Campus: CSU Bakersfield -- June 13, 2003
Beckham - A Remarkable Graduation Story
Jack Beckham's life has been a real roller coaster ride: full of ups
and downs. At its lowest point, he was living in the streets and selling
food stamps to survive. But somehow he has managed to scratch and claw
and climb his way to the top. This Saturday, Beckham will reach the
highest peak in his life thus far when he becomes the 2003 outstanding
graduate for the California State University, Bakersfield School of
Humanities and Social Sciences.
Beckham, 29, said the fact that he's graduating and being honored is
"surreal," but in all honesty, he's not completely surprised.
"When I rolled up to the Cal State campus that first day and saw
the sign that said 'California State University,' I literally almost
started crying," Beckham said. "I told myself, 'I can't believe
I'm going to a university.' I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that
I said right then and there, 'this is my last, best chance to be the
best,' and I did it!"
Since coming to CSUB, Beckham has been acting like an outstanding graduate.
He has worked on campus as a teaching and research assistant, conducted
and presented research, delivered speeches and worked multiple jobs
to see his way through.
Now, after years of fighting to survive and then struggling through
college, Beckham has succeeded. He has completed bachelor's degrees
in English and liberal studies with honors at CSUB. But not only will
Beckham receive his degrees on Saturday, he will be addressing his mentors,
family, friends and fellow graduates as the recipient of the highest
honor a graduate can receive at CSUB.
"The last couple of weeks I've really been walking on eggshells.
I keep thinking I'm going to be hit a car of something," Beckham
quipped. "It's just so hard to believe that it's actually happening.
People like me just don't get to places like this. It's a blessing."
Each of CSUB's four schools choose outstanding graduates for each of
their departments and one overall outstanding graduate to represent
the entire school.
"When choosing an outstanding graduate for the school we look at
many things," said Marla Iyasere, dean of the School of Humanities
and Social Sciences. "We have a committee who looks at things such
as academic excellence, community service and a student's ability to
overcome adversity. Jack Beckham has not only succeeded academically,
he has excelled and succeeded at life. That alone makes him worthy of
Beckham, 29 was orphaned at age 12. His biological mother had been a
heroine addict so he lived with his grandmother until she died. He then
tried living with relatives who were incapable of caring for him and
spent his adolescence being bounced in and out of foster homes and the
Jamison Children's Center.
Despite his tumultuous life, Beckham managed to graduate from North
High School in 1992. Though he was uncertain why life had dealt him
such a dirty hand, Beckham said he always knew that education was going
to be the key that freed him from his homeless prison.
"Even when I ran away from home, the truancy officer kept picking
me up at school," Beckham said. "The officers told me they
didn't understand why I kept coming back to the school when I knew they'd
find me there. I told them that I knew that getting an education was
the only way I was going to make it."
But Beckham said he's still got a long way to go. He doesn't look at
his college degree as a "means to an end" but part of the
process of living. He's also not bitter about the way he's had to struggle
through life and uses what he calls the "gas gauge philosophy"
to explain why.
"If you have a gas gauge that's six inches wide, it can be three
inches full and three inches empty. The empty side represents the pain
and suffering in life and the fullness is the joy and happiness. You
can only experience joy to the same level you suffer. So everything
that's happened in my life has really been a blessing because all of
that set the stage for the level of joy I can experience today."
Beckham will be speaking at the CSUB School of Humanities and Social
Sciences' commencement, Saturday, June 14 at 7:15 a.m. in the CSUB Amphitheatre.
He has completed bachelors of arts degrees in English and liberal studies
and will be graduating with a 3.8 grade point average. He has received
a five-year full-tuition scholarship from the University of California,
Riverside and will begin there this fall to pursue his masters and doctorate
degrees in English.
Beckham plans to teach college and would also like to become a writer.
He currently works as a substitute teacher and a telemarketer, and as
a student assistant at CSUB.
CONTACT: Becky Zelinski, 661/664-2138, firstname.lastname@example.org
or Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456, email@example.com