Sonoma State University graduates, families celebrate on rainy day

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Ryan Carroll, wearing a black graduation gown on a wet, gray day at Sonoma State University, said he relished his four years at the liberal arts school where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication.

“It was awesome,” said Carroll, 22, from the Sacramento suburb of Orangevale. “The environment’s great. Everybody’s super friendly all the time.”

But, reflecting a nearly universal sentiment on commencement days, he said he couldn’t wait to move on.

“I’m super ready to get out of here and get on with my life,” Carroll said, standing near the entrance to the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, where SSU was awarding degrees this weekend to 2,917 students, the largest class in the school’s 58-year history.

Sarah Townsend, 21, said she shouldered a heavy academic load to earn a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in 3½ years.

“I worked really hard for this,” the Santa Cruz resident said. “I’m excited to finish it off, close the chapter.”

Her future plans aren’t clear, but medical school is a possibility, she said.

A festive air stirred inside the cavernous concert hall, with the main floor filled with more than 500 graduates from the School of Arts and Humanities and the galleries packed with friends and relatives. Outside on the lawn where concertgoers enjoy music under the stars on warm summer nights, about 500 people sitting in white folding chairs braved wind and rain, many of them under umbrellas.

Steve Grever, 70, of Santa Cruz was there with other family members to see his granddaughter, Kylie DiSalvo, 21, receive her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential. He wore a gray sweatshirt with the hood over a Giants ball cap.

“Oh, it’s great. Good school. Glad she went here,” he said. “Freezing my a-- off,” he added.

The ceremony was displayed on a huge screen facing the lawn, and on screens in the Weill Hall lobby and the adjacent Schroeder Hall for those seeking shelter from the elements.

SSU staffers said they recalled past graduations outdoors by the campus lake under a broiling sun.

Still, it was a day of pride and joy for students and their families.

Kate Jaques of Sacramento said college was “a long haul” for her daughter, Emma, 23, who struggled in high school, picked up steam at American River College and transferred to SSU to complete a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies.

“I’m absolutely thrilled. I really am,” said her father, Steve Jaques.

Rachel Kretz, 22, said SSU’s manicured, green landscape sold her on enrolling from San Diego County.

“I just came up here and fell in love with the campus and the program — perfect storm,” she said.

With a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential in hand, she wants to return to San Diego and teach elementary school.

As the ceremony got underway, Carmen Works, the immediate past faculty chairwoman, urged the grads to “go out there and shake up the world.”

SSU President Judy Sakaki said the class of 2019 came mostly from Northern California, and from 24 other states, as well as China, Thailand and the Philippines. The youngest was 20; the oldest were a pair of 72-year-olds.

“Take a moment to appreciate just how far you have come,” she said.

Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University system, presented Henry Hansel, a Santa Rosa car dealer and community leader, with an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree.

A longtime backer of the Green Music Center, Hansel has served as a member of its board of advisors since 2012.

Wearing a black cap and gown with a light blue scarf, Hansel told the graduates to brace for a world in which “change is moving at light speed and it’s not going to slow down.”

Hansel, who recalled graduating from college 49 years ago, said he believes “cars will drive themselves” in his lifetime and “I believe in your lifetime cars will fly themselves.”

SSU held three commencement ceremonies Saturday with three more scheduled Sunday.

Sakaki presented a degree posthumously to the family of Brayan Alain Peña Rodriguez at the Raza graduation ceremony on Friday. The 23-year-old, who would have been the first member of his family to graduate from college, died in a vehicle crash May 10.

The Raza ceremony, conducted in Spanish and English, is for students of Native American, Latino or Chicano heritage, many of whom are first-generation college grads

Peña Rodriguez will also be recognized at the School of Social Sciences commencement Sunday.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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