Newswise — “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” –Benjamin F​ranklin​

Earning a university degree is always a game-changer, especially for CSU graduates. As one of the nation's most powerful engines of social mobility, the CSU has a lifetime impact on graduates and their families, significantly boosting earnings capacity and changing the trajectory of families for generations. Equally noteworthy, a recent study revealed that CSU students, faculty, staff and alumni support the creation of nearly 685,000 jobs annually​ throughout the state, as well as $115 billion in industry activity and $7.5 billion in state and local taxes.

“The California State University provides unprecedented and transformational opportunities for students from all backgrounds to earn a high-quality college degree and to better their families, their communities and the industries in which they become leaders,” says Chancellor Joseph I. Castro. “There is no other institution that makes this great of an impact on the entire state—the CSU is key to a growing and thriving California.”

As we celebrate commencement season, we asked a few of our​ alumni to reflect on what it means to be "Made in the CSU" and find out how an education changed their lives.

LYNN GAY Campus: CSUN ’98 Major/Program: Business Administration Position: V​P Affiliate Relations, iHeart Media

“The best thing my degree gave me was a sense of self-worth. I didn’t go to college until I was 31 because I didn’t think I was smart enough. Without a degree, I had limited choices. I worked a series of unfulfilling jobs that gave me no purpose or direction. Driving home one day from one of those jobs, I saw a fatal accident right in front of me. It was truly a cathartic moment. I thought to myself, ‘Life is too short.’ I quit the very next day and applied to CSUN. That decision changed my life, and I can honestly say it is the best decision I have ever made. I went from scraping by to earning six figures in a matter of years. I got the first job I applied for out of college and am currently in my 23rd year of working for iHeart Media.”

DEWAYNE SHEAFFER Campus: Stanislaus State ’86/Cal State LA ’96 Major/Program: Business Administration Position: Counselor, Long Beach City College​

“Graduating from Stanislaus State was a hallelujah moment. Neither of my parents attended college, but they understood the importance of earning a college degree. I began my work history in the Business Office as an accounts payable clerk on campus, moved into Admissions and Records as a file clerk and then an admissions evaluator. This led me to Cal State Los Angeles as a graduation evaluator. That's where I was encouraged by a student I was assisting to go into counseling at a community college. Because I worked for the CSU system, attending college was financially palatable. I paid very little to take classes, and I walked away from graduate school with no debt. All this was not in any plan of mine. When I saw an opportunity, I took it. I work at Long Beach City College as a counseling faculty member and serve on my union board of directors. I’m enjoying life with my family and the friends I've met on my educational journey.”​​​

JUANITA TAMAYO LOTT, PH.D. Campus: San Francisco State ’70 Major/Program: Sociology Position: Demographer, Statistician and Author, Tamayo Lott and Associates

“San Francisco State was a good microcosm of the world with a constant flow of people coming from all over, particularly at that time in the ’60s. You got to hear a variety of languages, try different cuisines, meet people from different backgrounds and live in multiracial​/multicultural neighborhoods. That influences you and influences the university, too. It prepared me so I could go out into the world, ta​ke advantage of opportunities and be whatever I wanted. Several of my cohort of leaders in the 1968-69 BSU/TWLF strike​ at San Francisco State were recruited by UCLA, UC Berkeley and other elite institutions. I went to the University of Chicago, which gave me a full ride. I was accepted into a Ph.D. program in the social sciences. From there, I went to Washington, D.C., and had a career in the federal statistical system. And that's where you get to meet people from all over the world and you have to be able to speak beyond your own major. I feel very lucky. I’ve had a pretty good life.”

ROY MEDINA Campus: Cal Poly Pomona ’20 Major/Program: Psychology and Animal Science

“Graduating for me meant I’m one step closer to giving back to my parents after all they’ve sacrificed for me to have a better life than the ones they had. And I get to be a role model for my nieces. As someone who is transgender, it also meant that despite the hardships and the countless times I wanted to give up, I’m able to overcome anything, especially with the support of others. There is no doubt that I will miss everyone I have met and cherish the memories and lessons learned. With my hometown being seven hours away, having the college experience allowed me to grow as an individual and to have a more open mind. Post-graduation life without a doubt was a rough start with the current circumstances, however, with the growth and knowledge acquired from the on-campus experience, there is only one way to go—and that is up.”

ALEXANDRA DURAN-KNEIP Campus: Cal State Fullerton ’14 Major/Program: Communication Position: Project Manager, Facebook

“Graduating from CSUF, let alone college, was a massive deal for both me and my family. I was the first in my family to graduate college, and I knew how much it meant for my professional success, as well as a reflection of the diligence and effort both of my parents put into raising me. I never felt ‘smart’ or particularly driven in school unless it was a subject I really liked. Having a degree has allowed me to feel confidence and aptitude, working myriad jobs, some amazing and others not so much, but every one contributing to my overall experience. But one of the things I'm most proud of is spending the last five years working for Facebook alongside people who went to Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Dartmouth and repping my Titan pride. Graduating from college gave me a level of confidence and determination I didn't expect. It's so much more than a degree, a piece of paper that says you completed so many units and classes over four years. It becomes a part of who you are and who you have yet to become.”

LAUREN FLOYD Campus: CSU Monterey Bay ’14 Major/Program: Human Communication Position: News Producer, KSBW8

“Graduating from CSUMB taught me to abandon all expectations of what college is supposed to be and focus instead on the fundamentals of self-growth, self-care, my future and my education. Your way is the right way as long as it means you are improving yourself and adding quality to your environment and community. I feel unique to be an Otter and really blessed to say I once called the beautiful campus my home. My experience at CSUMB taught me that my future is all up to me. It’s all about the energy and intention I invest into myself and my goals. Plus, I must say, I still use the concept of interdisciplinary studies in almost everything I set out to learn, and that’s thanks to human communications and my beautiful experience as a CSUMB student.”

VALERIE ROSE VALDEZ Campus: CSU Channel Islands ’14 Major/Program: Communication Position: Project Administrator, TechOps

“As a first-generation college graduate, getting my degree from CSUCI created a new part of my identity. The education and exposure I gained while obtaining my degree gave me the skills and confidence to enter my professional career. I was very fortunate to work on campus at the Career Center. The mentorship provided by the Career Center staff helped me determine what a full-time student should do to prepare for post-graduation. This guidance included working internships in fields related to my degree, volunteering at on-campus events where there were opportunities to network and focusing on my classwork.”

Meet additional CSU alumni making a difference in the lives of th​e people of California and the world.