Derek Mkhaiel, master’s in English composition, is the Outstanding Graduate Student, and Luis Esparza, bachelor’s in communication, is the Outstanding Undergraduate.

Cal State San Bernardino’s College of Arts and Letters will recognize Derek Mkhaiel, its Outstanding Graduate Student, and Luis Esparza, its Outstanding Undergraduate Student, at its 2017 commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 17.

The college’s ceremony, which will be held jointly with the university’s College of Education, will begin at noon at Citizens Business Bank Arena, 4000 E. Ontario Center Parkway in Ontario. Parking at the arena will be $5 in lots A, B, C and D. Patrons are encouraged to bring exact change.

Mkhaiel, a first-generation student who will graduate with his master’s in English composition, believes English studies has a lot to offer humanity.

“The moral and ethical lessons that can be learned from literature and rhetoric are invaluable,” said Mkhaiel, who lives in Moreno Valley. “Composition studies allows me to assist new college students navigating the university and to develop their ability to use their voice in a critical manner in order to express their thoughts and ideas to a public sphere — hopefully — in a compelling manner.”

When he started his journey in higher education, and in an effort to please his father, Mkhaiel was on track to become a pharmacist. After studying biology for more than two years, however, he realized he was unhappy and switched to English.

“I realized that doing what I’m passionate about is most important,” said Mkhaiel, “and now I can make sure to emphasize that to other students — we can’t all be doctors, engineers and architects.”

Since he changed his major, Mkhaiel was able to become a research assistant for one of his mentors, Jacqueline Rhodes, an associate professor in the English department. During the quarter-long job, he researched object-oriented ontology and its potential implications for rhetorical studies.

This fall, Mkhaiel will attend Michigan State University to pursue his Ph.D. in rhetoric and writing with a concentration in cultural rhetoric. He hopes to create a greater awareness and understanding of the complex cultural aspects of the Middle East.

“My immediate future project is to interview Syrian refugees in Lebanon in order to allow a space for their narrative to flourish about the material conditions of their existence, so that we may have a greater understanding of their existential crises,” said Mkhaiel.

Once he completes his Ph.D., Mkhaiel hopes to become a professor at an R1 institution.

Esparza, a resident of Colton who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication, also hopes to become a professor, but in the communication field. Although he has a clear focus of what he would like to do with his career, he initially chose to study communication for its “wide selection of career opportunities.”

Studying communication also gave Esparza the chance to research topics such as anti-colonial theories and lost epistemologies. Additionally, it gave him the chance to win the Outstanding Undergraduate Award, which he says is the accomplishment he is most proud of.

As for challenges, according to Esparza, his biggest hardship during college has been coming out as a gay man. Although he had difficulty doing so, he had the support of his mentor, Liliana Gallegos, an assistant professor in the communication studies department. According to Esparza, Gallegos, as well as his parents, are who inspire him the most.

After graduating from CSUSB, Esparza plans on attending grad school to pursue his master’s degree.

CSUSB will hold three other commencement ceremonies on June 17: The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at 8 a.m., the College of Business and Public Administration at 4 p.m. and the College of Natural Sciences at 8 p.m.

All of the commencement ceremonies at Citizens Business Bank Arena will be webcast live on the Creative Media Services webcast page.

For more information about the June 2017 graduations, visit the CSUSB Commencement website or contact the Office of Special Events and Guest Services at (909) 537-7360.

For more information about Cal State San Bernardino, contact the university’s Office of Strategic Communication at (909) 537-5007 and visit