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Class of 2013 graduates from SSU

Undergraduate students cheer as their school is introduced during the morning commencement exercises at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park on May 11, 2013.

ALVIN JORNADA/Press Democrat
Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 9:03 p.m.

Enduring one final test — a two-hour ceremony under a hot sun — about 1,000 Sonoma State University students celebrated their graduation Saturday afternoon on the Rohnert Park campus.

Shade was scarce but spirits were high as a standing-room-only crowd packed Commencement Lawn for the liberal arts-oriented state college's 51st graduation ceremony.

“Black gowns on a hot day — not a good mix,” said Simonne Fortier of Sacramento, who earned a bachelor's degree in criminology.

But Fortier, who said she would like to work as a criminal profiler, said the ceremony was “a lot of fun.”

“It's finally over,” she said. “I'm excited.”

While Fortier doesn't know what's next in her life, fellow graduate Chase Takajo of San Diego, who picked up a degree in geography, starts a job at the Sonoma County Water Agency in July.

The degree took five years, but Takajo, wearing a purple flower lei around his neck, said it “definitely was worth it.”

“He's a great kid,” said Julie Takajo, a beaming mother.

“He has his moments,” teased sister Jaimie Takajo, who is working on an MBA at San Diego State University.

“I'm very proud of him,” she said.

The afternoon ceremony was for students in SSU's Schools of Social Science and Science and Technology. A morning ceremony awarded degrees to students in the Schools of Education, Arts and Humanities, and Business and Economics.

SSU President Ruben Armiñana said the 2,200-member Class of 2013 joined a pool of 53,000 students who have received bachelor's and master's degrees since the first commencement in 1962.

In contrast to the toasty weather, keynote speaker Alison Levine described her experiences scaling Mt. Everest and skiing to the North and South Poles, saying the lessons she learned in such hostile environments are applicable to life in “very extreme times.”

Acknowledging her own trepidation in negotiating the deadly Khumbu Icefall on Everest, Levine told the grads that “fear is okay ... complacency is what will kill you.”

“Don't ever beat yourself up for feeling intimidated,” said Levine, an adventurer and former Wall Street investment banker who now serves as an adjunct professor at the United States Military Academy.

Levine said she was driven to the top of Everest in 2010, as team captain of the first American Women's Everest Expedition, drawing confidence from her failure to reach the 29,029-foot summit in 2002.

Levine admitted that she cannot remember anything about her own college graduation ceremony more than 25 years ago, partly because she “set a record to tequila shots the night before.”

In her parting comments, Levine said the journey is more important than the triumph at the summit, exhorting the grads to “get out there and bring it, you guys.”

Camille Fiori, a Rohnert Park native who graduated from Rancho Cotate High School in 2009, got her degree in sociology on Saturday. Graduate school at Sacramento State is next, but her career plans are unclear.

“It's a hard question,” said Fiori, holding a bouquet of peach-colored roses.

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