Latino commencement honors Fresno State graduates, families. ‘You don’t do it on your own’

When graduates’ names are read aloud at Fresno State’s Latino/Chicano Commencement Celebration, it’s never just one name.

Instead, the graduates are also introduced as an hijo or hija — a son or daughter.

That’s been an aspect of the ceremony for years, event coordinator Victor Torres said in an interview with The Bee’s Education Lab following this year’s 47th annual celebration Saturday.

“In Latino families, particularly Mexican families, it’s very important to honor the family,” he said. “There’s no such thing as individual success.”

“You don’t do it on your own,” he added. “You do it because your parents support you.”

That theme — of gratitude to families, including grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins — echoed through Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval’s remarks, which he delivered in Spanish.

“Parents make sacrifices for their children,” he said in Spanish, “because of the love that they have for them.”

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval shakes hands with graduates during the 47th annual Fresno State Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration at the Save Mart Center on Saturday, May 20, 2023.
Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval shakes hands with graduates during the 47th annual Fresno State Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration at the Save Mart Center on Saturday, May 20, 2023.

The theme wasn’t lost on the roughly 950 graduates gathered at the Save Mart Center that evening.

Processing in, graduate after graduate scanned the packed stadium, searching for a familiar face – then lit up and frantically waved once they found it.

Some of the graduates who spoke with the Ed Lab were also parents themselves, including Viridiana Aceves Renteria, who received her bachelor’s in communications.

“I have three daughters,” ages two, four, and twelve, she said. “That in itself was a challenge.”

Family and friends cheer for graduates during the 47th annual Fresno State Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration at the Save Mart Center on Saturday, May 20, 2023.
Family and friends cheer for graduates during the 47th annual Fresno State Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration at the Save Mart Center on Saturday, May 20, 2023.

She had to learn how to balance her responsibilities as a mother with homework and classes.

At times, she said, her dream of graduating felt “impossible to achieve,” especially after taking an almost 10-year break before returning to school.

“Part of my fear of coming back,” she said, “was, I (didn’t) know how flexible my professors were going to be … if one of my babies was sick (and) I’d have to stay home.”

“I was very grateful that all my professors were very flexible with me,” she added, “and were like: whatever you need, you and your kids and your family.”

Jenny Gonzalez, who received a master’s degree in social work, said she returned to school almost two decades after getting her first degree.

She credited her mom as her motivation, as well as her four children.

“It was really important for me to also show them that, even though it took me 20 years from the first time I got my first degree,” she said, “that it can still be possible to continue your education.”

“They have always been my inspiration,” she added.

This was evident just by looking at her graduation gear. Pinned onto a short string fastened to her hand-decorated graduation cap were three Polaroids of her kids. Above that, the words: “I did it for them.”

Jenny Gonzalez wore a graduation cap decorated with pictures of her family and the words “I did it for them” while accepting her master’s degree in social work during the 47th annual Fresno State Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration at the Save Mart Center on Saturday, May 20, 2023.
Jenny Gonzalez wore a graduation cap decorated with pictures of her family and the words “I did it for them” while accepting her master’s degree in social work during the 47th annual Fresno State Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration at the Save Mart Center on Saturday, May 20, 2023.