes. It seemed like we were competing in The Hunger Games, when rushing to class after just finishing that paper you procrastinated on, and especially after seeing how long you could survive on just Top Ramen and a few dollars."
That evening's ceremony honored the 449 students eligible for graduate degrees — including doctoral and master's degrees, as well as teaching credentials.
Student speaker Miranda Lutzow, who earned a master's in public administration, called on her peers to recognize all those who supported them on their journey and to repay them by paying it forward. Her own journey thus far has included growing up in a home where neither parent was a high school graduate, being homeless for periods of time and becoming a single mother at 17.
"I'm so grateful to all of those who saw my potential and chose to support my academic pursuits," Lutzow said. "I'm not able to payback all those people, but I will be able to pay it forward through my commitment to public service.
"It's clear our region is in need of leaders who are prepared to address challenges, but I'm encouraged as I look out on this crowd of problem-solvers. We now have the knowledge required to successfully make a real difference in the Central Valley."
The following morning, students representing the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the College of Education, Kinesiology and Social Work received diplomas.
Erika Anderson and Angelina Moles stood together to address the graduates, reminding them of the limitless doors opened by their degrees.
"Today is a day in history — our day in history," they said. "One of us could be the next Mark Zuckerberg, the next Ellen DeGeneres, maybe even a future president of the United States.
"We began this journey as individuals, but we stand today united because of the challenges we took on and the successes we celebrate today. You are strong-willed and educated individuals and together we will make the world a better place."
Sheley gave particular attention to the students who come from the six-county area surrounding CSU Stanislaus, citing them as the people who will be the Central Valley's leaders for the next 50 years.
"This is a campus that holds a whole region's dreams," Sheley said during the undergraduate ceremonies. "The region comes together right here and speaks with a single voice about our shared interests and about the pride we have and the hope we place in our graduates."