Marina Bartels, a Marine Transportation major from Buckley, WA and Nicole Light Densberger, who earned an MSTEM (Masters in Transportation and Engineering Management) degree were chosen to represent their class with an address at Cal Maritime's commencement on Saturday, May 15.

Marina Bartels

Marina Bartels at podiumGood Morning Faculty, Staff, Family and Class of 2021!

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Marina Bartels and I am absolutely thrilled to be standing here in front of you today. Class of 2021 we did it…. Well…pending a short 45-day cruise.

The Class of 2021 has to be one of the most flexible, versatile and resilient classes to come out of Cal Maritime in the last decade at least. During our time at Cal Maritime, this class of 202 cadets has completed over 2,700 community service hours (thanks Eduardo). With 50% of our cadets on the dean’s list, 30% of our outstanding cadets on the presidents list. On top of that another 30% of the cadets in our class have participated in athletics. Additionally, we have a handful of cadets who have commissioned into the services and who will commission in the near future. Congratulations and thank you for your service and dedication for our country.

I was sitting around with my friends reminiscing on the hilarious stories from the last 4 years. So many memories, the late nights, early mornings, and the early mornings after the late nights. When they say the class of 2021 likes to work hard, we like to play even harder. It’s so hard to explain the experience of being a cadet at Cal Maritime but some may say it’s similar to a long ship voyage.

All voyages begin with signing onto the ship, getting familiarized with the vessel and getting your company uniform. Our voyage began similarly in August of 2017, first with a Cal Maritime bookstore fitting where we were kindly asked if we would like to get our uniform a little bigger, you know… “JUST IN CASE” …Well…more on that later.

We started orientation week, kissed our loved one’s goodbye and started our four-year voyage to graduation. The Training Ship and upper were quiet during the weeks as everyone worked on their first semester of Cal Maritime, but when it came to the weekend…. Well actually we should probably keep that to ourselves.

We learned what it meant to be a part of our division. Our family that we lived with during our four years and some will probably continue to live with after graduation.

Our voyage continued into the first weeks of school, meeting all upper classmen who would turn out to be our big brothers and sisters. After the first month of school, friendships had really bonded quickly and I think we all knew we were a part of a very special class. While a majority of our time was smooth sailing, we maybe didn’t realize the storms we were about to encounter along our voyage.

Of course, during freshman year we experienced our first fire break. Ash was raining down on the campus as fires burned throughout California. I can remember being in the dining center eating my chicken fried steak on a Wednesday night when the entire dining center erupted in cheering and yelling as word got out that the campus was closing for the week until the smoke had subsided. What we didn’t realize was that this would be our introduction to the annual Cal Maritime campus holiday known as “Fire Break”.

It was also an introduction into the versatility of our class and Cal Maritime as a whole. We returned to classes, watch, and athletics just a week or so later, like everything was normal.

After a month or so onboard a vessel you start to get the hang of things… In our case this looked like formation three times a week precisely at 0720. Studying and class throughout the day, dinner at mess by night and then off to watch. The fact that we showed up to formation every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for that first year may seem very surreal to most of us now.

The next waypoint for many of us on this voyage was our Freshman cruise. This was Captain Bolton’s last cruise before he retired and he definitely did not disappoint. After island hopping in the South Pacific, our class grew even closer together as we bonded over space milk, steamed vegetables, and many memes created from events on cruise; Diesel sim phantom…I know you’re still out there . Not to mention upwards of 30 people packed like sardines down in lower berthing 8. Nothing bonds us closer together than getting stepped on by your shipmates each morning when you roll out of your rack.

Into our sophomore year, and next part of our voyage, it quickly became every person for themselves as the competition to have the best grades took off. This competition would lead into our billet spots for our commercial cruise and international experiences. Both of these internship opportunities allowed many of us to travel once again to amazing places. It was a really special summer knowing that you had shipmates all around the United States and the world, from Vietnam and the Middle East, to Europe and Japan.

As we got further into our voyage, we would quickly find ourselves really getting a hands-on experience with some of our training. The Glen Cove fire of 2019 would send many of us literally running for our lives away from the fire. While many ran, cadets on watch like our own Adrien Goldfarb used their knowledge from our advanced firefighting training to chase after the fire and defend our school. Our school really came together as we were reminded how thankful we are for what we have. While most of us came out on top, Brams car didn’t look too good after…that thing was literally melted to the pavement.

