Until Next Time
Finish In Four is a great goal; my journey took a little longer
"Something was missing, and as my son and daughter earned their college degrees, it became clear: With the finish line in sight, I had stopped short, and it bothered me."
To a transfer student from a relatively small town, Sacramento State in the late 1970s was a big-city place with smart instructors, interesting people, lots of trees, and opportunity. I planned to enjoy my time here, graduate, and pursue a career in journalism.
But I skipped a step.
Just a few units shy of my bachelor’s degree, I was offered the sports editor position at a local newspaper. Getting a journalism job was the reason I was attending college, so I put the quest for a degree out of my mind, though maybe not out of my heart.
Five years passed and I was back in Redding, fulfilling my childhood desire to write for my hometown paper. Then it was 10 years, and I was at The Sacramento Bee, married to a former classmate who earned her bachelor’s in Journalism at Sac State that same semester I dropped out.
A couple more professional stops, and I was looking back on a long, successful communications career.
Something was missing, and as my son and daughter earned their college degrees, it became clear: With the finish line in sight, I had stopped short, and it bothered me.
Maybe I wanted to know firsthand how it felt to go through Commencement, the joy and satisfaction I saw in my kids when they accepted their diplomas. Maybe it was realizing that dropping out was at odds with what I’d been taught. Maybe it was just being the only one in the family without a degree.
But then I was back at the University, a late-career jump-start as Sac State’s News and Communications director. It was a dream job, but also a daily Green & Gold reminder that, proud though I was of this University and my place in it, I couldn’t call myself a graduate.
Something more came into focus, though: I had a chance to fill in the educational blank spot from four decades earlier. Not because my life had suffered for it or because the outside world cared one way or the other, but because it was an imperative, something pulling hard at me.
My boss, Jeannie Wong, the senior associate vice president of University Communications, brought it up about the time my position in her department became permanent. Just do it, she urged. We’ll figure out scheduling. She mentioned it to Ed Mills, VP for Student Affairs, and he offered his assistance. People such as Noelle McCurley from Student Affairs Administration and Joanna Sampanis from the Registrar’s Office answered my questions, provided guidance, and worked hard on my behalf, helping me through the process of becoming a student again.
And then I was back in class, carrying six units in two spring semester courses. My professors, Diego Bonilla and Fred Molitor, brought to each class the kind of enthusiasm and inspiring expertise – as well as personal style – that I found engaging. They were patient, considerate, exacting in their academic expectations, and unfailingly kind.
With urging and help from Ms. Sampanis and Communication Studies Chair Gerri Smith, I took my final class during the Summer 2019 session, a writing-intensive history course taught online by Dr. Candace Gregory.
And like that, I was done. When I mentioned it to University President Robert S. Nelsen, he generously offered an enthusiastic high-five.
Others were similarly congratulatory, perhaps happy that at a University offering programs such as ProjectAttain! and several other avenues toward degree completion, I might be a decent example of success. In fact, an increasing number of students return every year and complete their degrees, a serious point of pride for the University and a significant benefit for a region that depends heavily on Sac State graduates.
Though very personal, my success in attaining this degree pulses with an energy generated only by an institution and its people living up to a calling – giving their help and support unbidden but with great care and precision.
Completing a process that began at Sac State in 1977 falls a little outside the prescriptions of the University’s Finish In Four and Through In Two initiatives, both successfully boosting on-time graduation rates well ahead of California State University’s Graduation 2025 goals. But, while it took me 40 years longer than planned, it happened, showing clearly how seriously Sac State takes its mission.
I can only say how much I look forward to seeing you at Commencement next spring. And to Sac State and the people here, thanks.