Fresno State hosts in-person graduation ceremony

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- 1,200 Fresno State bulldogs are officially graduates. The university held the first of six graduation ceremonies on Friday morning.

This ceremony was significant. Since there was no graduation last year, Friday's ceremony was for the class of 2021 and the class of 2020, but it wasn't quite the same in stands.

Due to current health guidelines, graduates and attendees noticed some changes to the ceremony but say it was still just as special.

With masks and social distancing, over a thousand Fresno State graduates had the change to finally turn their tassel.

"I woke up thinking it was going to be a great experience but I didn't think I was going to get emotional," said graduate Lizebeth Cortez Villa.

Villa is the first generation of her family to graduate college. She said she and her fellow classmates didn't know if this day would come.

"As soon as I heard the music and started walking I started getting teary-eyed," added Villa. "I didn't realize how much it meant to me."

Deans medalist Dr. Hank Gutierrez shared the same fears.

"We didn't know if we would have a graduation but that didn't stop us, we persevered," said Deans Medalist Dr. Hank Gutierrez. "We're a tight group of students."

When they heard plans for Friday's graduation were in the works it was a light at the end of the tunnel.
"That just helped us finish strong," said Gutierrez. "It really did help us finish strong knowing that we were going to celebrate today."

He says the challenges the past year represented made it all the more meaningful.

"I want to thank Fresno State because they took a chance on the right kid," said Gutierrez. "I started my careers at Fresno State with a 2.0 GPA and here I am as the Deans Medalist with a 4.0 graduating with the highest honors."

The class of 2021 has over 6,000 graduates joined by 6,000 who completed their studies in 2020.

Keynote speaker Lynda Resnick also had a surprise for students.

She announced a $1 million fund she and her husband Stewart Resnick are establishing. Known as the 'Wonderful Butterfly Project', it gives $500 to the first 2,000 graduates who complete two days of community service.

It's meant to inspire students to get involved in community service.

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