2020 Graduates Reflect on their Time at SJSU

As the unique and challenging spring 2020 semester comes to a close, some of the resilient members of SJSU’s graduating class reflect on their time at SJSU, achievements and plans for the future.

Tram Phan, ’20 Chemical Engineering

Tram PhanTram Phan’s family in Vietnam was about to fly to a different city to get visas sponsored when they learned the SJSU spring commencement ceremony is postponed for the graduating class of 2020. The news broke their hearts, as well as Phan’s.

“I know a lot of people get a degree in the U.S., but for international students, it’s a big event, much bigger,” Phan said.

During four years away from home, Phan has grown out of her shyness. She credits the San Jose State’s diverse community for helping her open up to the unknown. Today, she has more friends than she could imagine, but regrets not being able to share the culminating moments of the journey together in person.

“They are all nerdy and funny, and I like that about them. I feel like I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my friends; I didn’t realize I’d miss them that much,” Phan said, her eyes gleaming through the computer screen.

But Phan has been quick to measure the positive side of the picture. She appreciates the university offering graduates a choice to be a part of a future live commencement ceremony. The COVID-19-dominated spring semester has been an eye opener for her in terms of adapting to new skills and challenging environments. The transition from in-person classes to online instruction proved to be a harmonious experience for her.

“The online settings encouraged people to talk more freely in class. Even folks who were inherently shy shed their inhibitions and became more approachable,” Phan said.

The resilience Phan demonstrated during the global pandemic paid off for her. She received an unexpected job offer that has made her optimistic about the future.

“I wouldn’t have gotten to this point unless I believed in myself,” she said. “SJSU made me believe everything is possible.”

Eric Ortiz, ’20 MA History

Eric OrtizEric Ortiz went to school sporadically following his 1985 high school graduation. Three decades later, the war veteran has earned a master’s degree.

“In the military, if you quit, you die,” said Ortiz. “Even though it’s been difficult for me to go back to school at my age, I never gave up.”

Since Ortiz found it difficult to relate to students half his age, he viewed school as a place to attain a goal. But the department professors, he said, made his journey worthwhile. “I learned so much from all of them. I had the opportunity to study subjects like the French revolution, ancient Greek society in depth,” said Ortiz. “Professors Pickering, Roth and Hilde, and others brought them to life.”

Ortiz served the nation on three battlefields, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. While he’s reticent about broadcasting his Army experiences, Ortiz attributes his ability to cope with the ongoing stress of the global health pandemic to his military background.

“I found it easier to deal with the isolation surrounding COVID-19 than many of my fellow Spartans,” he said. The school’s move to online teaching didn’t bother Ortiz either. “It’s nothing new to me, having to do everything from a distance,” he said. “It didn’t bother me one bit.”

Channeling the Army principle of “hurry up and wait,” Ortiz focused his energy on research, developing arguments and preparing papers as the final semester drew to a close. Passionate about learning, Ortiz hopes his degree will open opportunities to teach history someday. His resilience shines through: “Yesterday is gone. We should work toward the future.”

Rachel Lee, ’20 BFA Graphic Design

Rachel LeeRachel Lee doesn’t dwell on the strangeness of her final SJSU semester. As online classes began to set in, seeing everyone on the screen became a routine she looked forward to. Looking back at her time at SJSU, Lee said there are two high points: a summer 2019 trip to Europe and her first design job.

During a three-week trip with her graphic design class, Lee traveled to eight countries including the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. “We explored many cultures, visited art museums and historic landmarks, and we participated in workshops where we exhibited our work in Katowice and Warsaw, Poland,” said Lee.

The first design job in the College of Humanities and the Arts also remains her most cherished memory from her four years at SJSU. Lee’s work was featured in The Metro, on SJSU’s North Garage, and distributed across San Jose.

“I had the pleasure of working for H&A Marketing as a graphic designer,” said Lee. “It was a great experience working with other students, faculty and staff at Hammer Theatre.”

Originally from Vancouver, Washington, Lee was glad to hear the news about SJSU’s graduate recognition websites. She was also excited about her virtual, live senior exhibition show. Along with her friends, her family virtually took part in the celebrations.

Lee wants to touch people’s lives through her design. “I’ll try to incorporate social messaging into the work I do.” Spreading positivity, helping people, volunteering for a cause is what keeps this Spartan powered up.

Ezequiel Ramirez, ’20 Justice Studies

Ezequiel RamirezHaving lived his entire life in San Jose, Ezequiel Ramirez thought he knew all about his city until he joined San Jose State. The cultural perspectives of the people he met and interacted with at school were an awakening experience for him.

“I enjoyed meeting and interacting with people from different nationalities and also people who came from different walks of life,” said Ramirez. “The school brought in everything for me. Vocabulary, education, people, habits. I love it. I love the experience right now.”

Having worked in a nonprofit as part of an internship program helping at-risk youths, Ramirez now wants to continue working with community-based organizations and to use his degree for social change.

