Every spring, the CSU celebrates the graduation of more than 100,000 students, some of whom face unique challenges on their path to higher education. Their stories of perseverance and determination to earn a degree are inspiring. Here are just a few of their stories:

Isabel Bueso – CSU East Bay

Isabel Bueso will graduate this June with her bachelor’s degree in sociology but, when she was born, doctors didn’t even expect her to live past seven years. The 22-year-old CSU East Bay student was born with a rare genetic disorder that stunts growth and is accompanied by various other disabling side effects, including paralysis. 

But Bueso continues to exceed doctors’ expectations, not only attending college, but excelling in class and becoming a leader on her campus. She was instrumental in bringing “Rare Disease Day” to campus, an annual event that funds scholarships for the Rare Disease Scholarship Fund.

Bueso also acted as director of Associated Students, Inc. (ASI), organizing social and academic activities designed to engage and unite students, and continues to inspire others through her work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. 

“I’ve opened doors for any student with a disability or who is afraid to get involved,” she said. “I hope kids look at me and say, if she can do it, then so can I.”


Aimeé Green – Sacramento State

Sacramento State student Aimeé Green was finishing the last semester of her undergraduate career when she and her boyfriend were involved in a car crash – a crash she now calls “a blessing.” After undergoing precautionary brain-imaging tests, doctors discovered Green had a tumor above her right ear.

Although her neurosurgeon wanted to operate quickly, Green decided to put the surgery on hold so that she could focus on her studies. Despite the anxiety and potential health risks she faced by postponing the surgery, Green decided it was more important to her to stay on track to graduation.

“I’ve worked so hard for this, to get to this point,” says Green. “I want to walk at graduation.”

Green says that following graduation, she plans to pursue a career in social work, a field she has been passionate about since childhood, having been taken in and raised by her grandparents at three years old. 

“If it wasn’t for them, we would’ve been put into the system and maybe been split up,” says Green. “Not everyone has family like my grandparents in their life, and I want to be that person for others.”


Dwaine Collier – CSU San Marcos

CSU San Marcos student Dwaine Collier bounced back and forth between family members and foster care for much of his childhood, attending 17 different schools before he even reached high school. Despite the setbacks, though, Collier graduated this May with a degree in visual performing arts.

Collier credits CSUSM’s ACE Scholars Services, a program designed to open doors to higher education for former foster youth, with helping him to realize his potential. The CSU has similar programs available on each of its 23 campuses. 

Collier became immersed in campus activities, becoming a mentor for other former foster youth, earning lead roles in several campus productions, competing in sports activities and being part of the student improv team. 

Last summer, Collier performed in his first professional production, “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” at Ion Theater in San Diego. Following his graduation, Dwaine plans to study fine arts in graduate school with the ultimate goal of becoming a professional actor.

“Being on stage, there’s an energy I get, a goose-bumps feeling,” says Collier. “The stage is one of the realest places you can ever be because you have one shot at everything.”

Read his full story here: https://news.csusm.edu/dwaine-collier/

Shaela Warkentin – Fresno State

Fresno State student Shaela Warkentin lost her sight in a car accident when she was just 15 years old. Warkentin surprised doctors with the speed at which she returned to class despite losing her sight and suffering a brain injury, but she was determined to continue her education. 

Warkentin quickly learned to walk with a cane and her guide dog, Lennox, as well as use screen readers, audio books and Braille to learn. She also had a large network of family and friends behind her. In fact, her father, Ken, became executive director of the nonprofit Valley Center for the Blind in Fresno to advocate for her and other blind people.

When Warkentin first enrolled in classes at Fresno State, her father attended classes with her, but she soon learned to be independent and lean on classmates when she needed help. She also received assistance from the university’s Services for Students with Disabilities center, which taught her how to use technology to help with her studies.

Seven years after her accident, at just 23 years old, Warkentin graduated this May with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a minor in child development. She says she plans to get her master’s degree in clinical psychology because she wants to help others the way her psychologist did following her own accident.


Mohammed Al Rawi – Cal State LA

Mohammed Al Rawi’s education was put on hold when war broke out in his hometown of Baghdad, Iraq, when he was just a young man, but this May, Al Rawi graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Al Rawi has worked with technology all of his adult life, running an internet café and helping to found the Los Angeles Times’ Baghdad bureau in Iraq. Following many attacks on his life, he and his family were relocated to Long Beach in 2010 through a government program.

During his junior year at Cal State LA, Al Rawi led a design project that built a geographical archive system for the Los Angeles County Public Library, leading to a partnership between Cal State LA and the county of Los Angeles that recruits students to help with the county’s technological needs.

After graduation, Al Rawi will continue his work with the County of L.A.’s Department of Parks and Recreation, where he oversees technology responsible for finding lost hikers and preventing drownings.


Special thanks to CSU writers and photographers Brian Hiro, Barbara Tannenbaum, Garvin Tso, Madeline Tondi, Dixie Reid, Jessica Vernone, Andrea Price and Geoff Thurner