A Year Like No Other: Cal U Celebrates May Grads

May 11, 2020

May graduates have been invited to participate in Commencement ceremonies in December.

  • - Yard signs help our grads celebrate.

Although the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” won’t fill the Convocation Center until December, Cal U is celebrating its May 2020 graduates for their academic success, as well as their perseverance and fortitude.

“I am incredibly proud of the resilience they’ve shown over these past couple of months,” University President Geraldine Jones said about the graduates, and every Cal U student.

“All of them have made sacrifices to keep themselves, their families and their neighborhoods safe.”

May graduates received personal invitations to attend winter Commencement ceremonies, which will honor the entire Class of 2020.

“Cal U students are part of a strong and caring community,” President Jones said. “Every one of our seniors deserves the opportunity to walk across the stage and be recognized for their achievement.”

Despite a senior year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, most graduating students remain positive.

Lily Gongaware, who earned degrees in graphic design and liberal arts, said the transition to remote learning was challenging, but she enjoyed having unexpected time to spend with her close-knit family.

A community assistant in Residence Hall E and a member of Alpha Delta Lambda honor society, she has applied for jobs with several design agencies. She also expects to continue her education, so she eventually can teach design at the college level.

“I didn’t apply to Cal U until two weeks before my first semester, but everyone at Cal U made it very easy to get started,” said Gongaware, who also was a graphic designer and social media manager for the Cal Times student newspaper.

“It ended up being the greatest decision of my life. I’d go back and do it all again. Cal U was my second home for four years, and I will be forever grateful for all the people I met along the way.”

Samantha “Sam” Kuhne majored in communication studies, with a concentration in radio/TV production and a minor in marketing. Her media production internship with the Pittsburgh Penguins shifted to remote editing halfway through the spring semester, but she did have time to create a demo reel of her work.

Kuhne said she would love to attend December’s Commencement, depending on her job pursuits in the video production field. The University, she said, has prepared her well.

“I can’t express enough how much my time at Cal U has meant to me,” said Kuhne, who was a community assistant in Carter Hall. “The professors and staff have given me the necessary tools to be able to have a successful future.”

Cal U mailed a package of special gifts – a yard sign, mortarboard, alumni pin and more – to help graduating seniors celebrate their milestone at home. A second mailing, in June, will include their personalized diploma, Commencement booklet and any honor cords they may have earned.

Graduates also will find a link to an interactive version of the Commencement booklet they can share with friends and relatives online.

Thomas P. “Tommy” Victor, who majored in business administration with a concentration in accounting, plans to attend December’s Commencement and said the alumni pin he received in his graduation box was his favorite item. 

“The pin is a way to represent the school that I am so proud to have graduated from, and I do plan on attending the December graduation, as it is a way for everyone involved in my life to celebrate my accomplishment,” he said. 

A student member of the Foundation for California University and the Accounting Club, Victor will continue his education at Cal U in accounting.

I cannot express how much I enjoyed my time at Cal U, I have made so many friends and connections that I will carry for a lifetime, said Victor. “I believe that I have been equipped with the tools necessary to succeed within my field, and progress my career in any direction that I choose. 

“I look forward to the next step of my life, which is furthering my education at a place that I comfortably can call home.”

Kristen Fulgenzio ’16, a fourth-grade math and science teacher at Burgettstown Elementary Center, earned her master’s degree in the Teacher Education: Integrative STEM K-12 program.

“I loved receiving the box (of gifts),” she said. “I thought that was such a nice touch. I don't know any other universities doing something like this, which speaks volumes about how much Cal U cares.”

Fulgenzio said she wore her graduation cap all day on May 8, her original Commencement date, even while she taught a virtual class.  

“I think this will show my young students that even in the tough times we are facing right now, we can all make the best of any situation,” she said.

Psychology graduate Cynthia Obiekezie, who was president of the Black Student Union, expects to continue diversity training and pursue opportunities with nonprofit organizations. She said she thinks of the University’s “Build You” message when she’s asked to describe her Cal U experience.

“That is perfect, because Cal U is a place you come to and develop yourself,” she said. “There are so many opportunities for leadership at a small campus where they are always looking for students to take the initiative.

“Whenever I see something I want to make better, I go for it. I had so many opportunities here that I do not know that I would have had at other schools.

“It was an amazing experience, for sure.”