Twelve years in the making — a graduation story

When I first started school at CSUN, I was 17 years old, hellbent on being a rock star and could barely grow a mustache. Now, at the age of 29, I’m graduating with a bachelor’s in journalism.

That seems like a long time, but not everyone’s journey is the garden-variety, four-to-six-year college plan.

Sometimes there are bumps along the way. Sometimes you make the wrong choices and have to spend years getting your life back on track.

Sometimes you have to get kicked out of your house at 20 and spend a year living on couches and in an apartment that you are eventually forced to leave (yes, this happened to me).

Sometimes you have to work the most nonsense jobs just so you have money to eat and pay expenses (some examples: tax preparation assistant, sign-flipping-on-the-street-corner guy, concessions at a movie theater, Blockbuster).

And sometimes, you get a nipple ring (actually, I kind of miss it sometimes).

The journey was full of ups, downs and all-arounds. I entered CSUN as a math major because I didn’t understand what the requirements were for the classical music program.

I figured it would be better to major in something rather than nothing, and since I really did like math, that seemed like the obvious choice. However, after getting a “C” in calculus, I quickly looked elsewhere for career choices.

I wanted to switch my major to creative writing, but never formally did so. My girlfriend at the time was a singer, and I played guitar. We both wanted to be professional musicians.

A mutual friend who worked at Hot Topic told us about a school called Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, and we ended up dropping out of CSUN and attended MI instead.

Although the aforementioned girl ruined the next few years of my life by physically and emotionally abusing me, I mustered the wherewithal to finish MI and graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Music Performance in 2008. Translation: a piece of paper about as useful as poop-flavored lollipop.

The next four years went something like this: work, open mic performances, looking for band members, finding band members, a month or two of band practices and shows, band members quitting on me, searching for new band members, repeat all of the above.

I was trying pretty hard and getting absolutely nowhere. I thought I was talented and with the right people around me, we would make great music and live an exciting life as touring musicians.

What I didn’t know was this: I actually wasn’t any good, and I didn’t work nearly as hard as I should have. I spent so much money and time going after something for which I wasn’t suited. But it took a particular journalism class to get to realize that.

In 2012, I was attending Santa Monica College and I had joined their student newspaper, The Corsair. I already took an introductory journalism class online the previous summer, and I liked it enough to see what the student publication was like.

But I only wanted to write about basketball. But I had two months until the season started, and I was expected to produce articles right away.

So I chose an opinion story because I figured that would be a good way to ease myself into journalistic writing. What can be so hard about writing I think?

It turned out that not only was it harder than I thought, but my article turned out be lower than garbage. It was just terrible. But that didn’t stop me.

Over the next few months, I was writing about things I had no idea about, but I was enjoying myself and working harder than I had ever worked before. I found myself spending more of my time writing, researching and interviewing, and less time playing, rehearsing and songwriting.

I ended up quitting the two bands I was in at the time. Needless to say, it was very difficult to make the choice to leave something I was working toward since I was 15. But it was the best decision of my life.

I almost didn’t come back to CSUN. When the time came to move on from SMC, I felt I could benefit from a new school, a new area and a new start.

It was between Cal State Long Beach and CSUN — I don’t have to say where I chose.

Just in these past two years, I’ve grown immensely. I somehow started caring about my grades, which I never did when I was younger (I failed strength training because I was too lazy to go class). I also became much more sociable and joined a ballroom dancing club (I previously couldn’t dance to save my life).

So no matter what your journey to graduation is like, make sure you do it to the best of your ability, and stick with it. That’s the only way you can walk on that stage, turn your tassel from one side to the other, and be truly proud to call yourself a college gradate.

I know I am.



MHS graduates look back on four years of change


Malibu High School graduates throw their caps in the air during the graduation ceremony on Friday, June 6, 2014 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Malibu High School graduates throw their caps in the air during the graduation ceremony on Friday, June 6, 2014 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Everyone knows the adage that “the only sure things in life are death and taxes,” but the  maxim neglects to mention another equally inevitable occurrence: change.

The graduates of Malibu High School celebrated finishing four years of school on Friday, June 6, in a ceremony where “change” played central role in the celebration.

