News Picture



June 12, 2003
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich at 661/664-2456 or
Or Becky Zelinski at 661/664-2138 or

Jack Beckhmam's life has been a real roller coaster ride: full of ups and downs. At its lowest point, he was living in the streets and selling food stamps to survive. But somehow he has managed to scratch and claw and climb his way to the top. This Saturday, Beckham will reach the highest peak in his life thus far when he becomes the 2003 outstanding graduate for the California State University, Bakersfield School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Beckham, 29, said the fact that he's graduating and being honored is "surreal," but in all honesty, he's not completely surprised.

"When I rolled up to the Cal State campus that first day and saw the sign that said 'California State University,' I literally almost started crying," Beckham said. " I told myself, 'I can't believe I'm going to a university.' I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that I said right then and there, 'This is my last, best chance to be the best,' and I did it!"

Since coming to CSUB, Beckham has been acting like an outstanding graduate. He has worked on campus as a teaching and research assistant, conducted and presented research, delivered speeches and worked multiple jobs to see his way through.

Now, after years of fighting to survive and then struggling through college, Beckham has succeeded. He has completed bachelor's degrees in English and liberal studies with honors at CSUB. But not only will Beckham receive his degrees on Saturday, he will be addressing his mentors, family, friends and fellow graduates as the recipient of the highest honor a graduate can receive at CSUB.

"The last couple of weeks I've really been walking on eggshells. I keep thinking I'm going to be hit a car of something," Beckham quipped. "It's just so hard to believe that it's actually happening. People like me just don't get to places like this. It's a blessing."

Each of CSUB's four schools choose outstanding graduates for each of their departments and one overall outstanding graduate to represent the entire school.

"When choosing an outstanding graduate for the school we look at many things," said Marla Iyasere, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. "We have a committee who looks at things such as academic excellence, community service and a student's ability to overcome adversity. Jack Beckham has not only succeeded academically, he has excelled and succeeded at life. That alone makes him worthy of this honor."

Beckham, 29 was orphaned at age 12. His biological mother had been a heroine addict so he lived with his grandmother until she died. He then tried living with relatives who were incapable of caring for him and spent his adolescence being bounced in and out of foster homes and the Jamison Children's Center.

Despite his tumultuous life, Beckham managed to graduate from North High School in 1992. Though he was uncertain why life had dealt him such a bad hand, Beckham said he always knew that education was going to be the key that freed him from his homeless prison.

"Even when I ran away from home, the truancy officer kept picking me up at school," Beckham said. "The officers told me they didn't understand why I kept coming back to the school when I knew they'd find me there. I told them that I knew that getting an education was the only way I was going to make it."

But Beckham said he's still got a long way to go. He doesn't look at his college degree as a "means to an end" but part of the process of living. He's also not bitter about the way he's had to struggle through life and uses what he calls the "gas gauge philosophy" to explain why.

"If you have a gas gauge that's six inches wide, it can be three inches full and three inches empty. The empty side represents the pain and suffering in life and the fullness is the joy and happiness. You can only experience joy to the same level you suffer. So everything that's happened in my life has really been a blessing because all of that set the stage for the level of joy I can experience today."

Beckham will be speaking at the CSUB School of Humanities and Social Sciences' commencement, Saturday, June 14 at 7:15 a.m. in the CSUB Amphitheatre. He has completed bachelors of arts degrees in English and liberal studies and will be graduating with a 3.8 grade point average. He has received a five-year full-tuition scholarship from the University of California, Riverside and will begin there this fall to pursue his masters and doctorate degrees in English.

Beckham plans to teach college and would also like to become a writer. He currently works as a substitute teacher and a telemarketer, and as a student assistant at CSUB.

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