Stacey Leal of Santa Clarita, CSUN 2018 graduate
The cheers may be deafening this week when more than 11,500 students including Stacey Leal of Santa Clarita are expected to take part in California State University, Northridge’s 2018 commencement ceremonies.
Leal’s graduation with a B.A. in Communication Studies is a story of hard work, perseverance and success.
Leal, 30, was fully immersed in campus life in the fall of 2017. She had transferred to CSUN from the College of the Canyons only a year before and loved her classes, as well as her job at the university’s Pride Center, helping coordinate events and facilitating the center’s Queer and Trans People of Color Conversations.
Then, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico.
Leal — who was born in Miami, Fla., but spent much of her childhood in Puerto Rico — was worried about her father, who lives on the island.
“The hardest thing was the complete radio silence for four days,” she said. “I did not know if something had happened or if he was fine.”
It was a relief when he finally called, though the connection was spotty given the power outage that blanketed the U.S. territory. He was unharmed and his home was spared the worst of the damage, thanks to its higher elevation.
Leal said the support she received from her colleagues at the Pride Center helped her get through a hard time.
It was that sense of community, Leal said, that drew her to CSUN.
“I was surprised by how many communities there were here,” she said about a CSUN campus visit. “What really stuck out to me was the LGBTQ community on campus and the Latinx community on campus. I felt that this was somewhere where I could be comfortable with my identity.”
Her parents divorced when Leal was in high school, and she moved to Santa Clarita with her mom. She attended community college a couple times — with a three-year break in New Mexico — before completing an associate degree in communication studies from College of the Canyons and transferring to CSUN.
“I have never felt more comfortable on a campus than I have at CSUN,” Leal said.
She recalled the adjustments she had to make moving from the heavily Latino neighborhoods of her childhood in Miami and Puerto Rico to largely white Santa Clarita. Though the area has a sizable Latino community, it is mostly Mexican-American, and Leal, whose mother is Nicaraguan, spoke Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican Spanish.
She laughed recalling her attempts to order a “torta” in a Mexican restaurant. In Mexican Spanish, a “torta” is a type of sandwich. In Nicaraguan, a “torta” is a cake, while in Puerto Rican Spanish it is often a fried pastry.
Her ability to adjust and help others become comfortable in their own skin drew the attention of Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who honored Leal for her work advocating for the LGBTQ community.
Leal said her time at CSUN has given her insight into what she would like to do with her life. She has applied the university’s master’s program in communication studies, and whether she eventually owns her own business or works for somebody else, she said she is determined to find ways to give back to the community.
Leal will take part in the commencement ceremony for the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 18.
To read about more outstanding CSUN 2018 grads, click here.