Campus: CSU, Northridge -- May 14, 2001
Despite Odds, Students Realize Dreams At
Cal State Northridge
When Cal State Northridge officials hand diplomas to more than 6,800
new graduates later this month, they will recognize more than academic
achievement. They will also reward the tenacity and dedication of individuals
who overcame obstacles - many seemingly insurmountable - that could
have kept them from reaching their goals.
"Many of our students are the first in their families to attend
college. Some have worked full-time jobs while carrying full course
loads. Others have had to deal with challenging family obligations,
often as single parents," said CSUN President Jolene Koester. "Their
determination to overcome the obstacles before them and succeed academically
inspires and reminds us of the importance and value of higher education."
Here is a short list of some of these extraordinary graduates:
- Antoinette Acosta, B.S. in Civil Engineering
Acosta, 27, admitted that when she graduated from an Arizona high
school, she had no idea what she wanted to do. She enrolled at the
University of Arizona but dropped out when she got married at age
20. Three years later, she was divorced and had a one-month-old son.
"I had to get myself in gear if I was going to provide for the
both of us," she said.
She moved in with her parents, who had since moved to Bakersfield,
and enrolled first at the local community college and then at CSUN
with the goal of becoming an engineer.
For the past few years, she has commuted between Bakersfield and Northridge,
dividing her time between a full-load of engineering classes and her
son. An internship last summer at Warren A. Minner and Associates,
a Bakersfield engineering firm, turned into a part-time job
that also demanded her attention.
Throughout it all, Acosta said, she kept her eye on her main objective
- her son, now 4.
"When I'm home, I don't do homework until he's asleep. He comes
first," she said. "I want to be an example for him. I want
to be a strong role model for him so that when he grows up he will
be able to admire his mother."
Acosta, who has maintained a 3.7 GPA while at CSUN, will receive her
diploma on Wednesday, May 30, at the College of Engineering and Computer
Science ceremony at 4 p.m. at the University Club. Acosta plans to
continue working at Warren A. Minner and Associates and get a master's
- Lydia Aguirre, B.A. in Sociology
Aguirre dropped out of high school and ran away from home at age 15.
By age 17, she was a single mom determined to get her life back together.
She enrolled in a Santa Barbara continuation school and graduated
from high school in 1996.
Determined to make a better life for herself and her daughter, she
enrolled first at Santa Barbara Community College, where she got an
associate's degree in anthropology and liberal studies, and then transferred
to CSUN's Ventura Campus, now Channel Islands, in 1999.
Aguirre, 23, admitted commuting between Camarillo and Santa Barbara,
where she also works at the community college as a transfer advisor,
can be arduous, but said it is worth it. She would like to become
an academic counselor at a community college.
"I want to reach that population that hasn't really been exposed
to the educational system," she said. "I want them to know
that even if they've made some wrong decisions in the past, they still
have a second chance if they get an education. Like I did."
Aguirre, who is the first in her family to get a college education,
will receive her diploma at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 25, at Channel
- Linette Astourian, B.S. in Psychology
Growing up in Syria of Greek and Armenian parents, Astourian never really
felt she fit in. The fact that she was a girl who spoke her mind, Astourian
said, made her really stand out in a community that favored more traditional
Her family immigrated to the United States when she was 14, and after
three tough years in New Jersey finally moved to California and settled
in Whittier. Worried that their opinionated daughter would become too
American, her parents arranged her marriage immediately after high school.
Despite family opposition that said she should stay home and take care
of her two daughters, Astourian, now 36, tested the waters of independence,
with the support of her husband, by enrolling at a community college.
She loved it. It took her five years, but Astourian got her associate's
degree and then transferred to CSUN in 1998 to study psychology. Throughout
it all, Astourian worked, first at her husband's jewelry shop and now
with the Armenian Relief Society in Glendale helping new immigrants
adjust to their new home.
"I want to go on to graduate school and eventually become a clinical
psychologist. I want to work with immigrant children to help them deal
with adjusting to coming to the United States," she said. "I
know personally how hard it is. It's not just the language issues, but
cultural ones that the whole family has to adjust to."
Astourian, who now lives in La Crescenta, will receive her degree on
Wednesday, May 30, at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences'
commencement at 6:30 p.m. on the Oviatt Library Lawn.