“We change as people, you’ll likely change your major,” Nicholas Ficeto said during his address to his fellow students and other attendees. “If you haven’t changed your dream since childhood, well then in the words of Stephen Colbert, ‘The world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.’”

Along with Ficeto, Robben Bixler and Amber Collins spoke of change and the next phase of their lives. Collins urged her classmates to be realistic with their plans moving forward.

“Stuff happens,” said Collins, who will be moving to Chicago to study philosophy. “Economies change, the planet changes, you change. The plan that’s in front of you, is that what you think is actually going to happen?”

Bixler said he expected to follow a strict plan once he entered high school, but ended up deviating from it.

“It’s not at all what I expected, but I think it’s better, or at least as good,” Bixler said. “I feel like I kind of realized earlier than a lot of kids that you don’t necessarily have to do it one way.”

Harrison Smart is congratulated by a fellow classmate after walking the stage during the graduation ceremony at Malibu High School on Friday, June 6, 2014 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Harrison Smart high-fives a fellow classmate after walking the stage during the graduation ceremony at Malibu High School on Friday, June 6, 2014 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Sofi Peterson’s change during her years at Malibu came in the form of a career choice.

“We are here in the same place for a really long time, but I feel like as the years change, you grow as a person and you change what you want to do,” Peterson said. “I had no idea what I wanted to be, and now I’m positive I want to go into engineering.”

Before attending Malibu High School, Trevor Schwerdtmann was an “angry” boy who spent much of his time alone. But once he stepped foot onto the high school, his transformation began as well. He said his ability to find friends made him into the fun-loving person he is today.

Schwerdtmann views his graduation as a stepping stone, and is looking forward to the next phase of his life.

“It’s more, to me, like a rite of passage, going from one step to the other, and I’m kind of hopeful that things will move on and be better,” Schwerdtmann said.

The graduation ceremony consisted of speeches from students and faculty, along with musical performances by the Senior Singers and the school orchestra.

Jerry Block, principal of the high school, was enthusiastic about the future of the Malibu class of 2014.

“It’s such an accomplished class, and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Block said. “They’re going to go on and do great things in the world.”

Block, who will be leaving Malibu High School at the end of this month, said he was also proud to be involved with the kids during their time at Malibu.

“They have so much potential ahead of them,” Block said. “To know that I’ve been a small part of their lives is important to me.”

Justin Holmes (left) is congratuated by Jerry Block, principal of Malibu High School, during the graduatoin ceremony on Friday, June 6, 2014 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Justin Holmes (left) is congratuated by Jerry Block, principal of Malibu High School, during the graduatoin ceremony on Friday, June 6, 2014 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Malbu’s class of 2014 is the 19th graduating class in the high school’s history. Since 2010, completion rates at the high school have increased from 91.6 percent to 97.2 percent in 2013, according to data released this year by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

The high school itself has gone through changes since introducing its first ninth grade class in 1992. The school has become one of the most reputable public schools in the district after contending with limited arts and sports programs and a small curriculum in its earlier years, according to the school’s website.

Hanna Carter had to change her ambitions when a fractured back prematurely ended her potential career as a gymnast. Now, she wants to help build schools and promote education in developing countries.

Carter said the people she met at Malibu, including faculty, helped shape who she has become.

“I’ve met a lot of people who have shown me different things and have helped me grow as a person,” Carter said.

Ficeto said in his speech that he and his fellow classmates were being given the gift of change, and issued a rallying cry to all the graduates in attendance.

“In spite of the murky waters and fierce currents ahead of us folks, let us not forget one thing,” Ficeto said. “We are Sharks. We are the MHS class of 2014, and through our excellence, we will change the current, but only if we commit. Let us start today.”

Nicholas Ficeto gives his student address in front of the graduates of Malibu High School during the graduation ceremony on Friday, June 6, 2014 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Nicholas Ficeto gives his student address in front of the graduates of Malibu High School during the graduation ceremony on Friday, June 6, 2014 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.


Student protest, petition spark officials to add tickets, extra graduation day

CSUN graduates will now be allowed to request seven tickets instead of four to invite guests to their commencement ceremonies in May after a decision was reached by university officials in December of last year.

In addition, one day was added to the commencement schedule in order to separate some of the individual college ceremonies.

