Commencement 2016

SSU Congratulates More Than 2,000 Graduates in 55th Commencement Ceremonies on May 21
May 17, 2016
grad cap reading "to infinity and beyond"

Sonoma State University will award degrees to more than 2,000 graduates of the Class of 2016 at its 55th annual commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 21. This is Ruben Armiñana's 24th and final commencement, as he will retire from his position as President of Sonoma State University on June 30. The event historically draws more than 10,000 people to the Commencement Lawn on the Rohnert Park campus. Ceremonies will be held rain or shine. A video broadcast of the ceremony will be streamed live Saturday on campus in the Student Center and Seawolf Plaza and will be available for viewing online at

Schedule of Ceremonies:

9 a.m.-noon: School of Science and Technology, School of Social Sciences

3-6 p.m.: School of Education, School of Arts and Humanities, School of Business and Economics

Keynote Speaker

This year's commencement speaker is U.S. Army veteran and Sonoma State University alumnus Dan Nevins.

After losing both his legs when an improvised explosive device detonated beneath his vehicle in 2004, Nevins discovered his passion for yoga and became a spokesman for Wounded Warrior Project. In May 2008, he was awarded the George C. Lang Award for Courage, the highest honor bestowed by Wounded Warrior Project, for being an inspiration to his peers and the warriors he serves.

He successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010 with two of his fellow wounded veterans and continues to challenge himself and others both physically and mentally through a variety of sports, a determined yoga practice, his speaking and his teaching.

Nevins is passionate about the life changing power of yoga, mindfulness and meditation as a result of his own personal journey with yoga to combat the invisible wounds of war he was dealing with long after his physical wounds had healed. Today, he travels the country giving speeches and teaching yoga to fellow veterans. 

Banner Carriers

Each of Sonoma State University's five schools selects a student as its banner carrier for the annual commencement ceremony. The banner carriers are students who have made significant contributions to their major department and their school. This year's banner carriers are: Olivia Smith (Arts and Humanities); Eresa Puch (Business & Economics); Rachel Lynn Burwell (Education); Megan Humphrey (Science and Technology); and James Owen (Social Sciences).

School: Arts and Humanities

Student: Olivia Smith

Major: BA in English (concentration in Literature, minor in Criminal Justice Studies)

About Olivia: As the Associated Students Arts and Humanities Senator in 2015-16, Olivia promoted the opportunity for student artists to display their art in the Student Center, where selected pieces now selected hang. She also collaborated on a Sexual Violence Lecture within the School of Arts and Humanities. She was Transfer Orientation Leader in 2015, welcoming new students to Sonoma State. Her participation in student government has inspired a future in education, and she plans on becoming a high school English teacher. Ultimately, she would like to hold an educational leadership position in the North Bay.

School: Business and Economics

Student: Eresa Puch

Degree: Executive MBA

About Eresa: Eresa exemplifies many of the qualities sought in EMBA students. She is professional and respectful in her interactions with students and faculty; she volunteers in the community; and she maintained strong academic standards while working full-time and raising young children. She also stands out as a first generation immigrant who has achieved success through hard work and education, holding herself to high standards.

School: Education

Student: Rachel Lynn Burwell

Degree: MA in Education (concentration in Special Education)

About Rachel: Rachel exemplifies intellectual curiosity, analytical thinking, and a relentless pursuit of research-based teaching practices that can make her students with special needs more successful in school. Students with disabilities often struggle to regulate emotions and maintain friendships with peers. Her Master's project, "The Magnitude of Lunch Bunch," explores the impact that Lunch Bunch, a social skills lunch group, had on a group of fifth grade boys. School of Education faculty were impressed with the way she has connected the research from her coursework at Sonoma State with the pedagogies she uses in her own elementary school special education teaching.

School: Science & Technology

Student: Megan Humphrey

Degree: BS in Biology (concentration in Molecular, Cell Biology, and Physiology)

About Megan: Megan has demonstrated impressive leadership skills and has been an incredible role model and advocate for her fellow biology majors. She presented her research on "The Role of Thioredoxin in Oxidation-Reduction Regulation" at the annual University Research Symposium this year. It is the hope that by understanding the function and regulation of Thioredoxin expression in immune cells, we will gain a better understanding of how these destructive oxidants can cause disease. She plans on attending UC Davis School of Medicine to pursue her dream of becoming a pediatrician.

School: Social Sciences

Student: James Owen

Degree: BA in Political Science

About James: James has worked tirelessly to enhance student involvement in, and understanding of, politics. He is a founding member of the Sonoma State chapter of Common Cause and has worked closely with Students For Quality Education (SQE) to educate students about the issues involved in the potential (but ultimately averted) faculty strike in April 2016. He also served as a teaching assistant for the Holocaust Lecture Series, a course that explores the intellectual and ethical aspects of the Holocaust and other genocides and seeks to deepen students' understanding of political leadership and democratic participation. He graduates "With Distinction" as awarded by department faculty.

Cultural Graduation Ceremonies

Sonoma State is hosting cultural graduation ceremonies prior to the May 21 commencement ceremonies, including Raza Grad, Black Grad, API (Asian Pacific Islander) Grad, and Rainbow Grad (LGBTQ).

A reception follows the individual ceremonies, welcoming all cultural graduation participants, friends, allies and families to celebrate this momentous occasion with a dinner buffet and performances from ensembles representing the different cultures in attendance.

Rainbow Grad
Thursday, May 19, 5-7 p.m., Student Center Ballroom

Raza Grad
Friday, May 20, 2-4 p.m., Weill Hall in the Green Music Center

Black Grad
Friday, May 20, 4-5:30 p.m., Student Center Ballroom

API Grad
Friday, May 20, 4-5:30 p.m., The Cooperage

Cultural Graduation Reception (with refreshments and entertainment)
Friday, May 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Student Center Ballroom

Social Media

The official commencement hashtag is #SonomaState. Check out Sonoma State University on Facebook, Twitter (@SSU_1961) and Instagram (@SonomaStateUniversity) for updates and to follow the day's events.

For further information, visit the commencement website at


Media Contact

Nicolas Grizzle