It’s been quite the year for the Harder family.
Josh Harder, the eldest son of Linda and Mark Harder, won the 2018 General Election to represent California’s 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives in November, and on Friday morning, the family celebrated another milestone as their youngest son David walked across the stage at Stanislaus State’s commencement ceremony to accept his Bachelor of Arts degree in History.
To make the moment even sweeter, Josh served as the event’s keynote speaker and walked alongside David as President Ellen Junn handed him his Class of 2019 diploma.
The morning was a culmination of emotions for Linda, she said, as David is on the autism spectrum and the family was unsure if he would make it to graduation. Through hard work and perseverance, he did.
“He’s taken a slower approach to be able to finish, so my heart is really filled with gratitude,” she said. “We’ve been so busy supporting and working for Joshua’s election as a first-time Congressman and it’s been a high learning curve, so to have David in the mix of all of that and to wonder what his future holds...it’s nice to know we have a Congressman who cares about jobs and helping young people stay here in the Valley and contribute.”
David’s story is well-known among those who supported Josh’s campaign, as the Congressman’s younger brother is the reason he decided to run for office in the first place. Born 10 weeks premature, David needed surgeries as a child for his pre-existing conditions and spent two years in and out of the hospital. Luckily, Linda and Mark could afford the treatment thanks to their health insurance.
Josh would mention David frequently while fighting to unseat former Congressman Jeff Denham in 2018, who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. On Friday morning, he said he had David as an inspiration to thank for being on stage, addressing graduates from the university’s College of Science and, ultimately, serving in Congress.
“My brother’s journey was not an easy one. He worked really hard, and it’s really exciting to be here. It’s a big moment for my family to see the bookends of what we’ve been able to accomplish and what the community has been able to help us do,” Josh said.
In his keynote address, Josh encouraged graduates to stay in the Valley and contribute to the place they know best: home.
“...the Central Valley is going to look very different 15 years from now than it does today, and my central message to each and every one of you is that I want you to be part of making this a better place,” he said during his speech. “I want you to stay here and give back to the communities that taught you how to work hard. I’m not just pandering to your parents either – you have a chance to really make a difference here.”
Josh said that as he watched his brother graduate, he thought of issues still facing the Valley.
“He embodies a lot of the challenges we’re still working on. As I think through the next 15 years, I think a lot about the family that I want to raise in the Central Valley and what opportunities my kids are going to have in terms of education and in terms of jobs,” he said. “My brother’s going through that right now...Stan State’s prepared him in a great way, but it’s still way too harder than it should be to find gainful employment.
“It’s the end of a chapter right here, but it’s not the end of the book. There’s a lot more work that he has to do and there’s a lot more work that we have to do to make sure that stories like his are more common.”
The bond between Josh and David was clear as they embraced on stage, and Linda said it’s always been that way.
“He always wanted a kindred spirit brother, and Joshua has always been willing to sacrifice for David. That’s the kind of friendship they have,” Linda said. “Joshua has an extraordinarily compassionate heart, and when it comes to David, he’s been that protection for him.”
As any big brother would do, Josh poked fun at David during his speech, noting that David’s fellow classmates might remember him as the kid in the back of the lecture watching YouTube videos — a joke, Josh said, insisting that David is a hard worker. He also spoke of his own memories at Stanislaus State, where as a high school student he was a drummer in the university’s 4th of July band.
A simple mistake and missed direction from his conductor led to an impromptu drum solo by Josh that day, he told the audience, but fortunately it led to some witty advice for the graduates he was addressing.
“You gotta fake it ‘til you make it,” he said.
The total number of graduates between this week’s multiple commencement ceremonies at Stanislaus State was 3,562, making the university’s 59th graduating class its largest. The importance of supporting education and embracing life-long learning was a recurring theme among the commencement speakers, a group that in addition to Josh included labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and businessman Edwin Rizo. Dorothy Bizzini received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during Thursday’s ceremony in recognition of a lifetime of supporting education throughout the region.
Student speakers Linda Hayden (business administration), Emily Yonan (political science) and Gurjoban Hayer (biological sciences), greeted their classmates with the common tales of college life, mixed-in with some peer-to-peer words of wisdom.
As is the tradition at Stan State, several awards were handed out during the ceremonies.
Dr. Kurt Baker, professor of psychology, was honored as the Outstanding Professor for 2018-19.
Maria Marquez, communications studies graduate and ASI president, and Jenna Pablo, a psychology major with a minor in sociology, were presented with the J. Burton Vasché Award, presented to graduates who display the highest standards of leadership, service and scholarship throughout their college years.
Scott Contreras, a mathematics major and honors program student, earned the Geiger-Metzger Award, presented since 1970 to the graduate with the highest undergraduate grade-point average in courses completed at Stanislaus State.