Record Number of Students Taking Part in UCR’s 59th Commencement

This year, 5,358 students are eligible to walk in seven ceremonies between June 14 and 17.

This year’s graduating class will be UCR’s biggest yet. Photo by Peter Phun

A record number of students will take part in the 59th commencement at the University of California, Riverside next week. Altogether, 5,358 students are eligible to walk in seven ceremonies between June 14 and 17.

For graduating students, commencement is the payoff for years of hard work and perseverance. For the university, it’s a showcase — of achievement, of diversity, and of potential greatness that each Highlander can take pride in.

This year, 72 students are graduating summa cum laude, 131 magna cum laude and 335 cum laude. But each person walking to get their diplomas has overcome individual challenges — some academic, some emotional and some financial. Here are some of their stories.

The Writer

Fatima Mirza

Fatima Mirza

Fatima Mirza initially came to UCR to pursue a premed major. “I would take creative writing courses because that’s what I was really interested in,” she said. Mirza credits professors Charmaine Craig, Andrew Winer and Michael Jayme with opening her up to a future as a writer. “They believed in me, which made me believe in myself and try to pursue writing seriously,” she said.

As a creative writing major, Mirza has received numerous scholarships and awards, including the 2011-2012 Award for Academic Excellence and in 2013, the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research/Creative Achievement. She was also an editor at the campus newspaper, The Highlander.

After she graduates, Mirza will pursue her MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the country’s most prestigious graduate program in creative writing. “I was lucky that [UCR offered] an undergraduate major in creative writing, because that allowed me to get on the track I’m on now.”

The Researcher

Photo shows graduate student Divya Sain

Divya Sain

Divya Sain, a Ph.D. student from India, took her father’s favorite Sanskrit chant to heart when she began her studies in Riverside in 2007. “Shane shane parvata langhanam,” translates into English as “Slowly and steadily, even mountains can be conquered.” She followed that advice as a plant pathology student.

Sain, who will graduate with a Ph.D. in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics, studies fungal cell walls. Her research will be an asset to the antifungal drug development industry in India. During the 2012-2013 school year, Sain won the Guru Gobind Singh Fellowship, a $30,000 award given to a student from an Indian or Pakistani university who is committed to returning to her country of origin after receiving her doctoral degree at a UC campus.

Sain, who mentors two undergraduates in the Stajich Lab, is a member of the Rotaract Club (the youth branch of the Rotary Club) and Omicron Delta Kappa. She received the UCR Graduate Division Fellowship in 2008 and a Klotz Memorial Travel Award in 2011.

The Motivator

Brian Molina

Brian Molina

Brian Molina, a community activist, competitive body builder and certified personal trainer, is the 22-year-old CEO of Yungmuscle, a motivational website. In two weeks, he’s graduating from the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences with a major in ethnic studies. The product of a biracial couple who grew up in a predominantly Latino, working-class community, Molina knows what it’s like to live with limited resources (“Every house we lived in or apartment we rented we eventually lost, got evicted from, or kicked out of,” he said).

“Living with constant financial struggle gave birth to an almost overwhelming amount of tension and domestic dysfunction that made me aware of issues of race and class almost inherently,” he said. His struggle gave birth to his ambition, and he resolved to channel his energy into academics and athletics. While he was a scholar athlete, and a straight-A student, Molina was foreign to the process of scholarships, college applications and grants, so he graduated from high school with no college opportunities.

The sport of bodybuilding turned out to be Molina’s ticket to the university. It helped give him the discipline and drive to persevere. “It took me three and a half years of taking 14-16-unit semesters at community college, working graveyard shifts, taking summer school courses and an absolute dedication to eating eight meals a day with two — sometimes three — workouts per day to become a champion bodybuilder and transfer to UC Riverside.”

In two weeks, Molina will be able to say he is the first in his family to graduate from a university.

The Challenger

David Kisailus and Brian Weden stand in Kisailus' lab

Brian Weden, right, with David Kisailus

Brian Weden will graduate with a B.S. in materials science engineering. At UCR, he was able to spend four years conducting research on sea mollusk teeth with Professor David Kisailus. That research also enabled him to explore facets of his personality that other scientists may not have developed at such a young age.

In February of 2012 he entered into the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining (IOM3) U.S. West Regional Young Person’s lecture competition. Contestants were required to give a 15-minute presentation on research in the field of materials, minerals, and mining; they were judged by their clarity, passion, enthusiasm, technical content, presentation layout, and how well they handled the Q&A.

Weden received the top prize. He then competed at the World Final in London, against eight regional winners from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, Brazil, South Africa, and Hong Kong. At the time, Weden was 21; most of the other competitors already had master’s degrees. Some had Ph.D.s.

Even though Weden was the youngest contentant by four years, he took first place at the 2012 Young Person’s World Lecture Competition, becoming the first undergraduate and youngest person ever to win the competition. “I was able to show the world what UCR brings to the table,” Weden said.

Months later, Weden discovered that the IOM3 will host the 2014 World Lecture Competition at UC Riverside. “I’d like to think I had some part of making that happen,” he said.

