Cal State East Bay President Leroy M. Morishita nominated grad student David Fuller (left) for CSU scholar recognition. They were together at the Office of the Chancellor in Long Beach when Fuller was presented as an AT&T Scholar in late September. (Photo: CSU)
For Cal State East Bay graduate student David Fuller, not even the fastest and steepest rollercoaster can offer him a wilder ride than what life dealt him during his first 35 years.
Fuller has ridden a steep up-and-down route in life that has taken him from being homeless as a youngster to becoming a select Marine appointed to protect then-President Bill Clinton at the White House and Camp David during the 1990s.
His being honored in late September by the California State University system as a 2013 “AT&T Scholar” and recipient of a $6,000 scholarship is symbolic of how the father of two young daughters strives to conquer life challenges complicated by poverty and a series of family tragedies.
During part of his formative years, the Fuller family lived in a station wagon before they eventually moved in with extended family. The Fullers had moved 14 times by the time he was a teenager, meaning he and his three siblings were constantly changing schools, “creating gaps in my education and social learning that would take decades of hard work to overcome,” Fuller said.
His father was disabled when thrown from a horse – his leg was crushed – when David was 12. Later, his mother was stricken with cancer, eventually losing an eye to the disease. And then his brother and best friend, Aaron, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2008.
“My life journey has taken me through many trials and tribulations that have tested my will and tempered my fortitude,” Fuller, a Concord resident, wrote as part of his application for the scholarship.
Despite all of the challenges and tragic setbacks in his life, Fuller remained committed to getting an education. He graduated from Clayton Valley High School in 1996 and wanted to continue to college but didn’t have the money at the time. That’s when he joined the Marines, which turned out to be an important educational experience for him.
“I wanted to get out on my own and get some real-world life experience,” Fuller said. “The Marine Corps is a good example of a melting pot. Every person loses their individuality and is forced to conform to the same ideals. Marines are taught to perceive all people equally.”
He said that his Marine assignment protecting President Clinton “required the highest standards of professionalism and conduct in a very diverse environment (that demanded) outstanding communication skills across different platforms.”
Fuller spent his last year of military service in Japan. His living in another country – not speaking the language – “helped me respect and appreciate the unique struggle of immigrants in America.”
What he took from his time in the Marines helped shape how he would approach his college education, which he could then afford thanks to the financial support of the GI bill and employment as a bartender in several establishments in Oakland and San Francisco’s Mission District.
“Transitioning out of the Marines was a difficult process,” Fuller admitted. “I (eventually) continued school with a special interest in psychology and mental health.”
He said that during his early college years, Fuller experienced the tragic deaths of both his brother and his best friend, along with his father’s diabetes diagnosis, and his mother's loss of one of her eyes. In between those sad events, he also celebrated the births of his daughters Alathea in 2008 and Sadie Rose in 2009, only to have his wife leave them, resulting in his becoming a single father.
Fuller says his education helped him cope with both the sad and happy moments.
“I was able to apply the theories that I studied in psychology toward working through this turbulent time of change in my life,” Fuller said. “I knew that these interventions could help me through the hardest time in my life – and they could help other people.
“My professors at Cal State East Bay invested themselves in me. They believed in me and reached out with loving hands to help pull me out of the darkness,” he said.
And with their support David Fuller earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a 3.55 grade point average, and was honored as the Outstanding Psychology Student of the Year for Cal State East Bay in 2012-13.
“He has persevered through loss and disability, and is now thriving academically in our Master’s in Social Work program,” said Cal State East Bay President Leroy M. Morishita, who nominated Fuller for his CSU honor as an AT&T Scholar. “I believe Mr. Fuller’s academic accomplishments, his commitment to serve the disenfranchised, and his sheer determination to overcome more than his share of life obstacles, rendered him a strong candidate for this award.”
He currently is working on his graduate degree in social work, with a concentration in community mental health, while serving as an intern at the Veterans Administration in Livermore helping military veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder. Fuller also is chaplain of The East Bay Rats, a motorcycle club in Oakland.