Speaker to Grads: Author Your Own Story

  • - Social work major Dantasia Green.

  • - A lineup of excited grads!

  • - Zach Chylinski '17 (left); his fiancée, Laura Owens '17; Brian Owens '89; Sherry Owens '88; Austin Owens '19; Nicole Zalucky '18.

  • - Maura Moseley, a criminal justice major, takes selfies with her family.

  • - Psychology major Aquaisa Wallace celebrates with her daughter Jabe.

  • - Criminal justice major Whitney Ptak is recognized for her military service.

  • - Global Online grads Danielle Harris (left) and Carla Hazzam celebrate.

  • - Business major Marquis Washington shakes President Geraldine Jones' hand.

  • - A big thumbs up from Beau Stoiff.

  • - Brianna Frable celebrates.

  • - Commencement speaker Terence Carter.

  • - Theatre major Jeshua Meyers and Dr. Michele Pagen.


Appropriately, the Commencement speaker’s address focused on a story.  

“Every graduate in the audience today can be the hero of their own story,” said Terence Carter, executive vice president of drama and comedy development for Twentieth Century Fox.

Nearly 1,200 students graduated from Cal U at the 188th Commencement. Graduate and undergraduate ceremonies were held May 10-11 in the Convocation Center. 

“Take inventory of the knowledge you accumulated at Cal,” Carter said. “Decide what of it is most important to you, and commit yourself to weave it into your story moving forward. 

“You are all staring at a blank sheet of paper upon which to write the story of the rest of your life, in all of its potential glory and possible splendor.” 

Carter is also the great-great-grandson of Elizabeth “Jennie” Adams Carter, Class of 1881, California’s first African-American graduate. Her photo and related artifacts are displayed in Carter residence hall, which also houses Cal U’s Multicultural Center. Each year the University presents its Jennie Carter Award to an individual who exemplifies her indomitable spirit. 

“She wasn’t handed an easy life, but she overcame adversity to grow into a woman of intellect, strength and determination,” Carter said. “Jennie started on a path to help those whom she believed were entitled to more than society would readily give them.” 

President Geraldine Jones greeted each of the new graduates personally and offered them heartfelt advice. 

“Please know that I am also very proud of each of you for your hard work and the sacrifices you have made to reach this point,” she said. “Take in the moment, and savor your success.  You have worked hard, you have persevered, and you have accomplished something significant.   

Crafting Their Script 

Mary Fritz, chair of the Senior Gift Drive Committee, presented President Jones with a check for more than $11,000 contributed by graduating seniors and their families. 

Fritz earned her undergraduate degrees in criminal justice and sociology with a minor in deviance. While pursuing a master’s degree in sociology she is working with T.W. Ponessa Counseling Services, where she interned at last summer through a Cal U scholarship. 

“Cal U has taught me the leadership skills I needed to excel in my internship, which resulted in a job,” she said. “I was overwhelmed walking across the stage because all of the hard work that we, as seniors, have put into our classes, clubs, and community has paid off.” 

Austin Owens earned a dual degree in management and marketing. 

Owens has accepted an inside sales associate position with Bisnow Media in New York and starts June 3. 

“Graduating is awesome, and four years ago I never expected to do all the things that I’ve done here,” he said. “Many people have helped me here, which is cool. I’m incredibly excited to do something new and experience what’s next.” 

Steve Ruffing, who earned his degree in communication studies with a concentration in radio and television, said he thought about his four years during his brief walk across the stage in a familiar venue. 

The president of CUTV, he covered many Vulcans games while serving as a camera operator, producer, host, reporter and anchor. 

“I can't express my gratitude toward Cal U enough for giving me the tools to succeed,” said Ruffing, who has strong leads for TV news producer and digital reporter positions. “I've gained so much knowledge and experience from this school, it's hard to put into words.  I am so thankful for my time here.” 

Commencement ceremonies began May 10, when doctoral and master’s degree candidates received their diplomas and were vested in their academic hoods. Nineteen students became the first cohort to graduate from Cal U's Doctor of Criminal Justice program. Undergraduates received their bachelor’s and associate degrees May 11. 

Amy Martinek, of Johnstown, earned her Master of Social Work on May 10 after achieving her Bachelor of Social Work in 2016. She works as a therapeutic staff support for Children’s Behavioral Health, and her master’s degree will help her advance at work and prepare for the state counseling license exam. 

“It was a two-hour drive every Tuesday or Wednesday night for two years, but I’m so relieved it’s done, and I loved my program and professors,” she said. 

Brett Mohney, a unit director at UPMC Mercy, earned his Master of Science in Nursing. 

“I was very impressed and pleasantly surprised” he said of the online degree experience. “This is a big accomplishment, which took a of sacrifice, and it’s very nice to come here and make the physical connection with the place I earned this degree.”   

Daniel Arnold, a chief warrant officer and mechanic in the U.S. Army stationed in North Carolina, earned his master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion.

“I learned quite a bit about rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention,” he said during his first visit to Cal U. “I am looking to change my career and moving into occupational therapy."