Campus: CSU Fullerton -- May 21, 2003
College Dream Comes True for Fullerton Mom Earning Top Honors at Commencement
Ever since she was child, Sunshine Lawson dreamed of going to college.
Counselors, teachers and friends all told her it would be impossible.
At age 33, the single mother of three will be graduating with a bachelor's
degree in a double major from Cal State Fullerton, and she will be receiving
the President's Associates Scholastic Award, the university's top honor for academic
She will be graduating summa cum laude, having achieved a 4.0 grade point average
in both of her majors, Afro-ethnic studies and criminal justice.
One of my goals is to be a role model for my children in getting an education,
she said. "I want to give them the message that if mom could do it, they could do it."
Her quest to inspire her children, all students at Sunny Hills High School, is all
the more remarkable because mom is blind.
She considers her blindness, which came about as the result of a violent assault years
ago, as a "limitation and not a disability." Her professional goal is to become a
university professor and to conduct research to help others in need.
As a Ronald McNair Scholar, Lawson plans to continue her education in a doctoral program.
(The Ronald E. McNair Scholars program prepares traditionally underrepresented students
for doctoral studies and is named for one of the astronauts who perished in the
Challenger space shuttle tragedy.) Following graduation, she's slated to attend a
monthlong training class at the Braille Institute to study computer training in voice
"I can say in all honesty she is the best student I have instructed in my 15 years of
university teaching, which includes Washington State University, Arizona State University
and USC," said James Lasley, CSUF professor of criminal justice. "In the classroom, Ms. Lawson
almost always emerges as a discussion leader and is highly admired by her peers."
The Fullerton resident will receive her President's Associates award, which carries a
$1,000 cash prize, at the campus Honors Convocation May 30. The next day, she will be
recognized at commencement exercises for Afro-ethnic studies graduates. On June 1 she
will be recognized again, this time at the ceremony for criminal justice graduates.
She is scheduled to be a commencement speaker at both college-based exercises, which
follow the 8 a.m. universitywide ceremonies on May 31 and June 1.
Lawson has won a number of awards and presented research at conferences at UC Berkeley,
the University of Maryland and the John Jay Criminal Justice College. She also helped
to organize a drive to provide teddy bears for the youngest victims of the 9/11
terrorist attacks and plans Christmas parties for a children's home.
Her research projects have included evaluating a computer program to prevent child
abduction by predators who frequent online chat rooms, analysis of data relating
to sex crimes against minors in Huntington Beach, as well as several studies in
connection with the Afro-ethnic studies program. Lawson also has completed a number
of certificate programs, including basic applied forensics and technical writing.
Lawson, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in New York, says she is a living
example of the motto "When life give you lemons, make lemonade." She adds: "The source
for me to make lemonade from the negative experiences in my past has been the countless
positive experiences I have had at Cal State Fullerton." She praises her professors,
mentors and fellow students for helping her succeed in her academic journey in pursuit
of a degree while majoring in two subject areas.
"If I soar," she told an interviewer, "it's because they've given me the feathers to soar.
Cal State Fullerton has been a tremendous inspiration and driving force in my life."
"Unlike all the other students who have had the pleasure of seeing the beauty of our
campus, I have felt the beauty of our campus. This is a special place that creates
Other than her children, Lawson is without any other family members in California.
"Cal State Fullerton is my family," she says with great pride.