University Times: “The Distinguished Alumni Awards”
The lights dimmed, and the people entered.
February 8, 2017
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On Friday evening, Feb. 3, Cal State LA honored several students from decades past. It was a celebration for students who have contributed, exceeded, and graced the Cal State LA name, ranging from theatre arts to politics, business to engineering, social studies, and more.
The reception was held on the third floor Golden Eagle ballroom, just above the school cafeteria, across the campus bookstore. Guests ranged from school contributors, members of the student body (the Alumni Association and Associated Students), faculty administration, and the honored alumni and their attending classmates.
The large turnout and the subsequent diversity made for a literal timeline for the campus and its students. “Everything has changed,” said Thomas Cacciatore – an English student from the 1960’s. “It’s nothing like this – I was here when it was still ‘LA State!’ Only it wasn’t called that, the students called it that… He’s really turned this place upside down.”
Cacciatore was referring to University President William Covino.
As the reception ended and the people entered, attendees were greeted by Covino himself, who began the ceremony with a speech starting and the opening line was, “I play the accordion.” This was in response to former alumnus Ben Caron, who was the night’s emcee and mediator, who has had several forays into the music and film industry.
Covino’s introduction was about the school, And with recent times, he wanted to stress the positives of the campus, and its students. “They come here determined,” he said. “One third of our students come from that bottom twenty percent [referring to the New York Time’s recent article on ‘upward mobility’] – You [the students] are the reason people want to know what‘s happening at Cal State LA.”
President Covino welcomed Margaret Salazar-Porzio, a doctor of American Studies and Ethnicity. She accepted her award, hoping to offer the “gift of encouragement” after working three jobs, studying overseas in Italy, attending USC, and eventually teaching at Columbia University.
Following Salazar-Porzio was graduating alumnus of 1974, John M. Gerro, whp ascended onto the stage, noting the fact that he attended Cal State LA at the request of his brother. President of the Finance Association during his time, he stressed “making your education what you want it to be… everywhere you see [in Los Angeles] is real estate,” he said. With today’s changing environment and recent construction and renovation, Gerro accepted his award and descended the stage.
Donald V. Bolton – a student of 1955 and 1963 accepted his award after his time in the military, as a diversity trainer, and as a volunteer informational professional at Los Angeles World Airports. After working with LAUSD, he noted the fact that he will likely not have grandchildren, leading to his announcement of turning over his assets to the school.
After a round of applause, Jorge Ramirez took the stage. “When I needed a job, the Career Center gave me one.” The alumnus studied electrical engineering and eventually business, as he bought the company that first employed him. He thanked the Career Center once more, naming the campus as a “factory of opportunity.”
The night was about the changing times, as all students shared stories of how the campus had evolved, and the students along with it.
“Raise your hand if you’re the first one in your family to attend college,” asked alumna Pamela Duffy. “Raise two hands if that school would be a Cal State,” she cheered – and the audience clapped. Students face increasing tuition costs and increasing social tensions along with executive unease. Duffy called for solidarity by remembering to “rise, because we were at CSU LA, and it taught us that.” She exited the stage.
Early Entrance Program alumna Paisley Kadison (graduating year of 2007) stressed the importance of mentoring and assisting one another. “You can never say no to anyone. You need to say yes,” she answered. “You can solve many problems in this world by offering someone an education.”
Rounding off the night was Gary Matus; alumnus of 1969. “Every time I walk onto this campus I think I’m 19-years-old again,” he said. “We’re not all Mozarts,” he said in response to students unsure of themselves; intimidated by the growing social sphere and today’s job market. “There’s no market of skills like the ones in California. This is a country. And maybe we’ll become one soon.”
As the ceremony ended, Caron closed the show with one more round of applause. “What an incredible place to give back to,” he said.
And that was the end of it.