More than 11,700 students were eligible to walk across the stage as a Cal State University, Northridge graduate. But they also head into a new and uncertain job market due to the health pandemic.
Four students are featured in this week’s edition of the paper, and four others will be featured next week. Each student’s experience is unique. Below are just some of their stories, which have been edited for space:
Parker Caston, Jr., B.A. in Cinema and Television Arts, Film Production
Parker Caston, Jr., 22, was in the fifth grade when his mother handed him a video camera. He used that camera to document his life growing up in rural Manteca, outside Stockton.
“My mom pretty much told me ‘one day you can get paid for that,’ and I was like, ‘alright, I’m going to try and go in that direction,’” Caston said. “Pretty much everything from that point forward — fifth grade through high school — was done with the general goal of pursuing film or some sort of media.”
When it came to choosing a college in 2016, Caston looked for some place that was “comfortable,” had a good track and field program because he ran track in high school, and a good film program. He chose CSUN.
By his sophomore year, Caston knew that filmmaking was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He applied for the film production option in his major of cinema and television arts. Students applying to major in film production must submit a film portfolio for independent review.
Caston’s application was rejected. He had played it safe with his portfolio — presenting images and stories he thought others wanted to see.
Caston redid his portfolio application to include a photo essay based on his experience of being pulled over by police because he failed to use his blinker while driving. He resubmitted the application, and was admitted into the program.
Orders to shelter in place have hampered Caston’s ability to put the final touches on his senior film, and left him pondering the future he and his fellow 2020 graduates face when the orders are lifted.
“I do see myself on the other side — when we can go about our lives again — completely different,” he said. “How? I’m not sure yet, but I know I will be different. We all will. I’ve been talking to my peers. We’re scared, you know. But I think we’re going to be okay. The stories I wanted to tell before this pandemic have changed. I want to be able to tell these new stories.”
Diana Vicente, B.S. in Marketing
Diana Vicente, 21, of Inglewood, knew the instant she visited CSUN on a college tour — one of more than 20 she took while in high school — that she had found where she belonged.
“I knew I was going to college. It was just a matter of where,” she said. “Once I was accepted, I visited CSUN again, and I could imagine myself being part of the campus community and really fitting in. I felt so comfortable. I felt included and welcome.”
Vicente enrolled at CSUN four years ago with the intent of studying biology and going on to veterinary school. Those dreams changed as she got more and more involved on campus and discovered a new field of study — business and, in particular, marketing.
Determined to get the most out of her college experience, Vicente, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico with her parents a decade ago, joined several campus student organizations, from marketing and business clubs and networking groups to the student government, Associated Students (AS). She served as the 2019-20 AS president.
“College is the time where you really get to find yourself, where you get to experiment and start over,” she said. “This is your opportunity to get out there and create a new image for yourself, and it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.”
She is convinced that she and her classmates will emerge from the pandemic stronger than when it started.
“I have no doubt that our students are going to be the ones who are going to rebuild the economy, rewrite policies, change procedures and take us into a new world, because we are never going back to what existed before all this,” she said.
Keiri Ramirez, B.S. in Mathematics from the College of Science and Mathematics, and a Single-Subject Preliminary Credential in Mathematics
When she was in first grade growing up in South Gate, Keiri Ramirez, now 23, insisted her parents buy her a white board so she could use it to teach her younger brother and cousins what she was learning in school. She loved going to school.
Then came eighth grade geometry.
“The teacher was tough, and I hated that,” she said, admitting that, initially, she struggled in the class. “But I saw it as a challenge. It motivated me to keep challenging myself.”
The class was also a revelation. “I discovered my passion for math,” she said, adding that she likes “the numbers.”
When it came to choosing a college, Ramirez selected Northridge, “because I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I heard CSUN was the best school for teachers.”
Ramirez, the first in her family to go to college, admitted that juggling two high-demand course loads at the same time was not easy, particularly since she also worked. Early in her college career, she stumbled in math class, and a male colleague dismissively told her, “that’s why women don’t belong in math.”
“I used those words as empowerment to prove to him what I am capable of, and to prove to myself that I was capable,” she said.
Ramirez said she has been struck by how strong the bonds grew among her cohort of student teachers during self-isolation. Not only did they work together to help each other learn new ways to teach online, they also formed such tight friendships that they were like “family.”
“This pandemic helped us create a stronger community,” she said. “We went from being classmates to something more, and it’s provided us all an opportunity to grow.”
Christian Cavalier, B.S. in Electrical Engineering
Christian Cavalier, 23, of West Hills, admitted people thought he was “crazy” when he told them he planned to study electrical engineering at college.
“It’s notorious for being challenging, and that’s precisely why I chose it,” Cavalier said. “I think that when you challenge yourself and you make yourself work hard, you become a stronger and better individual.
“Studying electrical engineering was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took me five years to complete this degree. I poured my heart and soul into it, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.”
His voice gets animated and his enthusiasm is palpable as he starts talking about innovative and technological possibilities associated with electrical engineering.
“One of the things that I really love about engineering is that it’s almost like magic,” he said. “There’s this stigma around engineering, especially the RF (radio-frequency) field that I am going into, because people don’t understand how it works. But when you learn how it works, and you go into a lab and build something and that something works, it absolutely blows your mind.”
Cavalier spent the past year as a systems engineering intern with Northrop Grumman, a position that has turned into a permanent job. He has been working on creating model-based engineering solutions for GPS and inertial navigation systems, specifically creating and testing external interface messages for fighter jets.
“A big part of being an engineer is you really have to be a lifelong learner,” he said. “With technology, everything moves so rapidly that you can’t afford to stagnate.”