40 Years Later, Alumni Walk in Commencement

May, 2017

Graduation is always a special day. This year, commencement was especially meaningful for two alumni, who participated decades after they finished their educations at HSU.

Jesse Garcia (’75, Wildlife) and Valerie Chelseth (’76, Psychology) were among the 1,700+ graduates who participated in Commencement last month.

Garcia missed his graduation ceremony because work had taken him to the Siuslaw National Forest near Mapleton, Ore. After Garcia’s time in Oregon, he worked in Ft. Collins, Colo., and later joined the California Fish and Wildlife Department in 1980 as a wildlife biologist in California’s Sonoran Desert. He is still working for the Department, now in Sacramento, coordinating the statewide American black bear and wild pig management programs. Throughout that time his connection to HSU was never severed.

Garcia was at last year’s Homecoming & Family Weekend for an annual reunion of his Maple Hall roommates, which included Chelseth, when he reached out to Forever Humboldt about participating in this year’s graduation ceremony. As it turns out, graduates who missed their chance to walk can come back and take part in future graduation ceremonies, and Forever Humboldt’s staff made sure the pair had the opportunity this year.

Garcia says it was a chance to take part in something he didn’t think he’d miss at the time. “That was foolish young man’s thinking—my family would’ve liked to have seen it.” His wife, his two sons, his daughter-in-law, his grandson, and a few college buddies joined Garcia in the bowl. “It was very special. Everybody had ear to ear grins,” he says.

Chelseth says commencement just slipped away from her—she was married at the time and working in Humboldt County with developmentally challenged adults. Afterward she went on to be the transportation supervisor for the Humboldt County Office of Education before choosing to explore her spirituality and serving as a minister in her church. She eventually moved to Southern California to pursue a career in law enforcement.

These days, she resides in Shingle Springs, on a plot of land called My Sister's Farm that she shares with her two sisters. However, looking back on her HSU experience, she was missing part of the HSU puzzle.

During the ceremony for the College of Professional Studies, Chelseth was able to complete the circle of her education, sharing the moment with her sisters and her college friends, including Garcia.

“It was very touching and very fun,” she says. “I looked at the ceremony from a different perspective and I really listened to what everyone was saying. I know I wouldn't have back in 1976,” she says with a laugh.