Family, Friends Celebrate Accomplishments of Newest Graduates
May 22, 2014
Tejaswi Polepeddi exits the Activity Center after one of the commencement ceremonies for the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. Polepeddi was among the hundreds of fall 2013 graduates who chose to participate in the spring ceremonies.
Edwin Mariano didn’t sleep well the night before his May 15 graduation at UT Dallas. The mechanical engineering senior woke up at 6 a.m., even though his commencement ceremony wouldn’t begin until that afternoon.
“This whole week has been like a dream,” Mariano said. “I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up and still be a freshman.”
“But hopefully not,” he quickly added.
Mariano’s excitement was magnified by thousands of well-wishers who packed the gymnasium for nine ceremonies honoring more than 3,800 graduates, the largest spring graduation cohort in University history.
As graduates took their seats, family members held cameras and mobile devices, shouting and whistling to their graduates who turned and waved to proud loved ones.
“As you go forth, I hope you continue to value and assert your ability to influence your world for the better,” President David E. Daniel said.
Dr. David E. Daniel, president of UT Dallas, said the enthusiasm was well-deserved, as graduates had worked hard to achieve “a world-class education from a truly exceptional university and faculty.”
“Your degree is a key that can open many doors to you,” Daniel said in his commencement address. “Once you enter, the rest will be up to you, but I’m not worried – you’ve shown what you’re made of and proved what you can do.”
For Trissan Jones, who earned a doctorate in audiology, the doors have already opened. She will begin working as an educational audiologist for the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf in Arizona.
“Each of us can pinpoint something or somewhere along the way that helped solidify our love of learning. As you take the next steps toward your future, remind yourself of the moments and experiences that made learning worthwhile and kept you moving forward,” Jones said.
Darrel Dunn was the commencement speaker at the School of Arts and Humanities ceremony. Dunn, who earned his arts and technology bachelor’s degree, plans to infuse his interests in dance, music and art with his technical skills.
UT Dallas also helped open new doors for Magus Chihaba, who is from Zimbabwe. He was working in electronics when he saw jobs like his becoming outsourced. He turned to UT Dallas to enhance his education while he continued to work.
Earning his bachelor’s degree in actuarial science came at a good time – a week before graduation, he was let go from his job.
“For me it’s a good sign. I’m not disappointed because I knew this was going to happen,” he said. “Imagine if I had lost my job without this degree.”
About 280 fall graduates chose to walk the stage in the spring rather than participating in alternative ceremonies that were held in December. Their original graduation was postponed due to icy weather. They were rewarded this time with clear blue, sunny skies and high temperatures in the mid-80s. Tejaswi Polepeddi was a fall master’s degree graduate in electrical engineering. Her family members from India, who had planned to come in December, watched the spring ceremony live over the Internet.
Luzmaria Cuevas earned a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies and completed her teacher certification. She credits the Academic Bridge Program with drawing her to the University and helping her persevere.
“They are very happy,” Polepeddi said. “It’s like an applause from all my family and friends for the work I did.”
Faculty and students from the School of Arts and Humanities brought their own creative touches to their graduation ceremony. Darrel Dunn put his new degree in arts and technology to work by composing his own music for his commencement speech.
“Doing this journey alone and overcoming obstacles wasn’t a ‘me’ thing. Graduating was not a one-man show,” Dunn said, as a slow crescendo of his synthesized music grew louder. “Ultimately, this journey and triumph over what was believed impossible was a ‘we’ thing.”
On Saturday, when three ceremonies were held for the University’s largest school, graduate students from the Naveen Jindal School of Management got instructions on how to do a proper Whoosh as they waited to file into the gymnasium.
Mohd Naiyar Alam beamed as he waited for the ceremony to begin. Alam, who had earned a master’s degree in information technology and management with a concentration in business intelligence, said he had accepted a job in his field and was looking forward to starting work.
Edwin Mariano, who earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, landed a job as a turbine engineer in Wisconsin.
“It’s very exciting,” said Alam, who worked as a teaching assistant. “I’ve been waiting two years for this day and this day has finally arrived.”
After the ceremonies, UT Dallas mascot Temoc gave high-fives as students joined friends and families.
Luzmaria Cuevas was celebrating a milestone in her family: She is the first to graduate from college. Cuevas, who is from Guanajuato, Mexico, credited the Academic Bridge Program with helping her persevere to graduation with a degree in interdisciplinary studies and a teacher certification through the Teacher Development Center.
“As a Latina, even the mere idea of finishing my higher education was almost an unreachable goal in the eyes of my parents,” Cuevas said.
Her journey was further complicated when she learned she was pregnant as she was finishing her freshman year. But a month after her daughter was born, Cuevas returned to finish her degree. Her daughter Eliza, now almost 3, looked on as Cuevas was recognized on stage. Cuevas will teach seventh-grade Texas studies at Sam Tasby Middle School in Dallas.
“I can’t even explain my gratitude for the Terry Foundation for allowing me to graduate debt free,” said Laurel Ann Mohrman, who earned a bachelor’s in computer science.
Some UT Dallas graduates were celebrating more than their academic achievements.
Laurel Ann Mohrman had decorated her mortarboard with bright yellow duct tape and green and orange puff paint to display something she is most proud of: being debt free.
The computer science graduate had heard about students at other schools displaying their debt amount on their graduation caps – for some, it was up to $50,000. “They inspired me and I wanted to celebrate UTD,” she said.
UT Dallas has gained recent attention for having an affordable bottom line. Both The Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance have ranked the University among the best college values for the past two years.
Mohrman’s education was supported by the Terry Foundation.
“I love school, I want to keep going,” said Mohrman, who will pursue a master’s degree in computer science.
Tra Tran also benefited from scholarship help. An Academic Excellence Scholarship brought her to UT Dallas for an economics degree, and she leaves with a full scholarship for her first year at the Graduate Institute, Geneva in Switzerland, where she will pursue a master’s degree in international economics.
Originally from Hanoi, Vietnam, Tran established the Vietnamese International Network of Culture, Education and Friendship (VINCEF). She also initiated Vietweek, a series of events that promote Vietnamese culture.
“I am very proud that I created something meaningful during my time at UTD,” Tran said. “I hope these groups will continue to connect Vietnamese students and promote our culture on campus.”
Mariano, who will no doubt sleep better in the weeks ahead, said he chose UT Dallas because of its young mechanical engineering program, one of the University’s most popular majors. The first bachelor’s degree students graduated just two years ago.
Mariano credits faculty mentorship for his academic success and Jonsson School Industrial Practice Programs for helping him land a job as a turbine engineer with Alliant Energy.
“I felt like it would be a challenge being part of the new generation here at UT Dallas,” Mariano said.