Students inspire during commencement season

Graduate Dean's Medalist Mialise Carney, Dean Honora Chapman and Undergraduate Dean's Medalist Lucca Lorenzi in full regalia on the Fresno State campus.

Photo: From left to right: Graduate Dean’s Medalist Mialise Carney, Dean Honora Chapman, Undergraduate Dean’s Medalist Lucca Lorenzi. Credit: Cary Edmondson

In the College of Arts and Humanities, commencement season kicks off every year with the presentation of our Students of Distinction and the naming of our graduate and undergraduate Dean’s Medalists during the “Art in Motion” ceremony. The College of Arts and Humanities’ “Arts in Motion” is the annual celebration of student excellence and reminds us of how our College’s faculty provide an excellent education that transforms lives. We acknowledge the achievements of our College’s most accomplished students. From the creative artists to the humanists, every scholarship winner and Student of Distinction reflects the experimentation, compassion and curiosity that Fresno State fosters. 

This year, on Saturday, April 15, in the Concert Hall, Mialise Carney and Lucca Lorenzi were named the 2023 Dean’s Medalists for the College of Arts and Humanities. Graduate Honorable Mentions were awarded to Mia De La Cerda, M.A. in English with an option in Literature and Sarah Theller, M.A. in Art. Undergraduate Standard Bearers were awarded to Lindsay Norton, B.A. in English Literature and B.A. in Geography, and Sunshine De Castro, B.A. in Theatre Arts Design/Technology. The standard bearers led the student procession during the college’s commencement ceremony.

Leading up to commencement, Theller received the college’s Outstanding Thesis award for her work “The Gilded Valkyrie: How Christianization and Binary Concepts Distort Interpretation of Viking Iconography.” The Gilded Valkyrie is a tiny gilt-silver figurine from Late Iron Age Scandinavia. For her thesis, she traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, to study the figure in person.

As the semester drew to a close, nine undergraduate students presented the research they conducted as part of the College of Arts and Humanities Honors program. They include Alexander Abraham, English; Jennifer Berrett, English; Sunshine De Castro, Theatre Arts; Noah Gleason, Media, Communications and Journalism; Ingrid Kreuscher, English; Neng Lestari, Interior Design; Lucca Lorenzi, Media, Communications and Journalism; Lia Najar, Art and Karla Sanchez Parra, Media, Communications and Journalism. An audience of faculty, staff and family engaged with questions after each stellar presentation.

Last week hundreds of graduates and their friends and loved ones descended on the Save Mart Center in celebration of their educational milestone. Standard Bearers Sunshine DeCastro, B.A. Theatre and Dance and Lindsay Norton, B.A. in English and Geography, led the procession as the Clendenin Brass Quintet played “Pomp and Circumstance.” 

During the College of Arts and Humanities commencement, Holly Blossom Wyatt of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians received an honorary doctor of humane letters for her efforts to preserve the Yokuts language. Wyatt is one of the last native speakers of the Yokuts language and has worked tirelessly to help document and revitalize the language, working with the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians for decades, and with the Department of Linguistics at Fresno State since 2009.

  • Clendenin Brass Quintet on stage, dressed in black in front of a red and blue backgrop.
  • Soprano and Music Department graduate Aunika Bull sings the national anthem in full regalia.
  • Dean Honora Chapman speaks at the podium in full regalia.
  • A wide shot from the back of the College of Arts and Humanities commencement shows students sitting listening as a speak talks on stage in the distance. Large screens flank the stage which has a red and blue backdrop with the campus insignia.
  • Graduate Dean's Medalist Mialise Carney sits among her pears in the English Department.
  • Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval addresses the graduates and audience in full red doctoral regalia with the cabinet behind him.
  • President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval and Dr. Niken Adisasmito-Smith hood Holly Blossom Wyatt of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians as her honorary doctorate is awarded.
  • Just hooded, President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval smiles at Dr. Holly Blossom Wyatt.
  • Dr. Holly Blossom Wyatt delivers her acceptance speech on the video video during the commencement ceremony.
  • Undergraduate Dean's Medalist Lucca Lorenzi sits among his peers during commencement.
  • Maurissio Rodriguez site at a keyboard as he prepares to perform "We Are the Champions" for the recessional.

Perhaps the most touching moment came at the end during the recessional as Maurissio Rodriguez, who had just received his B.A. in Music Performance, overcame a technical issue with the electric piano to perform his rendition of  “We Are the Champions” by Freddy Mercury as graduates and their loved ones joined to fill the Save Mart Center in a shared performance.

“We couldn’t be prouder of this year’s graduates! Each one of these artists and humanists is going to make our world a more just and beautiful place thanks to the transformative education they received here at Fresno State from our dedicated faculty,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “This year’s joyful ceremony really captured our students’ optimism and hope for a brighter future for themselves and their families.”

