This article is reposted from Fresno State News, as written by BoNhia Lee.

Honorary doctorates were awarded this fall to former California State University trustee and farmer Carol Chandler, Fresno State professor emeritus Helen G. James, and United Farm Workers Association co-founder Gilbert C. Padilla.

Honorary doctoral degrees are awarded on behalf of the California State University system and Fresno State in recognition of excellence and extraordinary achievement in significant areas of human endeavor that embody the objectives and ideals of the CSU system. They recognize men and women whose lives and significant achievements should serve as examples of the California State University’s aspirations for its diverse student body.

The honorary doctorates are typically awarded during Fresno State’s commencement ceremony, but the University-wide graduation was canceled this past May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 honorary doctorates were awarded to the recipients during small, private outdoor ceremonies this fall where Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro recognized their accomplishments. These were the final academic ceremonies of President Castro’s tenure in office.

James, who comes from a family of service, gained national acclaim in 2018 when she won a federal lawsuit — 60 years in the making — against the U.S. Air Force seeking to upgrade her once “undesirable” discharge to “honorable.” She joined the Air Force in 1952 and applied for a commission. But James was targeted, investigated and arrested for her suspected sexuality during the “Lavender Scare.” She was among thousands forced to sign an “undesirable” discharge.

James would go on to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy at Stanford University where she trained in the Rolfing method, a system of soft-tissue manipulation and movement education that stretches and repositions the body’s fascia, helping to restore the natural fibers and elasticity of the body.

In spring 1973, James was recruited to teach anatomy in the fledgling physical therapy program at Fresno State where she taught the first graduating class of physical therapy students. She retired in 1981 and later opened a private practice in Clovis where she treated many prominent figure-skating athletes. In recognition of her exemplary career, service to her country and patients and her perseverance in the face of adversity,

The Honorary Doctor of Science degree was conferred upon James during a ceremony held on Friday, October 23, 2020, on the Fresno State campus, where President Castro shared James’ compelling story of triumph in the face of adversity, and described the incredible contributions she has made to her beloved field of physical therapy and Rolfing. 

Please join us in congratulating Dr. James on her extraordinary achievements in service to Fresno State and our community!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Read about the other esteemed honorary doctorate recipients in Fresno State News

[Video courtesy of Fresno State. Photos by Cary Edmondson.]