The College of Arts and Letters will honor at its 2021 virtual Spring Commencement Loydie Burmah and Miguel Angel Romera-Alvarez as its Outstanding Graduate Students, and Cheyenne Herbert and Adam Shimp as its Outstanding Undergraduate Students.

All four students will receive their degrees at the college’s virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 22, as face-to-face ceremonies have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burmah, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga, will graduate with a master’s degree in communication studies. Academically, she wants to get a Ph.D. within communication studies and eventually become a professor.

As a student researcher, Burmah is investigating cancel culture for her thesis. Other research she has done includes studying the creation of personal feeds via social media, and a comparative analysis of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina to understand American mainstream media perspectives about different cultures within the Black diaspora.

A proud first-generation of Haitian and Liberian descent, she credits her parents with being her inspiration.

“They always communicated their support and continue to remind me that I can do anything I set my heart, mind, and intentions to. Moreover, to always do my best and persevere no matter what challenges arise,” Burmah said. “I never forget how my parents’ respective journeys led to this very present moment I occupy now. We may have never had much, but they did their absolute best to provide. So, I do what I can to ensure that I return to them what they were able to give me.”

She considers communication studies assistant professor Liliana Conlisk-Gallegos as one of her mentors.

“She’s been an integral part of my journey not only as a student but overall individual. She supported me throughout my most difficult moments, and always did what she could to connect me to resources, experiences, etc. that would enhance my growth,” Burmah said.

Her proudest accomplishment is graduating with a master’s degree in communication studies. Early in the program she struggled as she tried to deal with different pressures from work, family, and even at the institution itself. That eventually led to her being removed from the program, which left her devasted.

She essentially suffered in silence not telling anyone in her community, particularly her mentor.

“Once I told her, she did everything in her power to ensure that not only I received the proper resources and help necessary, but my official reinstatement into the program. That within itself, was an arduous journey,” Burmah said. “Nonetheless, once I started again, I never stopped advancing – despite hardships reoccurring.”

To get through school, Burmah said she worked three to four jobs at a time and still didn’t earn much to sustain herself and her family with at times having barely enough to eat, or not enough to cover rent/utilities and even facing homelessness. “But, we managed and still manage to be ok! So, while certain difficulties tend to be persistent in nature, I’ve learned to navigate them to the best of my abilities,” Burmah said.

She said CSUSB has been a part of her life since 2011.

“I established so many connections here with folks that I wholeheartedly consider family. I learned about, challenged, as well as enhanced my knowledge and skills,” Burmah said. “If there’s anything I know for certain, no matter where I’m at, I’ll be sure to serve others just as CSUSB has done for me.” 

Miguel Angel Romera-Alvarez, who lives in Claremont, graduates with a master’s degree in Spanish. He plans to go on to earn a Ph.D. in Spanish with the ultimate goal of teaching Spanish at a local college.

Romera-Alvarez said he has always loved the Spanish language. Growing up in Spain, his childhood was wrapped up in the music of the radio that accompanied the willful voice of his mother, Alicia, and the rhymed sense of humor of his father, Elias, after a long work day.

“The verses and their cadenced rhymes in Spanish were always around. Everything I am and what I wanted to be derives from there,” he said. “When I was in elementary school I had a little notebook and I wrote down all the proverbs and popular sayings that I heard. My intention was to create my own dictionary.”

He said he was inspired by his wife of 26 years, Paula, who always supported him and believed in him. She encouraged him to go back to school after working 25 years. “I would have never taken the first step without her encouragement,” he said. He attended the Instituto Virgen de Gracia in Granada, Spain before transferring to CSUSB.

He considers Spanish professor Rafael Correa to be his mentor. Correa “was the first person to open his door to me and welcome me,” he said. “A magnificent instructor, he opened my eyes to the great diversity of the Spanish language and cultures in America.”

He said completing his master’s degree and being named the Outstanding Graduate Student to be his proudest accomplishment.

At the same time, coming to college was a hardship.

“Starting from scratch at 42 years old was an enormous challenge and took a lot of courage. I finished high school at 17 and hadn’t stepped foot in a classroom as a learner in over 25 years. My will was there but I needed to make a lot of extra effort to re-activate my study skills, learn new research and writing skills, and needless to say, improve my computer skills,” Romera-Alvarez said. “I was at a deficit compared to my much younger peers and I did a lot of hard work to catch up quickly. I persisted and my confidence grew every day and every semester and now I live by the motto ‘Nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena.’” (It’s never too late if the happiness is good.)

He credits CSUSB for helping him adapt and integrate into the United States.

“I had a good base knowledge of U.S. culture and society but after my time at CSUSB, I have come to appreciate the great variety of world cultures, ethnicities and influences that make this land so special,” Romera-Alvarez said. “I believe that respecting and caring for this diversity is our future and mine as well.”

Cheyenne Herbert, who lives in Banning, will receive a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with plans to attend law school while obtaining a master’s degree and ultimately becoming a lawyer.

She considers her mother her biggest inspiration. “She has always been a strong and independent single mother that made sure to instill the importance of education into my life,” she said.

Herbert also has high praise as an inspiration and mentor for philosophy assistant professor Eric Bayruns-Garcia. “His approach to education highlights communities that are often neglected and wishes to change that trajectory,” she said.

Her proudest moment was completing her bachelor’s degree with a high GPA.

“It has not been an easy journey,” she said, “but it has made me into who I am today.”

But her toughest time was getting through community college to make it to CSUSB.

“It was not easy to navigate through community college. I was largely unprepared from high school and went into the process without guidance of how to work through the required courses,” Herbert said. “It took many years to get to a point that I could transfer to a university and I almost gave up after a few deaths in my family.”

But she said coming to CSUSB made the difference.

“CSUSB helped me find an academic community that I finally belonged to. This gave me the courage and knowledge to be able to pursue my future goals of becoming a lawyer,” Herbert said. “I am now ready to continue on in education with the confidence to accomplish anything that is in my path.”

Adam Shimp, who lives in Desert Hot Springs, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English. He plans on moving into a master’s program, preferably one that focuses on literature and pedagogical theory with the goal of becoming an English professor at a community college.

“I’ve always enjoyed reading, as well, and English let me do more of that ... maybe a bit too much, if I’m honest,” Shimp said. “I wasn't originally super passionate about the field, but I’ve grown to love the classroom, and the air of discussion between professor and student, which is why I stuck with English.”

He said English lecturer Stephen Lehigh has been a great help as his mentoring professor for the English department’s honors project. “I appreciate that he is always willing to play devil’s advocate, and how that helps push me to consider things I hadn’t before,” he said.

But one of the toughest things he faced was dealing with the pandemic.

“I’m sure that this belongs to more than just me, but COVID was a big hurdle to overcome. I’m a homebody, so I didn’t mind not being able to go out so much, but I didn’t anticipate how much I would miss the classroom, or how it would make things harder to get finished when I didn’t have that ritual of going to class to build my day around,” Shimp said. “There was also the creeping worry that I was taking too long. I started college later than the typical immediately after high school, and then took non-standard course loads. I’m not regretting it now, though.”

He credited coming to CSUSB as helping him develop his future plans.

“Taking some of the required courses here is what got me more interested in literary theory, and also opened up the possibility of working at a smaller, side-school to a larger campus,” Shimp said. “Originally, I was dedicated to community college exclusively, but I’ve since opened my field of interest somewhat.”