“I’m a first-generation graduate student, and I understand the struggle of people starting from the bottom and reaching to the top,” he said. “I worked countless hours without sleep on a lot of occasions, slept in my car from long days of work and school, also was homeless at a time, but made it, and I’m still making it. I’m about to graduate.”

Not only is Ramirez the first in his family to graduate from college, he’s also the first in his family to graduate from high school on time. Having lost his father at age 11, Ramirez’s determination and strength came from watching his mother raise three kids, his fraternal twin brother and an older sister.

“My mom has always put her ambitions on the back burner while putting us first,” he said. “With me graduating college this week, I want her to know all of her sacrifices and hard work have not been in vain.”

Ramirez had dreams of decorating his graduation cap as an honor to his mom, grandmother and the rest of his family—the Ramirez, Rodriguez and Garcia households. He calms himself with his take on the COVID-19 situation: “From pressure, diamonds are made.”

Saadatou Ahmad, ’20 Accounting and Information Systems

Saadatou AhmadIn Saadatou Ahmad’s home country of Cameroon, West Africa, education is a luxury. When she came to the United States with her husband 12 years ago, she set out to chart a new course.

“Back home education is not for the poor, but here it is so encouraging,” said Ahmad. “Here, I have the support system to be a first-generation student. ”

After a stint at a beauty school and working in a salon for four years, Ahmad transferred from a community college to San Jose State as she dreamed about the future for herself and her family. Wanting to set an example for her three children–between the ages five and ten–Ahmad brought her kids to school so often “they are now used to the school environment.”

Even when she was pregnant with her third child, Ahmad continued to make it to all classes, she said, because “I always feel if I miss a lecture, I will fall behind.”

The online spring semester at SJSU was troubling for Ahmad, who loves in-person classes. While she missed seeing and talking to her classmates and professors in person, Ahmad is not someone who gives up easily. She channeled all of her time and effort to carve out a better life for her family. She recently received a full-time job offer, but she also wants to pursue more education, possibly an MBA. Right now, Ahmad is overjoyed. Her bachelor’s degree has been a long time coming. And, she said, her daughter wants to go to San Jose State when she grows up.

SJSU Celebrates Spring 2020 Graduates

SJSU graduates smile while taking a selfie.

Photo: David Schmitz.

San Jose State University is honoring and celebrating the spring class of 2020 in a new way. On May 22, San Jose State will launch the Spring Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites—one site for eight of the colleges. Now, no matter where they are, grads can share their pride and excitement about earning their degree from SJSU with friends, family and loved ones anywhere in the world.

The traditional in-person commencement ceremony was made impossible this year due to the mandatory shelter-in-place order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“No matter the circumstances, this truly is a time of celebration, a time of pride and a time of joy,” said SJSU President Mary A. Papazian. “All of the Spartans who are a part of this resilient and historic graduating class are now part of San Jose State’s celebrated legacy. They will never be forgotten, and we are so proud of what they have achieved.”

The Spring Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites are not a virtual commencement ceremony or replacement for a live commencement ceremony. Instead, each college website will showcase the accomplishments of SJSU’s more than 7,000 spring 2020 graduates. Each college site will have searchable, shareable content, including personalized graduate slides that include their names, degrees, and applicable latin honors for all Spartans completing undergraduate and graduate degrees and those earning certificates from the Connie L. Lurie College of Education. Graduates will be able to share their personalized slides with family, friends and fellow students. They will also see congratulatory messages from President Papazian, Provost Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. and the deans of eight colleges.

Spring 2020 graduates will receive their diplomas, diploma covers and commencement books in the mail and are invited to return to campus to walk across the stage in-person at a future commencement ceremony: fall 2020 is scheduled for the week of December 14, 2020, or spring 2021, scheduled for the week of May 24, 2021.

“The beginning of 2020 will be a year to remember for many reasons, but I will remember it as the time we overcame adversity,” said Associated Students President Branden Parent. “I have seen students support others, triumph over obstacles and finish their last semester strong. I am glad to be graduating with such a resilient and diverse group of students who can face any odds. I look forward to seeing fellow grads on the new graduate recognition websites.”

The Spring Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites will remain on the SJSU homepage and commencement website throughout the summer.

SJSU Fall Graduates to be Honored and Celebrated Dec. 18-19

SJSU Fall 2018 Commencement
Photo: Best Grad Photos/San Jose State University

SAN JOSE, CA – More than 2,200 fall graduates of San Jose State University are expected to be in attendance at five separate fall commencement ceremonies, with more than 4,300 total graduates from summer and fall semesters being celebrated and honored.

The events take place Dec. 18 and 19 on the SJSU campus at the Provident Credit Union Event Center:

Wednesday, December 18

Thursday, December 19

A live stream of each of the five ceremonies will be provided.