2020 was rough, we lost one of our most valued professors to a battle with cancer, Mr. Saarheim, who would probably be surprised about some of the people sitting here today…. MOBLEY…I am so grateful to have had the opportunity of learning from him. While his classes were difficult, his wit and sarcasm made the classes bearable.

Cal Maritime has really brought us many opportunities to network with other people in our industry including other cadets going through the same training as us. We were blessed with trips to Kings Point, Texas A&M and the US Naval Academy, and we even hosted our own conferences here. WIML or the Women in Maritime Leadership conference is always a notable one, but during the 2020 WIML conference we really wanted to make sure the visiting cadets had the full Northern California experience, where we found ourselves once again, running for our lives from yet another fire on campus. We really do owe one to the Vallejo Fire department.

While some of these things seemed like heavy weather and rough seas along our voyage, what we didn’t know would come was the largest storm that no one had seen before, COVID-19. I mentioned earlier the resiliency of the class of 2021 and if us gathering here today isn’t proof of that then I don’t know what is.

After a storm comes a rainbow, and while it may still feel like we are in the middle of it, there have been so many things worth celebrating in this past year. First of all, not only were we the first CSU to open back up, we did so successfully by not having any COVID transmissions on campus. While we began school again in the fall our global studies cadets began to work hard towards their 40-page thesis due at the end of the semester. During this time, the staff and faculty did everything they could to ensure we would be able to take our USCG Licensing exams on time. Whether you were taking “Mates” or “Coasties” I saw countless students overfilled with pride and joy when they went 7-for-7 or 8-for-8, but what really stood out to me was the way those cadets supported those who maybe didn’t pass them all on the first try. That week was a marathon, and I can truly say, you don’t know what it’s like until you have gone through it yourself. And we cannot forget our fellow class mates who have just completed their engineering design projects…congratulations.

Throughout our voyage, our time here at this school, there have been so many great experiences and memories made. This class of 2021 has got to be one of the closest classes to graduate from Cal Maritime, and whether you are Deck, Engine, or MPM, I think you could agree.

When ships enter port at the end of a voyage, they take on a pilot, someone with local knowledge to lead the way and support the ship through. I would like to thank some of the pilots that have guided us during our time here at Cal Maritime.

To the Faculty – You all went above and beyond the call of an average college professor. Because this isn’t an average college but also because you’re all spectacular people. You came in on weekends to have BBQ’s on barges, and went out to sea for months at a time to allow us hands on experience and training. You put in extra time helping us feel confident in the simulators, sometimes this meant throwing random vessels in front of us deckies or Mr. Green secretly draining the lube oil sumps for the engineers. But most importantly you never failed to pick us up at our lowest points to keep us on course.

To the Staff – You have all taken on so much more than what your job title may indicate. You have helped the class of 2021 in so many ways. We are really going to miss having you help navigate our life.

To the Alumni- Thank you for all of your support whether it’s financial, physical, or even just being a contact in the industry. To the more recent alumni, thank you for your leadership and friendships that will allow us to dive into our industries with confidence.

And finally, perhaps the most important pilots in our lives, our families. Whether you are here today or joining us remotely, thank you for your continued support. You have helped us in ways that could never be repaid.

Oh, and maybe one last shout out to our supporters like the corner stores along Sonoma Blvd, Characters, Mare Island Brewery, and AMF bowling lanes of Pinole.

As we begin to face our first “Crew Change” I hope you are filled with joy and pride for everything you have accomplished. Once again, I am so thrilled to see you all here, in your salt and peppers that may or may not still fit from that “Freshman 15”.  Lastly, I can’t “Sign off” without thanking the crew. Class of 2021…Thank you. Thank you for supporting each other and helping each other grow into the distinguished ship mates we all are. I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without all of you… Class of 2021, Congratulations, we did it!

Commencement ceremony2021 commencement ceremony


Nicole Light Densberger

Nicole Light Densberger at podiumGood afternoon everyone. Before I dive into my speech, I first want to take the opportunity to thank the graduation committee for the honor of allowing me the opportunity to stand up here today and represent our graduate class of 2021. I also want to thank our esteemed faculty and capstone mentors, as well as the always amazing Kathy Arnold for their guidance in this journey. And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all of the family and friends – those here and those watching by live stream – who supported us in our journey here at Cal Maritime. Thanks for putting up with us while we worked late, stressed about problem sets, and bored you with stories about Brightspace assignments. None of us could have done this without each and every one of you.

