Spotlight for UC Merced student's performance a little brighter now

May 13, 2009 

Socorra Camposanto has been performing since she was a little girl. She performed in her high school choir and even won the title of "UCM Idol" at a campus singing competition her freshman year.

Even so, the 22-year-old UC Merced senior gets jittery before performing.

"I'm always nervous before I sing," Camposanto said. "No matter how many times I've done it, my leg shakes."

Her leg will likely resemble a jackhammer this Saturday when she will perform her original song, "We Rise," at the close of the UC Merced commencement ceremony.

More than 9,000 tickets have been printed for the event, and up to 11,000 people are expected on campus.

Camposanto auditioned for the chance to perform the song in front of a campus committee last semester. She was so nervous then that she didn't open her eyes during the entire performance.

"And from a little seed / to a giant tree / only time will tell / who we can be," Camposanto sang.

Camposanto enrolled at UC Merced in 2005. She didn't apply to the Merced campus, but was guaranteed a seat in the UC system.

Camposanto learned of the invitation to attend UC Merced while she was in Colorado visiting another campus with her brother. She remembers telling him that UC Merced might be a better fit for the San Jose native.

Her brother lives in Fresno, and Merced proved to be an ideal central location to call home for four years.

The scholarships she was offered from the fledging campus didn't hurt either.

The Camposantos had driven past the city of Merced several times to visit family members, but had never stopped off until move-in day freshman year.

Her first impression of the campus was its remote location.

"Wow. There are cows everywhere," Camposanto remembers thinking. Then, a moment later, "That's cool."

"So we rise for tomorrow / We rise for today / We rise with the hope / that you'll carry on / what we've done today."

At one point, Camposanto planned to attend Colorado State and was excited about the prospect of becoming a player on the lacrosse team.

At UC Merced, she became the co-founder and co-captain of the campus' women's basketball team.

She remembers talking about a possible team with Jacqui Minas during their freshman year. The club finally got off the ground this past school year.

Camposanto said the ultimate goal of the team's founders is to create a West Coast club league to compete within.

The ladies will head to a tournament in Santa Barbara in the last week of May.

"When you come to Merced, you can't have the idea that everything will be set for you," she said. "You have to be willing to get things done."

Also on campus, Camposanto has been involved with the FLO a capella group and held down a job at the student gym.

Camposanto said Michelle Obama's attendance as commencement speaker is just one prominent example of Merced's "student-driven university" style.

"This is a place / where a person / isn't just a number / but a soul / with a heart and face / a friend, sister and brother."

Camposanto found out from friends about the auditions to perform at commencement. Each year, UC Merced puts together a small committee to choose a student speaker and performer for the ceremony.

The only requirement for the student performer was that the song reflected the diversity of campus.

When she couldn't find something appropriate, she started jotting lyrics for her own song in the margins of her lecture notes.

Brenda Ortiz, a university relations employee, has sat on the committee for each of the four years it has existed. She remembered Camposanto's first performance.

"We were all welling up with tears," Ortiz said. "We were all very touched."

Camposanto didn't realize the reaction at first.

"I opened my eyes, and everyone was sniffing," she said. "Jackie Shay (another graduating senior) was crying like she was my mother."

The song is simple, Camposanto explained, to reflect "the simple way of life here."

On weekends, Camposanto loves to pop in a movie, strum her guitar or ride her bike around town.

Her friends love it when she fires up the grill, or even better, decides to make fried chicken tacos.

The tacos take two days to make, but have created a cult-like following at UC Merced. On a recent weekday afternoon, a classmate asked Camposanto to make them one more time before graduation.

"I will do it if I have the time," she said.

Camposanto will receive her degree next fall. She majors in biology with an emphasis in ecology and conservation and also has a declared minor in history.

Right now, she's concerned only with her final exams and practicing for Saturday's big show.

"I never dreamed that the biggest gig of my life would be my own graduation," she said.

"With open arms / here we stand / to change the world / I know we can."

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is one of several that will chronicle the lives of members of the UC Merced inaugural graduating class. As pioneers at UC Merced, their contributions will leave a lasting effect on the Merced community.