'Commencement Pleasantly Free of Tension'

  • June 12, 2005

The past year had not been a quiet one for the school now known as California State University, East Bay, and no one was more conscious of the controversies than the graduates lined up Saturday morning on the moist, freshly cut lawn outside Pioneer Stadium.

As the time neared for the quintessential march to "Pomp and Circumstance," fliers with the letter H circulated. Representing pride in the old name of their school - California State University, Hayward - the signs would mark the students' last opportunity to protest, albeit silently, a change many opposed.

Ultimately, though, the commencement ceremony Saturday morning was largely free of the tension and controversy that marked points of the year. When students cheered, shaking their signs above their heads like pendants, it seemed to reflect a spirit of celebration, not animosity."Those H's still look pretty good to me," quipped Norma Rees, the university president and main force behind the name change, as she opened the ceremony. "This is still a Hayward campus, and that's not going to change."

And for all of the hoopla surrounding the author Richard Rodriguez - who canceled his appearance after learning that some students and faculty planned to boycott the event because of his stances against affirmative action and bilingual education - few students interviewed seemed to care, or even know, about the situation.

"It's not really important to me," said Lori Lawhorn, a political science major from Bakersfield and the first in her family to graduate from college. "I just want to be able to hear my name and B.A. political science."

Rees, who gave the main address, fired up the students like a coach at a pep rally as she rattled off statistics illustrating the profile of the student body: "Almost a quarter of you worked 40 hours a week or more during your senior year. Forty percent have one or more dependents, and 42 percent of you spent time each week performing community service"

The president involved the thousands of family members in the stands, as well. "The completion of a college degree is truly a family accomplishment," she said. "Will the parents of graduates please stand?"

The grandparents, the spouses, the children and grandchildren followed suit. They held flowers, balloons and video cameras and attempted to reach their loved ones by cell phone during the ceremony, especially as the candidates filed to their seats.

"You see me? You don't see me?" Jacque Herman cried into the phone as he stood on his seat and waved. "Yay! Yay! Woooo! There she is! Love you too. That's my mother! She's graduating with her master's!"

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