When I first started thinking about what I wanted to say here today, I was struggling to come up with something that was worthy of wrapping up all the knowledge and life experiences we’ve gained during the last two plus years of our lives in this Master’s program. I was bouncing ideas off my husband when he quipped “just go with it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. I laughed at him (don’t worry, he’s used to that), but the longer I thought about it the more I realized he was right (which he’s not as used to hearing!).

This past year really has been the best of times and the worst of times. I feel comfortable saying that when all of us sitting here today started our respective programs here at Cal Maritime, be it at the graduate or undergraduate level, we expected this journey to be difficult. But I also feel reasonably confident in stating that none of us saw this coming. None of us could have imagined finishing our last year or so of our degree in the midst of a global pandemic.

While the transition to remote learning wasn’t much of a change for us graduate students, the change in the world around us affected all of us in so many ways. The COVID pandemic has no doubt been sobering. People have lost their lives, lost jobs, some people lost hope. Add school papers, exams, and assignments on top of that, and it’s easy to see how one could consider the past year “the worst of times”. I thought so myself for a period of time last year. I started working from home on St. Patrick’s Day 2020 – a day that’s normally reserved for fun was instead filled with trepidation and anxiety. My husband and I live 1,700 miles away from our families and I’ll tell you, that distance has never felt farther than it did in March of last year.

But as the pandemic dragged on, my husband and I settled into our new hermit-like existence and things – while still uncertain in the world outside – calmed down a little in our corner of the world. I started seeing some of the benefits of all the spare time I suddenly had on my hands. There was no more stress of an hour long commute each day. And I found myself with PLENTY of time on my hands for my Brightspace assignments. In short, I was lucky. But I watched (remotely, of course) as the pandemic took a toll on my classmates – on many of you. I watched in awe as so many of you were forced to shoulder the burdens of educating your children at home, while somehow carrying on your own school work at odd hours of the day and night. I watched as many of you participated in our group papers while working essential frontline jobs that required you to work crazy hours. And I watched many of you complete projects and attend zoom office hours while isolated on ships or rigs offshore, cut off from your families. I cannot tell you how inspirational each one of you have been.

To me, this “can do attitude” that I’ve seen in so many of our 2021 graduates is something that I’ve found to be synonymous with the maritime industry. I confess that I make a bit of an odd choice to stand up here in front of you all today. Born and raised in land-locked states, I had no maritime connection whatsoever until, fresh out of college, I started working as a marine meteorologist and ship router at a private sector job in Oklahoma. During my years in that role, I fell in love with the maritime industry and I followed my love of science and shipping here to California. When I started in this program, I was concerned that my lack of a maritime connection might leave me a fish out of water, so to speak, but it didn’t. As I discovered, many of the people in this program come from very different walks of life, but everyone treats each other’s different viewpoints with respect. Together, we seem to have made it an unspoken goal to lift each other up instead of tearing each other down, which has been a welcome respite in an otherwise divided and tumultuous world. And I hope we all continue to carry this spirit of respect and collaboration beyond the walls of this university (or, you know, our computer screens) because with it, we can do great things. Our discussions and collaborative efforts have benefited my life, both personally and professionally, and I’ve made some wonderful friends and mentors along the way. To me, this truly represents the “best of times”.

So yes, my husband was right – completing our degrees during a global pandemic truly was the best of times and the worst of times. But it’ll be the strength and spirit of cooperation that I remember when I look back on my time at Cal Maritime, and I will be forever grateful for the information I have learned and the experiences we have shared along the way.

Again, I stand here honored to be representing the graduate class of 2021 and am proud to join the ranks as a Cal Maritime alum. The outlook of our industry is brighter because each and every one of you are in its future. To end this on a cheesy maritime note, I wish all of you fair winds and following seas in everything you do. Congratulations and best of luck in all your future voyages, wherever they may take you!

Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast. Located in Vallejo, California, the campus serves nearly 1,000 students and offers undergraduate degrees preparing students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. The new oceanography degree program launched in the fall of 2020. Cal Maritime also offers a master’s degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.