Members of CSUN’s Associated Students (AS) held a meeting over winter break with President Dianne F. Harrison and William Watkins, vice president of student affairs, to discuss concerns raised by students last semester.  Students were upset about a change in the commencement ceremonies that limited graduates to four guest tickets and combined ceremonies for the colleges.

“We thought the best way to go into the meeting was not to say, ‘Don’t change anything,’ because we didn’t feel a lot of results would come from that,” said Chris Woolett, president of AS. “We thought if we could find a good compromise that allowed students to have more tickets, it would be extremely helpful.”

The updated commencement schedule added a ceremony on Wednesday, May 21. Woolett said Harrison agreed to skip a scheduled CSU Board of Trustees meeting in order to attend the additional ceremony.

AS proposed the idea of adding an extra commencement day and separating the colleges. Woolett said the majority of their proposed changes were implemented.

“I think that this is one of our biggest wins that we’ve had in AS for a long time,” Woolett said. “To be able to collaborate and put in this much work and really to present a very good document that wasn’t full of demands, but full of compromise. That allowed the administration to work with us, which was great for us.”

Four of the largest colleges will receive their own commencement ceremony as a result of the change, including undergraduates of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication. Watkins said those colleges have about 1,000 more graduating students than the others.

The College of Humanities and the Michael D. Eisner College of Education will be combined into one ceremony. The College of Engineering and Computer Science, the College of Science of Mathematics, and graduates of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences will also have a combined ceremony.

Woolett said he watched YouTube videos to find out how long last year’s commencement ceremonies were. The longest ceremony lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes without speeches, according to his research. The AS plan said all the ceremonies would average 1 hour and 40 minutes, which would allow more time for speeches, Woolett said.

During the winter-break meeting, Woolett and Talar Alexanian, vice president of AS, brought to light an online petition started by Danielle Yehuda, 22, senior psychology major. Comments featured on the site were from current and former students, family members of students, and community members. The petition seemed to attempt to get the attention of Harrison specifically.

“This petition will be brought to the president of CSUN and we will show her that we have a voice and that something needs to be done about the commencement changes,” Yehuda said on the petition’s website.

The petition was able to reach close to 1,600 signatures and was closed when administration made a change to the commencement ceremonies.

“It was really interesting because I’ve never really involved myself in anything like this before,” Yehuda said. “When I started the petition, I thought this would be a great way to get the word out. I was very excited to hear that just by a few changes we made, just by starting a petition, it had made such an impact. I was very happy that I got the support from my fellow students and when I found out I was just ecstatic.”

Leftover tickets will be available to graduates who need more than seven.

“We think that there will be, in some instances, for some of these ceremonies, that not all students will need seven tickets and they won’t ask for them,” Watkins said. “So we’re going to make those tickets available for students who want more.”

Serena Sanders, 22, junior music industry studies major, likes the increase in tickets, but said she does not need seven.

“For me, [seven tickets] is more than enough,” Sanders said. “Just having my family and close friends coming is fine, but that might be different for other people who have larger families and a larger social group that might be cramping it. It’s definitely better than four.”

Watkins added that the procedure for handling ticket overflow is yet to be worked out.

One aspect of the commencement ceremonies that will not change is the number of parking passes given to graduating students. They will still receive two, even with the increased number of guest tickets.

Anne Glavin, CSUN chief of police, told the Daily Sundial in November that she fully supports a ticketing system for commencement ceremonies. She feels the increase in tickets does not change much in regards to safety.

“Adding the number of tickets from four to seven won’t impact that dynamic of the crowd size because we’ve added an additional day as well, which will spread out the crowd over the period,” Glavin said.

Watkins said there will be 10,500 seats available on the Oviatt Lawn for the graduation ceremony, up from 9,200 seats last year.

“When you have that many people in a space together, you really want to provide a seat for them,”  Watkins said. “We think that the public safety concerns will be significantly addressed by having seats, and students agreed with that.”

Woolett feels that the change to graduation ceremonies was a win for the students and was encouraged by their activism.

“I am just very happy with all the work the students put in and continuing to put their voice out,” Woolett said. “I can’t say enough of how important it is for students to say how they feel about things. That is the biggest thing for us. If we could hear that more, we would love to.”

This story was co-written with Negin Daneshfar