The College of Arts and Letters at Cal State San Bernardino will honor students Erika Quiñonez as its Outstanding Graduate Student and Graciela Troche as its Outstanding Undergraduate Student during its commencement ceremony at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario on Saturday, June 16, at 4 p.m.

Although Quiñonez has a strong background in business, having earned her bachelor’s in business administration from Cal Poly Pomona and MBA from CSUSB, she has always had a passion for English.

“Following the advice of well-intentioned family members, I set aside aspirations to study and teach English for the more ‘practical’ and ‘stable’ route of business,” said Quiñonez, who is from San Bernardino. “While that course of study was truly invaluable, and I never regret having studied business, my interest and curiosity in the English language persisted.”

It was the death of her sister at age 38 and the realization of how short life can be that motivated her to pursue English. She will be graduating with her master’s in English composition with a concentration in applied linguistics and teaching English as a second language.

Quiñonez was also inspired by her parents, who immigrated to the United States with few possessions, but still managed to work hard and give her and her siblings a happy life.

“They are the living embodiment of the American Dream, and I can’t thank them enough for everything they so lovingly sacrificed for us,” she said.

During her graduate studies, Quiñonez learned how traditions of racism, sexism, homophobia and other institutions of social injustice have been constructed and perpetuated through language. She completed her thesis by utilizing “critical discourse analysis as a theoretical lens to carefully examine samples of discourse from news reports and presidential speeches to reveal how certain elements of language and categories of representation contribute to the construction of anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric.”

“Through the process of researching and writing for this project, I have become keenly aware of some of the ways in which language works to perpetuate the unequal distribution of power in favor of those in control of the dominant discourse,” she said.

After graduation, Quiñonez plans to continue researching and writing about the relationship between language and power.

“The CSUSB English program and the instruction of the outstanding English department faculty have truly changed who I am as a person,” she said. “Every one of the professors whose courses I had the pleasure of taking throughout this program opened my eyes to a different and exciting aspect of the English language that allowed me to perceive the world in an entirely new way.”

Quiñonez’s goals are to teach college-level English and obtain her doctorate someday. In the meantime, she will continue working at CSUSB as the stewardship and donor relations coordinator for University Development.

The Outstanding Undergraduate, Graciela Troche, who is also from San Bernardino, will graduate with her bachelor’s in communication studies with a minor in German. According to Troche, when choosing her major, communication studies was the main subject that sparked her interest.

“I loved the different forms of communication and the way in which people did it. It is not a one-way-fit-all and that really spoke to me,” she said. “After coming back from my year abroad in Germany, it really solidified my love for the study. It made me appreciate interpersonal and intercultural forms of communication much more.”

Her one-year journey abroad didn’t just confirm her interest in communication studies, it was also an accomplishment she is incredibly proud of, as it was a goal she made for herself when she was just 15 years old.  

“In that year, I was able to really understand the type of person I am and challenge myself through new experiences,” she said. “I was the only student from CSUSB that went to Germany that year; therefore, I initially spent some time with myself and discovered new things about myself.

“Being in Europe for that year encouraged and motivated me to accomplish goals I never thought possible. I believe that when I embarked on my journey to Germany, it prepared me for the remaining years I had at CSUSB and what lies ahead of me.”

Although her time in Germany had a huge impact on her, it is her mother who has truly inspired her. As a single mother raising two girls, Troche’s mother was able to go to school full time and graduate with her bachelor’s in liberal arts from CSUSB, and then her master’s from Azusa Pacific University. She has been a teacher now for 16 years.

“It is truly because of her I am here today,” Troche said. “I would not be as goal-orientated and driven if it wasn’t for this model of a woman.”

After graduation, Troche plans to take the GRE, select a graduate school, complete the C-BEST to substitute teach for the Rialto Unified School District, and continue independent research with CSUSB communication studies associate professor Mihaela Popescu, who mentored Troche during her research project last summer.  

As for long-term goals, Troche plans to become a university professor and teach courses on interpersonal and intercultural communication.

“CSUSB gave me the education I needed to be an informed critical-thinking citizen,” Troche said. “This university and all the people in it have shaped me in ways I never thought possible. It gave me opportunities that I couldn’t be more thankful for. I am so proud to soon call CSUSB my alma mater.”

For more information about CSUSB’s College of Arts and Letters, visit its website at