Saturday,
April 19, 2014

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Students Jilted by Ice Storm Enjoy Graduate Reception with President

Lu Chen with mother at UT Dallas' Graduation Reception

Lu Chen's mother traveled from China to see her daughter receive a master's degree in geospatial information sciences.

When Lu Chen learned that fall commencement ceremonies at UT Dallas had been canceled, she immediately thought of her mother, who had flown in from China to see her receive a master’s degree in geospatial information sciences.

“Oh, wow. She came here just for this,” Chen recalled thinking.

But thankfully, Chen and her mother soon had an opportunity to celebrate.

As soon as the campus thawed enough to reopen, the University immediately pulled together an alternate event especially for students whose families had come a great distance to see their loved ones graduate.

Fall graduates in caps and gowns turned out with family members for a reception Tuesday with University President David E. Daniel in the Clark Center. Deans and representatives of each school, in full academic regalia, also were on hand to congratulate the graduates.

Julio Sadorra with Dean Dennis Kratz

Julio Sadorra, a graduate from the Naveen Jindal School of Management and a member of the chess team, is pictured with Dennis Kratz, the dean of the School of Arts and Humanities.

The reception was the first of three options extended to fall graduates. The University has scheduled a five-ceremony alternative graduation event this Sunday. And graduates were also given the choice of walking during the May commencement.

Tuesday’s three-hour reception seemed to ease the sting of disappointment over changed plans due to the unfortunate weather.

Julio Sadorra said he was grateful for the chance to participate in the graduation event on Tuesday, before his mother’s flight home to Singapore.

“It all worked out,” said Sadorra, a member of the UT Dallas chess team who earned a bachelor's degree in business administration. His wife, Katie Ener Sadorra BS’11, MS’13, also was there to celebrate.

His mother, Maria Luisa, said she was pleased with the event because she could not change her flight to stay longer. She was flying home Tuesday night.

“It was beyond anyone’s control,” Luisa said, who spent 23 hours in a Los Angeles area airport because of delays getting to Dallas on Friday.

Rachna Raman

Rachna Raman, a psychological sciences PhD graduate, holds her daughter, Laya Rachna-Praveen, during the reception.

During the reception, Daniel extended a congratulatory handshake and posed for photos with each graduate. He welcomed parents, grandparents and siblings to join their graduates onstage and waited until every relative with a camera had snapped a photo.

“I’ve been having great fun, and I have enjoyed meeting so many parents from different states and countries. It’s a very joyous occasion for parents to be able to celebrate with their children,” Daniel said.

He even gave students a quick tutorial on how to arrange their commencement attire.

“You wear the tassel on the right side before we confer the degree. So if you want to wear it on your left side for the photo, that shows you have graduated,” he told one student.

Graduate Rachna Raman’s family members included her 11-month-old daughter, Laya.

Sridhar Sasidharan

Sridhar Sasidharan, a graduate with a master's degree in computer science, is assisted by his parents.

“Look at this, a future recruit, a future student,” Daniel said when he saw the girl.

“It’s wonderful for you to come,” Daniel told the family. “I’m so happy we were able to have this opportunity to congratulate you.”

Raman earned a doctorate in psychological sciences, with a focus on music cognition.

“I’m just glad we’re able to celebrate despite last week,” Raman said.

Her mother, Chandra Raman, traveled from Chennai, India, to be there.

“I’m very proud,” she said. “I’m very glad to be here today.”

Akshay Sridharan’s parents, aunt and uncle made the 24-hour plane ride from Chennai, to celebrate his master’s degree in electrical engineering.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said his father, Sridharan Varadharajan.

The family could not stay for the ceremony on Sunday. They were glad to attend Tuesday’s celebration.

Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, executive vice president and provost, said the turnout in spite of the continuing frigid weather emphasized the significance of UT Dallas for its students.

This has shown us the impact that UT Dallas has in students’ lives, emotionally as well as intellectually. We’re happy to take care of students who needed to come to this reception. It reinforces how important the University is for them.

Dr. Hobson Wildenthal,
executive vice president and provost

“This has shown us the impact that UT Dallas has in students’ lives, emotionally as well as intellectually. We’re happy to take care of students who needed to come to this reception. It reinforces how important the University is for them,” Wildenthal said.

Dr. Hasan Pirkul, Jindal School dean and Caruth Chair of Management, spent the afternoon at the event congratulating graduates and posing for photos with the students and their families.

“The students who came really appreciate the fact that we are here,” Pirkul said. “We are all happy to be here.”

Sarina Simental’s relatives from Mexico helped mark her new master’s degree in accounting. They had arrived on campus after being stranded for four days in Houston due to airport closures in Dallas.

“We’ve been planning this for over a year. I couldn’t believe graduation could be canceled,” Simental said. “But at least we have this. I’m very glad to have a picture of us with the president.”

Saro Danalian and his father, Daniel Danalian, changed plans to attend the event. They had expected to start driving home to Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, but held off a few hours when they heard about the reception. 

Danalian, a political science/arts and performance graduate, is the first in his family to earn a college degree. His father expressed his pride in his son’s accomplishments.

“I was waiting so long for my son to graduate,” said Daniel Danalian, who immigrated to the U.S. from Iran (then called Persia) in 1978.

He shrugged off the change of plans. “Who’s to blame for the weather? Nature is nature. You can’t do anything about it.”

Tracy Blackmon, an accouting masters graduate, pictured with her grandfather James Blackmon and grandmother Donna and Dr. Daniel.

Tracy Blackmon, an accounting master's graduate, took a picture with her grandfather James Blackmon (left) and grandmother, Donna Blackmon, and President David E. Daniel.

Not everyone came from great distances, however.

Tracy Blackmon was happy to have her grandparents, James and Donna Blackmon, drive in two hours from Longview to celebrate her master’s degree in accounting.

“No one in my family could do Sunday, but Papaw and Mimi drove out for this,” she said.

Her grandmother beamed as she watched Blackmon have her photo taken with the University’s president.

“I’m just tickled to death we could be here. She’s worked hard for three years to get here, and we’re very proud of her,” Donna Blackmon said.

Lu Chen said she and her mother will return for Sunday’s commencement ceremonies. Holding the rescheduled event this weekend will allow her grandmother, aunt and uncle, who all live in Houston, to also attend the milestone event.

“It’s very fast, but Sunday was a good time for family in Houston to come up, so we’re happy about that,” Chen said.

Media Contact: Robin Russell, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, robin.russell@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.


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