San Marcos,
15:02 PM

CSUSM to Award Three Honorary Degrees

Jimmy Wayne has devoted countless hours to helping former foster youth. It’s a topic that resonates with Wayne, who has detailed his own experiences in foster care through his songs and writing.

An award-winning country music artist whose songs and story highlight his mission to raise awareness for children in foster care, Wayne is among those being awarded an honorary degree from Cal State San Marcos during commencement ceremonies May 18-19.

Esther and Jan Stearns, longtime supporters of CSUSM’s ACE Scholars Services, and Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a renowned molecular biologist, also will receive honorary degrees.

The CSUSM Honorary Degree Committee, an advisory committee appointed by the president to represent the University community, considers nominations for an honorary degree. Any CSUSM students, faculty, staff, alumni and the greater community may suggest potential honorary degree recipients to the committee.

Nominees must be distinguished in their respective fields, and the eminence of persons nominated must be widely recognized. The CSU Board of Trustees makes the final determination and awards the degrees in the categories it considers most appropriate.

Wayne was abandoned by his father and raised by a troubled mother before entering foster care. It was an encounter with Beatrice and Russell Costner that created the pillars of his final foster family. The Costners gave Wayne a place to live and a job, and he used his time with them to renew his commitment to completing his education and living a better life. It also afforded him the opportunity to explore his love of music.

Wayne’s song hits include “I Love You This Much,” “Do You Believe Me Now” and “Paper Angels,” which became a book and made-for-TV movie.

Wayne’s New York Times best-selling memoir, “Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way,” chronicles his harrowing story and efforts to make a difference.

Wayne performed at CSUSM in 2017 as part of the 10-year anniversary celebration of ACE Scholars Services, which serves more former foster youth per capita than any other university in the nation. During his visit, Wayne spent personal time with ACE students and inspired the campus and community members with his powerful songs and gripping story.

Esther and Jan Stearns also have a deep connection to ACE. Esther and Jan have long been committed to advancing the quality of life of all individuals while holding dear the values of inclusion, educational access and social justice.

The Stearns first became aware of CSUSM’s work with former foster youth from a newspaper article about ACE. After meeting ACE staff and students, Jan and Esther knew they wanted to get involved with the program. In 2014, they donated $1 million in support of ACE. In recognition of their generosity, the University named the program’s renovated space the Jan and Esther Stearns Center for ACE Scholars.

Esther and Jan continue to advocate strongly on behalf of CSUSM for access to higher education and its impact on the quality of life for former foster youth.

Villa-Komaroff was a key member of the team that showed for the first time that bacteria could be induced to produce insulin. The research was a milestone in the birth of the biotechnology industry.

Among Villa-Komaroff’s numerous awards and honors are a Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award and induction into the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Hall of Fame.

Villa-Komaroff has served as a role model for STEM students by making it clear that race and gender are barriers that can be broken when aspiring to become a prominent figure in science. She has been a diversity advocate throughout her career, actively mentoring students in her lab.

Villa-Komaroff has been a signature speaker at CSUSM’s Arts and Lectures series and was a keynote speaker for the University’s 20th anniversary celebration to mark the naming of César Chávez Plaza and the installation of the Chávez statue.


What: CSUSM hosts its 27th annual commencement


Friday, May 18, 2018

9 a.m. – College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences

1 p.m. – College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences

5:30 p.m. – College of Science and Mathematics

Saturday, May 19, 2018

9 a.m. – College of Education, Health and Human Services

1:30 p.m. – College of Business Administration

Where: Mangrum Track and Field, California State University San Marcos, 333 South Twin Oaks Valley Road, San Marcos

Notable: CSUSM will award three honorary degrees during commencement ceremonies. Jimmy Wayne will be awarded a Doctor of Fine Arts during the College of Education, Health and Human Services ceremony at 9 a.m. May 19. Esther and Jan Stearns will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters during the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences ceremony at 9 a.m. May 18. Lydia Villa-Komaroff will receive a Doctor of Science during the College of Science and Mathematics ceremony at 5:30 p.m. May 18.

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