SJSU’s Class of Fall 2019

There will be 2,226 graduates in attendance at the two days of fall commencement ceremonies. Additional highlights:

  • Of the 1,261 master’s degrees expected to be conferred for summer and fall of this year, 339 will participate in fall commencement ceremonies this week.
  • The university will graduate 513 new business professionals, 130 future educators, 519 new engineers, 276 health and human sciences future professionals, 206 humanities and arts graduates, 168 new scientists and 414 new social scientists.
  • The Lucas College and Graduate School of Business ceremony will feature remarks by alumna Sara Macdonald,’04 Accounting, currently a partner in the San Jose office of Ernst and Young and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
  • The speaker at the Connie L. Lurie College of Education ceremony will be Megan Nebesnick, ’17 Liberal Studies, a master’s student graduating this fall from the Lurie College.
  • At the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering ceremony, Michael Grace will be the featured speaker. Grace, ’12 Mechanical Engineering, is currently a research and development mechanical systems engineer at Applied Materials and worked previously at Lockheed Martin Space Systems as a control system hardware engineer.
  • The College of Health and Human Sciences featured speaker will be student Markis Derr, graduating this year in public health.

San Jose State has a total of 4,377 graduates in the class of 2019’s summer and fall semesters.

SJSU Celebrates the Class of 2019 at Commencement May 22-24

College of Engineering students cheer during commencement in fall 2019. Photo courtesy of Best Grad.

College of Engineering students cheer during commencement in fall 2018. Photo courtesy of Best Grad.

Media contact: Robin McElhatton, 408-924-1749, robin.mcelhatton@sjsu.edu

SAN JOSE, CA – San Jose State University will honor more than 6,800 graduates during spring 2019 commencement with seven ceremonies to be held May 22-24.

All will be streamed live on the SJSU website, where a schedule of the ceremonies has been posted.

The Class of Spring 2019

As articulated in Transformation 2030, SJSU’s recently announced strategic plan, this is a campus of change agents and a community that thrives in the face of challenges. The graduates of the class of spring 2019 reflect these values and priorities.

  • As the university reaffirms a commitment to graduate education with the formation of a new College of Graduate Studies, this spring the university will grant 1,816 master’s degrees.
  • SJSU will grant 46 doctoral degrees, including 35 doctorates of nursing practice and 11 doctorates of educational leadership. These graduates will be future university faculty members as well as educators and clinicians.
  • The university will graduate more than 400 new education professionals, 1,400 health and human sciences professionals and 640 engineers.
  • SJSU’s commitment to providing quality research and service-learning opportunities is reflected by a number of undergraduate students who have been accepted to doctoral programs, including two students who have received prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, Andrea Coto, ’19 Civil Engineering,  and Cassandra Villicana, ’19 Biomedical Engineering.

Individual Honors

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, '59 Journalism, will receive an honorary degree at the College of Social Sciences Ceremony May 24.

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, ’59 Journalism, will receive an honorary degree at the College of Social Sciences Ceremony May 24.

  • George Skelton, ’59 Journalism, a dedicated political reporter who served as the Sacramento bureau chief and a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during the College of Social Sciences commencement ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. May 24 at Avaya Stadium.
  • Carrie Bowers will receive the 2019 Outstanding Thesis Award at the College of Science ceremony. Bowers completed a master’s in meteorology in December 2018 and used numerical simulations to better understand the Diablo Winds of Northern California and the impact they might have on preparing for wildfires. She played an instrumental role in connecting members of SJSU’s Fire Weather Research Lab to California fire management agencies.
  • Two students will each receive the 2019 Outstanding Graduating Senior Awards for their academic achievements, leadership roles, community work and personal achievements. Hyung Ik “David” Han will be recognized at the College of Social Sciences ceremony where he will receive a bachelor’s in psychology. Qurat Syeda will be recognized at the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business ceremony, where she will receive a bachelor’s in accounting.

College speakers

SJSU alumna Huy Tran, ’87 Materials Engineering, director of Aeronautics at the NASA Ames Research Center, will deliver the commencement address at the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, at 3:30 p.m. May 24 at Avaya Stadium. She completed both a bachelor’s and master’s in mechanical engineering and first connected with NASA as an intern in 1982. She manages a staff of 250, 300 contractors and oversees a $200 million annual budget for 10 aeronautics projects. She was the chief engineer on creating heat shields for Mars exploration. Tran has received the Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal (1998), the Exceptional Service Medal (2003) and the Outstanding Leadership Medal (2008 and 2016). She won the Government Invention of the Year Award 2007 at the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology.

Entrepreneur John Baird, a principal partner with Velocity Group, will deliver the commencement address at the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business at 10 a.m. May 23 at Avaya Stadium. Baird is a member of SJSU’s Tower Foundation Board of Directors as well as a member of the advisory board for the College of Business’ Global Leadership Advancement Center, and served as a lecturer at SJSU for 17 years. He has provided coaching for executives from Apple, Nike and Twitter as well as new venture founders such as Zesty, BloomThat and TownSquared. With Velocity, he is focused on supporting early-stage founders.


About San Jose State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study offered through its nine colleges.

With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San Jose State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is proud of the accomplishments of its more than 260,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.