Newswise — Every spring, the California State University confers more than 120,000 degrees on the most diverse group of students in the nation. Those numbers continue to increase each year under Graduation Initiative 2025 as dedicated and talented faculty and staff continue to work to improve student success. CSU students are just as extraordinary, and behind each of those students is a story of determination to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Whatever their background, the CSU helps them find their voice and gives them the tools they’ll need to be leaders in their communities.
Meet just a few remarkable graduates from the class of 2021, many of whom overcame significant challenges on their path to earning a degree, and learn how they plan to pay it forward.
Angelica Trujillo | CSU Bakersfield
Though CSU Bakersfield graduate Angelica Trujillo decided she wanted to become a pharmacist at age 15, she didn’t immediately travel that road. After high school, she enlisted in the United States Army where she served for eight years, including a deployment in Iraq in 2010. At 32, with a young daughter to care for, Trujillo enrolled at Bakersfield College and eventually transferred to CSUB where she declared a biochemistry minor.
As a full-time student and a parent who also works up to 35 hours a week at her job, Trujillo’s responsibilities were made especially difficult last year as she and her 7-year-old daughter’s classes were both delivered virtually. She persevered, though, and will continue her education at the Chapman University School of Pharmacy in Irvine this fall.
“Angelica is an exceptional student who completed her education while overcoming almost insurmountable setbacks,” says Karlo Lopez, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at CSUB.
Read more about Angelica Trujillo at CSUB News.
Jesus Barba | Chico State
Growing up as the son of farmworkers in Salinas, California, Chico State graduate Jesus Barba was surrounded by agriculture, but it wasn’t until he joined Future Farmers of America that he began exploring careers in the field.
“Agriculture has always been around my family, in the sense that they have always worked the fields,” Barba said. “I want to stop that trend and be the one inside the company and not the one in the field picking the produce.”
Now Barba, a first-generation college student, will graduate summa cum laude with a degree in agricultural business. During his time at Chico State, he earned Dean’s List recognition every single semester and served as a teacher’s aide for agricultural ecology. Barba plans to continue his education by pursuing a master’s degree and possibly even a Ph.D. in the next few years, and eventually start his own company in agriculture.
Read more about Jesus Barba at Chico State Today.
Marci Bertuzzi | Cal State East Bay
Cal State East Bay graduate Marci Bertuzzi calls herself a victor, and rightly so: The veteran, single mom and domestic abuse survivor has overcome many obstacles on her journey to earning a degree. Following high school, Bertuzzi served several years in the United States Marine Corps during which time she gave birth to a daughter and endured an abusive relationship with the child’s father.
While earning a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in entrepreneurship, Bertuzzi maintained a 3.95 GPA while raising her daughter and even founding her own oil and gas consulting firm.
“I want to show my daughter that while life will throw you curveballs, it’s how you swing the bat that determines your ultimate success,” she says. “You can do anything if you really want it.”
Learn more about Marci Bertuzzi at East Bay Today.
Caleb Charles | Fresno State
Fresno State graduate Caleb Charles always knew he wanted to be a lawyer, and his dreams were realized when he learned about the Central Valley Regional Pathway to Law Pipeline, a collaboration between Bullard High School, Fresno City College, Fresno State and the San Joaquin College of Law that provides a pathway for underrepresented students from minority backgrounds to earn law degrees and increase the diversity of the members of the State Bar of California.
In addition to his studies, Charles served as a member of the Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity and participated in the Student Advocacy Project, representing Fresno County residents appealing low-level citations. Charles also earned the Fresno State Philosophy Department’s 2021 undergraduate student of distinction honor.
Charles says he plans to become a criminal defense and civil rights attorney to advocate on behalf of those who have been unjustly charged with crimes.
Learn more about Caleb Charles at Fresno State News.
Mehtaab Brar | Cal State Fullerton
When Mehtaab Brar began attending Cal State Fullerton, the Fresno native found a community of peers and mentors in the Male Success Initiative, which offers students of color programming, resources and a network of peer and faculty mentors to support their journey through higher education.
Similar male success initiatives are offered at several CSU campuses and align with Graduation Initiative 2025 goals to eliminate equity gaps between underserved students and their peers by fostering a sense of belonging for them on campus.
“The Male Success Initiative has given me a support system outside of my classes,” says Brar, who will be part of the inaugural class of scholars graduating this year. “To have such a motivated group of men around you, makes you want to be the best version of yourself.”
Brar plans to continue his education in medical science, with a goal of attending Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Pennsylvania, and eventually become a plastic surgeon.
Learn more about Mehtaab Brar in Titan Magazine.
Jacqueline Cruz | Cal State Long Beach
In August 2019, Jacqueline Cruz was preparing to start a master’s program in public policy at Cal State Long Beach, but her plans were almost derailed by a motorcycle accident that left her needing six surgeries and temporarily wheelchair bound. Cruz was able to continue her studies through grit and family support. She says the struggle her parents endured while she was growing up inspired her to achieve her dreams.
“My parents are both Mexican immigrants,” Cruz says. “They came to this country with nothing but an American Dream. I will be forever in debt to them.”
Cruz, who is also a CSU Dominguez Hills alumna, will receive a master’s degree in public administration from CSULB.
Learn more about Jacqueline Cruz at CSULB News.
Denise Nguyen | CSUN
California State University, Northridge graduate Denise Nguyen attended community college somewhat aimlessly until being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a setback that helped give her clarity about her future. The first-generation college student decided she wanted to become a leader in the public health industry and use her voice to improve health equity.
While at CSUN, Nguyen was a member of the CSUN Model United Nations team, won the Best Data Visualization Award at CSUN’s DataJam, and was recognized as a Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar, which supports the doctoral aspirations of CSU students who have experienced economic and educational disadvantages.
During the pandemic, Nguyen served as a Vietnamese-English translator at her local community center for people filing unemployment claims and created an escort program for elderly Asian Americans. She plans to attend Johns Hopkins University in the fall and hopes to eventually help build health care legislation in Washington D.C.
Learn more about Denise Nguyen at CSUN Today.
Zobeida Delgadillo | San José State
San José State graduate Zobeida Delgadillo certainly managed to squeeze as much out of her time at the university as possible. She served as Associated Students president, chief executive officer and director of legislative affairs, as well as a governing member of the California State Student Association, where she advocated on behalf of the CSU’s half-million students.
Delgadillo also served as a senator on the Academic Senate, a board member on the Student Union, a member of the Athletics Board, an orientation leader for New Student and Family Programs, and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi. She says these experiences helped her find her voice and gave her a platform to lead.
“I believe that my personal and professional experiences at SJSU have laid the foundation for me to continue creating transformative change in my career and community,” says Delgadillo.
Delgadillo has earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and plans to pursue a master’s degree in the fall. She has received admission and a scholarship to the University of San Francisco to study sports management.
Learn more about Zobeida Delgadillo in the SJSU Newsroom.
Special thanks to CSU campus writers and photographers Kelli Ardis, Michelle Borges, Cathi Douglas, Matt Gush, Tiffany Harbrecht, Benjamin Kirk, Debra Cano Ramos and Garvin Tso.