Colleges of HHS, PSFA close out historic 2021 commencement


Noelani Sapla

Doctoral candidates from the college of Health and Human Services.

by Jayne Yutig, Multimedia Assistant Editor

On May 27, graduates from the College of Health and Human Services (HHS) and College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts (PSFA) at San Diego State concluded the 2020-2021 commencement at Petco Park.

Over the course of the three-day-long celebration, an estimated 33,700 graduates and guests attended Petco Park for the historic celebration, according to the Padres Events Team.

An in-person gathering of this scale and size would have been unimaginable a year ago. But for three days at Petco Park, a combined graduating class, their families, friends and partners sat together and in-person under the downtown San Diego sun.  

College of Health and Human Services

The final day of celebrations began in the morning with the College of HHS. An estimated 4,700 graduates and their guests from the classes of 2020-2021 celebrated this moment together. Graduates from the College of HHS have been on the frontlines of the pandemic and carrying out San Diego’s vaccination efforts. For these graduates, this ceremony held extra meaning and significance. Many families reunited for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Leanne Caroll, graduating with a Master’s Degree in public health said this was a long-awaited day. 

“A lot of people had family come from far away that they haven’t seen in a long time, so that’s exciting to see them finally reunited,” Carroll said. “It’s definitely very emotional.”

Carroll said reuniting with friends she’s only ever seen on camera in person brought up good emotions for everyone in the stands. Like most of her fellow graduates, Caroll plans to continue working in public health.

President Adela de la Torre praised nursing students at all seven ceremonies during her opening remarks. 

“More than 300 SDSU nursing students were trained to administer COVID-19 vaccines across San Diego,” de la Torre said. “Students are now at county vaccination sites directly assisting with vaccinations.” 

Petco Park rang with applause as those same students celebrated and cheered in the stands. 

Former Associated Students President and graduate, Christian Holt opened his speech acknowledging the historic nature of this year’s commencement and the sacrifices made by his fellow graduates. 

“This past year and a half we’ve experienced something the world hasn’t seen in a hundred years,” Holt said. “Each of us has had to face a tremendous amount of adversity to be here today.” 

Dean of the College of HHS, Dr. Steven Hooker, opened the ceremony congratulating all of the future healthcare professionals present.

“I want to congratulate all of the graduates and recognize that you are ready to explore new and thrilling opportunities that will have an impact on the broad spectrum of health and human services. I’m very proud to be your Dean,” Dean Hooker said. 

College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Outstanding Graduate Danielle Gonzales from the College of PSFA.
Outstanding Graduate Danielle Gonzales from the College of PSFA. (Jayne Yutig)

The College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts closed out an emotional three days at Petco Park. An estimated 5,000 graduates and guests attended the afternoon ceremony. 

Dean of the College of PSFA, Dr. Peggy Shannon, introduced graduate from the School of Theatre, Television and Film, Victoria Matlock Fowler. Fowler performed The National Anthem in a pre-recorded video played on the Padres’ jumbotron and her fellow college graduates cheered for her. 

Dean Shannon welcomed the graduates and guests, and spoke about the long road and challenges endured by the classes of 2020-2021. 

“When you started your academic journey at SDSU, none of us could have envisioned we would be celebrating quite like this,” Shannon said. “But innovation seems to be the word of the year. And nothing will keep us from finding a way to celebrate you.” 

Breven Honda, a former senior sportswriter for The Daily Aztec, graduating with a Bachelor’s in journalism, said this moment graduating at Petco Park felt different because of the last year. 

“It feels really surreal to be honest,” Honda said.

Honda said he’s looking forward to the future and breaking into sports journalism, but he said he will miss the friendships he’s made over the last four years the most. 

“All the friends I’ve been able to make. All the teachers I’ve been able to learn from,” Honda said. “Being able to write for The Daily Aztec in the sports department has been such an honor to be a part of.”

Outstanding Graduate Danielle Gonzales led the customary tradition where Bachelor’s candidates move their tassels from right to left, symbolizing graduation. In her speech, Gonzales reflected on where she was in life at the beginning of the pandemic.

“If you were to ask me last year while I was watching Tiger King and going on family walks before the 7 p.m. curfew that we would be here, I would not have believed you,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzales took a moment to reflect on how life has changed and how fast life is continuing to change as graduates look ahead towards the future. 

“As much as we’re excited to get back to normal, there’s no denying the lasting effects of COVID-19 on our academic, personal and professional journeys,” Gonzales said. “Now, we are celebrating our grit and resilience that has gotten us through and will continue to get us through whatever the future holds.”

Ian McKinstry, graduating with a Bachelor’s in recreation administration, was the final graduate to walk across the stage concluding SDSU’s 2020-2021 historic commencement. 

All seven ceremonies can be viewed here on the SDSU Youtube Channel.