As the spring semester sets, we continue to find inspiration in our students. Below, you will find links to stories about our Dean’s Medalist and the graduate and undergraduate Students of Distinction from each department in the college. Each student’s story is one of overcoming adversity to reach high levels of academic success. As you read these stories, know that behind each of these inspiring people is a department full of students with similar transformational stories. As these students graduate, their stories continue as they each go out and change the world in their own ways. Now that’s inspiration for life.

Dean’s Medalists

Student of Distinction: Lucca Lorenzi

Lucca Lorenzi – Department of Media, Communications and Journalism

“I had not won an unlucky lottery, but rather, a second chance at life and an opportunity to spread the healing power of creativity.”

Student of Distinction: Mialise Carney

Student of Distinction: Mialise Carney – Department of English

“I grew up silenced and sheltered from society, but through education, community and art, I’ve discovered a place in a world I didn’t believe had space for me.”

Standard Bearers

Student of Distinction: Lindsay Norton

Lindsay Norton – Department of English

“My ultimate goal is to earn a Ph.D., eventually teaching at a university while contributing to the emerging field of Indigenous-focused environmental humanities.”

Student of Distinction - Sunshine De Castro

Sunshine De Castro – Department of Theatre and Dance

“As I enter the entertainment industry as an early career professional, I am committed to emphasizing diversity and inclusion in my work. I strive to be a voice to move the entertainment industry forward to include the perspectives and stories of many.”

Graduate Dean’s Medalist Honorable Mentions

Student of Distinction: Mia De La Cerda

Student of Distinction: Mia De La Cerda – Department of English

“At Fresno State, I, for the first time in my life, felt accepted and found a sense of belonging. I was encouraged to write poetry about the experience of farm laborers, tell the story of my grandparents and delve into topics that have been underrepresented.”

Student of Distinction: Sarah Theller

Sarah Theller – Department of Art, Design and Art History

“I seek to address how the effects of trauma and limited scopes of personhood shape identity. In both my studio work and thesis scholarship, I investigate what it means to be ‘human’ across time.”

Undergraduate Students of Distinction

Student of Distinction: Hyfa Alsahybu

Hyfa Alsahybu – Department of Art, Design and Art History

“My ultimate goal is to create an art school for children in Yemen. For them, art can serve as a means of escape, a symbol of hope, a form of self-expression, and even therapy.”

Student of Distinction: Melissa Tejeda

Melissa Tejeda – Department of Communication

“I will take all the skills obtained in my communication degree and strive for social justice and inclusivity among my peers, not only in my career but wherever life takes me.”

Student of Distinction: Icarus Bailey

Icarus Baileyy – Department of Linguistics

“I am grateful for all the skills and education I have gained here. I am excited to use those skills to give back to our community in a deeply meaningful way by preserving our Central Valley languages.”

Student of Distinction: Paulina Mendoza Sanchez

Paulina Mendoza Sanchez – Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures

“I aspire to a master’s degree in linguistics and then a doctorate because I am interested in never stopping learning so as to never stop teaching.”

Student of Distinction: Jego Canlas

Jego Canlas – Department of Music

“Finding it within myself that I want to be a teacher and mentor to students and make such an impact on them that my directors and professors have made on me is what I thrive for.”

Student of Distinction: Omar Perez

Omar Perez – Department of Philosophy

“A key takeaway from ancient philosophy is the idea that philosophy is not only a form of study; rather, it is a way of life. [D]espite facing adversities, one is still able to bloom.”

Graduate Students of Distinction

Student of Distinction: Jasmine Ibal-Nolasco

Jasmine Ibal-Nolasco – Department of Communication

“I plan to be the first person in my family with ‘Ph.D.’ after her name. I am hopeful for the new relationships that I will make in my future, and I am grateful that it has all started within the space of Fresno State.”

Student of Distinction: Julia Whelan

Julia Whelan – Department of Linguistics

“My goal is to utilize both my linguistics and TESOL degrees to further our understanding of autism from the perspective of both linguistics and education.”

Student of Distinction: Laura Cortez

Laura Cortez – Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures

“Juggling work, school, marriage life, experiencing an ectopic pregnancy and commuting two hours to attend classes while also maintaining a 4.0 GPA has been a challenge. However, in a few months, I’ll be the first one in my family to graduate with a master’s degree, and I couldn’t be prouder of myself.”

Student of Distinction: Jordan Pulido

Jordan Pulido – Department of Music

“Jordan is very passionate about his art and has a strong desire to share that passion with not only his current colleagues but future music students.” ~ Dr. Cari Earnhart.

2023 Arts in Motion Program

NOTE: Please download PDF for the accessible version

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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