Education

For many CSUS grads, the road was mostly uphill

Alexis Griffin joins her fellow CSUS grads Friday at Sleep Train Arena. Her biggest motivator as a student, she says, was her son Noah, now 2 years old.
Alexis Griffin joins her fellow CSUS grads Friday at Sleep Train Arena. Her biggest motivator as a student, she says, was her son Noah, now 2 years old. rbenton@sacbee.com

Alexis Griffin craned her neck from her seat at Sleep Train Arena, trying to catch a glance of her motivation for graduating – her 2-year-old son, Noah.

Griffin, 24, a former foster child, was waiting her turn to accept a diploma granting her a bachelor’s degree in gerontology from California State University, Sacramento, on Friday morning, after six years of school.

“My son has done nothing but motivate me – my marriage and my son,” Griffin said. “I made the Dean’s Honors list every semester since I found out I was pregnant.”

Griffin and the 3,799 other CSUS graduates who will walk the stage in seven graduation ceremonies Friday and Saturday will be the last to do it at Sleep Train Arena. Next year the university hopes to hold graduation ceremonies at the new Golden 1 Center downtown. Administrators have already reserved May 19 and 20 for summer graduation ceremonies, but are still negotiating the cost and haven’t signed a contract yet, said Elisa Smith, spokeswoman for the university.

Professor Ann Moylan embraced Griffin and handed her a greeting card before the commencement ceremonies. Moylan was Griffin’s Guardian Scholars mentor for six years. The program helps foster children succeed in college by offering them scholarships, emergency funds and the support of mentors and other foster children.

Kaitlyn Sullins dropped out of high school, got her GED and graduated from Sacramento State after becoming a Martin Luther King scholar. Kimberly Ketchum, 35, emerged from a life of gangs and drug addiction to graduate after 12 years of sobriety.

She admitted she was concerned after learning Griffin was pregnant three years ago. “It can derail students so easily,” Moylan said. “What it did for Alexis was totally motivate her. She took what some students would have found an impossible challenge and she used that to motivate herself.”

Griffin was so intent on doing well in school that she asked doctors to allow her to go home the day after she gave birth, so she could finish an assignment due the day after. When her professor noticed her flattened stomach and asked why she was in class, Griffin said, “I’m not getting an incomplete.”

Griffin earned a 3.8 grade-point average last semester.

Although she has a new support network that includes her husband, Keondre, her sister and her last set of foster parents, she admits her graduation is bittersweet.

“Leading up to graduation it has been an emotional journey, because this is stuff your parents are supposed to be there for you,” she said.

Griffin isn’t the only graduate to make it through college despite enormous odds.

President Robert Nelsen started to tear up when he talked about Kaitlyn Sullins, who dropped out of high school but managed to get her GED and finally to graduate from Sacramento State after becoming a Martin Luther King scholar. But, he really choked up when he talked about Kimberly Ketchum, 35, who emerged from a life of gangs and drug addiction to graduate after 12 years of sobriety.

When he asked the students to stand who were the first in their families to graduate from college, nearly half did.

“I am proud that 49 percent of our undergraduate students come from families making less than $38,000 per year,” Nelsen said. “Why am I proud of that statistic? Because I believe that when our students graduate and when they send their children to college, those children will be coming from families making way more than $38,000.”

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

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