Everyone in the 2013 graduating class from California State University, Stanislaus had a long journey before they crossed the platform to accept their diplomas on Friday.
"Everything that we've encountered in our time at CSU Stanislaus has constructed the path that got us to this point," said student speaker Katie Billet. "And regardless of how scared we were at times, we never let the fear of falling stop us on our journey upward. We were brave and persevered no matter what we had to overcome to get here."
Billet, who received her bachelor's degree in English, celebrated with graduates from the College of the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and the College of Education during the day's morning ceremony.
The university's 53rd annual commencement added more than 2,800 graduates across the podium, pushing its alumni base past 50,000 during the three commencement ceremonies combined.
"We made it this far," said Billet. "This is a day that no one can take away from us. Each of our experiences at CSU Stanislaus creates a step on our ladder and onto our future."
The commencement was a day of firsts for the university. Newly appointed President Joseph F. Sheley, who was named interim president last summer, gave his first speech to the graduates by offering encouragement on entering a challenging job market.
"Many people will tell you that a college degree is not worth the effort you put into it; I am here to say they are flat-out wrong," Sheley said. "Stanislaus graduates are well known for their practical approach to professional responsibilities, no matter what their major is. Employers love our grads. They hit the ground running."
The university also began a new tradition by inviting and honoring Golden Graduates Myrle Haile Wall and Sue Givens Smith, who graduated 50 years ago during the university's first commencement.
"We hope to continue on with this tradition and bring forth our Golden Graduates during every commencement ceremony," said Sheley.
In addition to the conferring of degrees, a number of awards were presented during the commencement ceremonies:
• The award for Outstanding Professor for 2012 was presented to philosophy Professor Andy Young.
• The Geiger-Metzger Award, presented to the graduating student with the highest undergraduate grade-point average in courses completed at CSU Stanislaus, was awarded to communications studies major Kenneth Mashinchi.
• The J. Burton Vasche Award, presented to the graduate who displays the highest standards of leadership, service and scholarship throughout his or her college years, was awarded to mathematics major Jessica De Silva.