Associated Students Inc. President Ashley Schmidt had several multicolored cords, stoles and pins draped around her, representing the organizations she has been involved with at Cal State Bakersfield.

Honors societies, Outstanding Student, Greek life, student government, LGBTQA Lavender ceremony. You name it, she's done it.

"It feels like I'm leaving a family," she said, as she looked down at her accessories.

Each one represented "memories, experiences and friendships" made at CSUB, and as she becomes an alumna, she encourages all incoming students to find clubs and activities they are passionate about to make fond memories of their own.

"Get involved, hit the ground running, because you learn so much inside the classroom, but these experiences help you learn a lot about who you are as an individual," she said.

A record number of students became CSUB alumni during the university's 49th commencement ceremony, which began at 7:30 a.m. at the Main Soccer Field. The university awarded 2,312 bachelor’s degrees, a 28 percent increase from the 1,806 undergraduate degrees awarded last year, according to a news release. More than 1,600 students participated in Friday's ceremony.

Student veterans and a "tsunami" of first-generation college graduates, as CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny described it during her address, were also recognized.

"I can feel the pride of your families and friends," she said.

A hooding ceremony for 335 graduate students was held Wednesday, and 462 graduate degrees were awarded, including 12 doctoral degrees in educational leadership, the university's first class of doctoral students.

At 6:30 a.m., Zelezny was in her office thinking about her own graduation.

"I remember at the time thinking about what was ahead and thinking about the opportunities the CSU system had afforded me," she said, while putting on her academic regalia. "When I graduated with my master's degree from Humboldt State, I had worked every day after."

The day was extra special for her because it was her first class of graduating students since taking over the presidency in July 2018.

"I'm very bonded to this first group, and I know so many by name and face," she said. "I've just been very exhilarated with them."

Guests began pouring into the Main Soccer Field at 5:30 a.m., which holds 11,500. No tickets were issued this year, but overflow seating was available at the Icardo Center and Student Recreation Center.

Several vendors were set up on the field, including a blended ice coffee booth. Jimena Rocha, who was standing in line for coffee, said the morning graduation was "not too early" for her. Others thought it was a good compromise for a typically long ceremony.

"Usually the weather is a problem and it's a long commencement, so it's good it's early, but also it's early," said Alex Calderon, chuckling. "I do feel bad for the people who have to drive far to get here, though."

As graduates were preparing to walk to the main stage, it was hard to tell graduates had been up since before 5 a.m. Many were bursting with excitement while celebrating the last moments they had with classmates.

"Going through college, it doesn't even seem like this moment will come," said Haley Shorr, who was the selected Outstanding Student for the economics department. "Now that it's here, I don't feel like it's real."

Many realized this past week was full of many lasts: classes, finals and moments to be a CSUB Roadrunner.

"I was sitting in a room yesterday where I've been doing my homework and projects and writing assignments for the past four years and realized, 'This is the last time I'm going to sit here,'" economics major Dania Martinez said. "It was so overwhelming."

Students were already thinking about what lies ahead after graduation. Criminal justice major Anibal Gutierrez said he is planning on enrolling in the Army, while his friend Frank Zavaleta, a psychology major, will be working as a social worker and will pursue a master's degree in social work in the fall. Lupita Lopez, who majored in business administration/small business management, will work with her mother in her bakery.

Shorr simply said, "Who knows! I'm taking life where it goes."  

The university also awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to social justice advocate Jane Elliott and Jon Van Boening, a CSUB alumnus and senior vice president of operations for Dignity Health’s Central California service area, the 16th and 17th recipients, respectively, of the honor.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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