Stan State Recognizes a Half Century of Dedicated Support
May 29, 2024
CSU Board of Trustees Chair Wenda Fong, Honorary Doctorate Donna Pierce, Interim President Susan Borrego
Honorary Doctorate Recipient Donna Pierce (center) with CSU Board of Trustees Chair Wenda Fong (left) and Interim President Sue Borrego (right).

She may paint her fingernails and streak her silver hair blue in tribute to her beloved Los Angeles Dodgers, but Donna Pierce’s heart pumps red and gold. 

More than 50 years of devotion to Stanislaus State, with only one official role — as the softball coach for one year — led to Pierce receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on Wednesday at Stan State’s Commencement ceremony for the College of Science. 

That ceremony was fitting, as her late husband, Wayne Pierce, was a professor of botany at Stan State for 35 years. 

Pierce was notified in February of her selection, having been nominated by Stan State Interim President Sue Borrego and approved by the California State University Chancellor’s Office and the CSU Board of Trustees. Board Chair Wenda Fong helped Borrego present the honor to Pierce, who was stunned when she’d learned of it in February. 

“I’m just pleased somebody noticed, because I don’t think it would occur to me in a million years that I would have a recognition like that,” Pierce said. “This University is my life. To be appreciated means everything." 

She thanked Borrego — who called it “a highlight of my life to be able to recognize Donna Martine Pierce with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters,” — Provost Richard Ogle and “so many of these people who have helped me on this journey, who have helped me since they were students. 

“This, for me, is just incredible. I could never anticipate how deeply it would affect me and I fully share the gratitude I have for this Doctorate of Humane Letters.” 

She also congratulated the day’s graduates from the College of Science, who cheered and yelled “Go, Donna” as she received her degree. 

“You’re all starting out. You’ve got a good education from a wonderful University, and I hope you are on your way to making the world a better place,” she said. “After all, that is what the purpose of a university is, to make us all better.” 

Donna Pierce's hands hold her husband's tie and highlight her read and gold fingernails for Warrior Spirit.
In tribute to her late husband, Donna Pierce donned Wayne's tie with her academic regalia, and she wore her nails red and gold, in honor of Warrior Spirit.

One of the myriad ways Pierce made Stan State better was by raising funds to complete the Wayne and Donna Pierce Trans-California Pathway after Wayne Pierce’s 2008 death. 

“It was the realization of his dream to share with Stan State students and the community, the flora and fauna of California from the high Seirra to the Valley floor,” Pierce told the audience. “He knew there were students and people in the area who never left Turlock or Stanislaus County, and he wanted to show them some of the natural beauty they would see if they could go to the foothills or Sierra.” 

Wayne Pierce accepted a teaching position at Stan State in 1971 when the campus consisted of the Library Building, Classroom Building, an arts building and a gymnasium. Physical enhancements came later. The true beauty of the campus in 1971, Pierce said, was in the people. 

Those people — employees and their spouses — helped lay the foundation of the University. 

“There are quite a few people who’ve been with me for a number of years and understand how the University is my heart.” 

-- Donna Pierce, Honorary Doctorate Recipient 

Donna Pierce was by her husband’s side throughout his tenure as a professor of botany. In 1989, she joined him, friends and students in planting 300 oak trees on the site of the Trans-California Pathway, and the 47 that survived anchor today’s grounds. 

It’s Donna Pierce’s favorite place on campus, but she continues to attend music and theatre productions and cheer Warriors athletics teams. A long-time volunteer basketball shot-clock keeper and then scorekeeper, Pierce was inducted into the Warrior Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Athletes she befriended were among those who sat near her as she received her honorary doctorate. 

Serving as the school’s first softball coach and volunteering at the basketball scorer’s table weren’t the reasons for her honorary doctorate, she said. 

“I believe it is because for more than 50 years, my heart has been with Stanislaus State.” 

Donna Pierce surrounded by family and friends.