First-generation graduates to keynote

Hundreds earning advanced Cal Lutheran degrees

Gema Sanchez, who is receiving a doctorate in higher education leadership, will speak on behalf of her fellow doctoral graduates. 

(THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – May 9, 2019) Two first-generation college students who found their career paths as undergraduates at California Lutheran University will speak on behalf of more than 500 people picking up advanced degrees at the 2019 Graduate Commencement on Friday, May 17.

The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. in William Rolland Stadium on the Thousand Oaks campus.

An estimated 524 students are eligible to receive master’s degrees and about 22 will receive doctorates at the ceremony. 

Gema Sanchez, who is receiving a doctorate in higher education leadership, will speak on behalf of her fellow doctoral graduates. One of nine children of Mexican immigrants and an English-learner in a low-income household, Sanchez was told she wouldn’t finish high school. After graduating from Hueneme High School and changing her major several times at Cal Lutheran, she discovered a passion for education as a volunteer at the university’s Fredrickson Family Early Childhood Center. She earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies to prepare to enter the field. Since then, the Port Hueneme resident has amassed nearly 15 years of experience in education. She now serves as an academic counselor at Ventura College, where she is particularly focused on supporting the educational goals of underrepresented students. Seven of her siblings also graduated from college, becoming the first generation in their family to do so.

Andrew Castro of Santa Clarita will speak on behalf of the students receiving master’s degrees. A first-generation college student, he discovered a passion for helping college students while earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology and working for three years as a resident assistant at Cal Lutheran. He went on to serve as a graduate resident director and graduate intern in Student Support Services while earning a master’s degree in counseling and college student personnel. Striving to create an inclusive environment that facilitates holistic growth and development, Castro has engaged students in learning outside of the traditional classroom setting. He also has advocated for students during three years of service on the Graduate and Professionals Student Council and one year on the Board of Regents. He will start his career as coordinator for residence life and student conduct at Cal Lutheran.

Cal Lutheran offers programs for about 1,300 graduate students through the School of Management, Graduate School of Education and Graduate School of Psychology in Thousand Oaks, Woodland Hills, Westlake Village, Oxnard, Santa Maria, Austria and online. 

Tickets are required for admission. For more information, call the Office of Academic Affairs at 805-493-3364 or visit