Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro addressed supporters and community leaders about the University’s successes during the fifth annual State of the University breakfast at the Save Mart Center on Feb. 11.
About 750 community leaders and alumni attended the State of the University, during which Castro announced the newest recipients of the President’s Medal of Distinction, the highest non-degree award presented by Fresno State.
Virginia Eaton received her medal last week, during a ceremony at the Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, where she lives. Castro called Joan Eaton up to the stage during the State of the University as he talked about her mother.
“Virginia is an inspiring trailblazer who leads an impressive and caring life,” Castro said. “After graduating from Fresno High School, she went on to receive an undergraduate degree in chemistry at Stanford University, and also attended USC Medical School. She was the only woman to graduate from the medical program in 1946 and at the young age of 23. During 50 years serving our community as a practicing pediatrician, she was known to be a true scientist and geneticist before her time.”
Castro then surprised Joan Eaton, Virginia’s daughter, naming her a second recipient of the medal. Beginning in 1991, Joan served as the owner and broker at Guarantee Real Estate for 22 years. She has made contributions to Fresno State students in a variety of programs throughout the University, while also providing her time and expertise on the Fresno State Foundation Board of Governors and numerous community-based boards. Joan is a lecturer in the Craig School of Business, where she teaches business communications.
“We can certainly say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Joan, we are proud of your mother, and we are proud of you,” Castro said as he stood next to her. “We are grateful for your many contributions specific to meeting the needs of our students. Giving back is in your nature. It was modeled by your parents, and you have discovered your own gracious way of doing the same.”
Established in 1993, the President’s Medal of Distinction is the highest non-degree award presented by Fresno State. It is given to citizens of the region, state or nation whose contributions in the area of professional achievements or public service are of national or international significance.
“Recipients over the years have woven their story of excellence indelibly into the Fresno State story. And they have strengthened our community immeasurably,” Castro said.
Previous recipients of the President’s Medal of Distinction have included Jon Parish Peede and John E. Horstmann (2019), Fred Ruiz (2018), Fran Pavley (2016), Ray Steele Jr. (2015), Justice Armando Rodriguez (2015), Justice Marvin Baxter (2014), John “Phil” Larsen (2014), Jim Nielsen (2012), Richard D. Hovannisian (2012), Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama (2009), Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (2006), His Holiness Karekin II (2005), Robert E. Coyle (2003), M. Victoria Kazan (1998), Kenneth L. Maddy (1998), Meline Kalfayan (1998), Joe Williams (1994) and George Kauffman (1994).
During his speech, Castro asked what internships and hands-on experiences local business leaders could provide to Fresno State students, more than 80% of whom remain in the Valley after graduation.
Castro told about a letter he received from alumnus and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, who recently made a transformative $1 million gift to the President’s Circle of Excellence.
“He shared with me that his transformative experience as a Fresno State student established the foundation for all of his professional success. He included the names of faculty who mentored him and paved the way for a fellowship at Claremont Graduate School. … We all have a Fresno State story like Secretary O’Neill’s story. There are 25,000 student stories being written right now thanks to our faculty, staff and all of you.”
The president concluded circling back to how today’s students can become leaders in the community, following the examples set by Virginia and Joan Eaton and other recipients of the President’s Medal of Distinction.
“Talent exists in every California household,” Castro said. “I ask you today to continue helping us to unleash the talent at Fresno State and prepare a new generation of bold leaders. As we work together to develop more leaders, our Valley and State will become a more prosperous place where all can thrive.”