Thirteen years ago, Lejla Tricic sat on a large American military airplane with her husband, who is blind, desperately trying to escape atrocities in her native Bosnia that killed 250,000 people. She wondered what could possibly lie ahead for them as refugees.

Tonight, she reached what lay ahead — a master’s degree in English and being honored as the top graduate at California State University, Fresno. Tricic was named the Class of 2006 University Graduate Medal winner during the Graduate Degree Hooding Ceremony for master’s and doctoral candidates in the Save Mart Center.

Tricic, representing the College of Arts and Humanities, was presented the silver University Graduate Medal by Dr. John D. Welty, the university president. She also received a plaque presented by Dr. Jeronima Echeverria, provost and vice president academic affairs.

Nearly 900 students were eligible to receive master’s or doctoral degree hoods at the event attended by more than 6,000 persons. Saturday morning the post-baccalaureate students will have their degrees formally conferred at the 95th Commencement in Save Mart Center.

Two other top students were honored at the Graduate Degree Hooding Ceremony.

Michael Maniquiz received the Outstanding Thesis Award and Rosvita Krahn received the Phyllis Watts Eudy Memorial Award for the outstanding international graduate student. Maniquiz earned his master of fine arts in creative writing. Krahn, who is from Paraguay, earned a master of science in rehabilitation counseling.

Tonight’s award winners also will be recognized at Saturday’s Commencement, where the university’s highest honor — the President’s Medal — will be presented to the top undergraduate student. The Commencement procession begins at 10 a.m.

The University Graduate Medal is the top honor given to a graduate student, selected from among nine graduate Dean’s Medalists chosen as the outstanding students in each of the university’s eight schools and colleges of academic discipline and the Division of Student Affairs. The dean of each selects a graduate medalist based on academic excellence, service to the school, community involvement and other notable achievements.

This is Tricic’s second time through the top student honor process: she was the Arts and Humanities Dean’s Medalist as an undergraduate in 2001 when she earned a B.A. in English, graduating magna cum laude. She is pursing a second post-baccalaureate degree, a master of fine arts in creative writing, nonfiction option.

Tricic enrolled at Fresno State in 1998 and has worked as a teaching assistant at the university and an instructor at the Clovis College Center operated by State Center Community College District. She graduates with a 3.94 grade-point average.

Her writing has received attention from notable scholars, doctoral programs and publishers and she has been asked to contribute to an anthology to be published by Cambridge University Press. Her work was recognized with the Lillian Faderman Award for nonfiction.

Tricic was on the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno library project organizing committee and has mentored participants in the Young Writers Conference. She applied what she had learned at Fresno State in 2004, teaching English and computer skills to the blind in Sarajevo.

“Belonging to the Fresno State community was a crucial experience in my life,” she said. “It shaped me as a writer, teacher and person. I will never cease to honor the country that bore me nor the one that gave me a chance to help myself and others, contributing at least a bit to a better tomorrow of future generations.”