- Eriko Iwata, B.S. in Nursing
Iwata came to the United States with the idea that she could polish
her nursing skills with an American education and return home to Japan
in just a couple of years. That was nearly six years ago.
Iwata, 37, quickly discovered that what she learned in Japan was not
up to American standards, nor was her English strong enough for a university
program. With the support of her husband, a magazine editor who remained
at home in Tokyo, Iwata enrolled in Glendale Community College to brush
up on her language skills and to get the general
education requirements she needed to transfer to CSUN.
Iwata, who brought her now 12-year-old son with her to America, transferred
to CSUN in 1997 and immediately embarked on a full course load. Juggling
childcare, classes and later a job as an intensive care nurse at Cedars
Sinai Medical Center has not been easy. But Iwata is determined to take
what she has learned in the United States back home to Japan.
"In Japan, the doctors are in charge. The nurses basically don't
have any say in the care of the patients," Iwata said. "Here,
nurses are part of the team, and they have a more clinical approach
to what they do. The nurses in Japan would love to do what American
Iwata, who lives in Glendale, currently maintains a web site for Japanese
nurses on American nursing practices as well as how to apply to an American
university to study nursing. She is also writing a series of articles
for a Japanese nursing magazine about her experiences here in the United
Iwata will receive her diploma on Thursday, May 31, at the College of
Health and Human Development's commencement at 8 a.m. on the Oviatt
Library Lawn. She plans to get her master's in nursing at UCLA, then
practice in the United States for a couple of years before she returns
- Theresa Leonard, B.A. in Liberal Studies
By most people's accounts, Leonard shouldn't be here.
When she was in first grade, she, an older sister and her mother were
kidnapped. When she was 12, her father was murdered. About a year
later, her mother was arrested in connection with her father's death
and Leonard was put in foster care.
Leonard married a minister by age 19. After suffering eight years
of abuse, she took her two children and left her husband. She remarried
another pastor, but again ended up in an abusive relationship. That
marriage lasted 11 years and produced one more child. After her husband
was arrested for a "heinous sex crime involving a child,"
Leonard got the courage to leave him even though he had her convinced
he could track her down even while behind bars.
After undergoing months of therapy, Leonard, now 42, decided it was
time to do something for herself and her children - get an education.
She enrolled in a community college. About that time she met the man
who would become her current husband. Once she got her associate's
degree, they married and moved to California to start a new life for
their family in 1996.
Leonard, who works at CSUN as a sign language interpreter for deaf
and hard-of-hearing students, wants to become an elementary school
"I firmly believe the abuse has to stop somewhere," she
said. "I want children to know that love is out there. At least
when they go to school they will know that their teacher loves them
and that they will be treated with the honor, dignity and respect
Leonard, of Canyon Country, will receive her diploma Friday, June
1, at the College of Humanities' commencement at 8 a.m. on the Oviatt
Library Lawn. She plans to enroll in CSUN's credential program this
- Jeremy Sonenschein, B.S. in Kinesiology
All Sonenschein ever wanted to be when he was growing up was a commercial
pilot. But after two years at a training facility in Arizona, his
dreams were dashed when he learned he was color-blind.
Disillusioned, he returned to Van Nuys and at his mother's urging
to "get out of the house," enrolled at CSUN in 1996. After
trying a variety of majors, including political science and pre-med,
he settled on kinesiology. He hopes to some day become a student affairs
administrator at a university.
While carrying 16 to 18 units each semester, Sonenschein still found
time to volunteer in the community. It's a passion he developed in
middle school when a teacher assigned him to work with autistic children
as part of a class project. "I loved it," he said. "I
really enjoyed the feeling I got helping people."
While at CSUN, he has volunteered with the Los Angeles Music Center,
Tree People, the Wildlife Way Station, as an emergency medical
technician with the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Sierra Club,
various political campaigns, CSUN's University Student Union and the
Red Cross, where he is a member of a disaster response team, teaches
CPR and first aid and works with at-risk youth.
In addition to his volunteer work and his studies, Sonenschein, 24,
also holds two part-time jobs, as a personal trainer at the Northridge
YMCA and as an emergency medical technician for a Torrance-based private
Sonenschein will receive his diploma on Thursday, May 31, at the College
of Health and Human Development's commencement ceremony at 8 a.m.
California State University, Northridge has more than 29,000 full-
and part-time students and offers 58 bachelor's and 50 master's degrees.
Founded in 1958, it is the only four-year university in the San Fernando