Guests attending commencement ceremonies must have tickets for entry, with the exception of the Graduate School of Education and Bourns College of Engineering ceremonies. Family and friends who are unable to attend can watch the event online. A link will be available on

Shuttles will carry the disabled and elderly from parking lot 6 to the commencement venue. For heat-sensitive guests, live video-feeds will be available in air-conditioned venues at Watkins Hall, Room 1000 and University Lecture Hall.

Bourns College of Engineering
6 p.m., Monday, June 17, Pierce Lawn
Keynote Speaker – William R. Johnson
William R. Johnson is president and CEO of Johnson Machinery Co., a provider of construction equipment that was established in Riverside in 1940. In 2000, Johnson and his wife, S. Sue Johnson (’62) were named inaugural laureates of UCR for providing more than $1 million in support to the university. Their contributions are responsible for the William R. Johnson Jr. Family and the W. Ruel Johnson endowed professorships in engineering. In 2008, Johnson was honored by the College of Engineering-Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) with its Distinguished Service Award. He serves on the BCOE Council of Advisors.

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Group 1
8 a.m., Saturday, June 15, Pierce Lawn
Keynote Speaker- Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown
Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown was elected on Nov. 6, 2012, to represent California’s 47th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Colton, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Rialto, southwestern San Bernardino, and the communities of Bloomington and Muscoy.

She sits on five Assembly Committees: Rules; Housing and Community Development; Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media; Veterans Affairs; and Aging and Long-Term Care.

Before being elected to the State Assembly, Brown worked for the San Bernardino County Planning Department. She also spent 17 years on the County and City Planning Commissions and was elected president of the California County Planning Commissioners Association.

In 1980, Brown and her husband, Hardy, founded the Brown Publishing Company to produce a weekly community newspaper, Black Voice News, which focuses on local news in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Group 2
6 p.m., Saturday, June 15, Pierce Lawn
Keynote Speaker- Raul Ruiz, Representative in Congress

Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D., grew up in Coachella, Calif., where his parents were farmworkers. He graduated magna cum laude from UCLA and attended Harvard University, where he earned an M.D. and master’s degrees in both public policy and public health.

He returned to the Coachella Valley to work in the emergency room at Eisenhower Medical Center. He also launched a premedical mentorship program and a free clinic, and was appointed senior associate dean of the UCR School of Medicine. Last fall, Ruiz was elected to Congress to represent California’s 36th District. He serves on the House Committees on Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs.

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Group 3
8 a.m., Sunday, June 16, Pierce Lawn
Keynote Speaker- Mark Takano, Representative in Congress

Born and raised in Riverside, Mark Takano received his bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard College in 1983. He received a teaching credential at UCR, then began teaching at Rialto High School in 1988. Two years later, he was elected to the Riverside Community College District’s Board of Trustees and became board president in 1991.

Today, Takano represents the people of Riverside, Moreno Valley, Jurupa Valley and Perris in the U.S. Congress. He serves on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and
Division of Biomedical Sciences
6 p.m., Sunday, June 16, Pierce Lawn
Keynote Speaker- R. Scott Hawley, Ph.D.
R. Scott Hawley is an expert in Drosophila genetics, chromosome biology, and meiosis. He has written more than 125 articles and six books. Hawley was appointed an American Cancer Society Research Professor while at the University of Kansas in 2005 (re-appointed in 2010) and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006. Most recently he was elected to the National Academy of Science. He has won numerous awards for his teaching including the Genetics Society of America’s award for Excellence in Education in 2008.

Hawley attended received his B.S. in biology from UCR in 1975 and his Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Washington in 1979. This was followed by a Helen Hay Whitney Post-doctoral Fellowship at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia. In 1982 he joined the faculty of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City; in 1991 he moved to UC Davis as a professor of genetics. In 2001 he was recruited to the faculty of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City. Hawley maintains his own laboratory and lectures all over the world; last summer he accepted the position as dean of The Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

Graduate School of Education
9 a.m., Monday, June 17, Pierce Lawn
Keynote Speaker- Assemblymember Jose Medina
Assemblymember Jose Medina represents the 61st Assembly District, which covers Riverside, Moreno Valley, and Perris. Medina is chairman of the Assembly Jobs Committee.

Before being elected to the Assembly in 2012, Medina was a teacher with the Riverside Unified School District for more than 35 years, a member of the Riverside City Teachers Association, was on the Riverside Community College District Board of Trustees for more than 13 years, and was a representative to the state council of the California Teachers Association. Education played an important role in Medina’s life. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree at UCR.

School of Business Administration/A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management
6 p.m., Friday, June 14, Pierce Lawn
Keynote Speaker- Darin Anderson
Darin Anderson is chairman and CEO of Salas O’Brien, LLC. He is also on the Board of Convoy Technologies, LLC, and a partner with Gutierrez & Anderson. Previously he was president and CEO of Linc Electric (now ABM Electric), as well as chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Kleinfelder, Inc.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and MBA from UCR. In 2002, he was awarded the Outstanding Young Alumnus award by the UCR Alumni Association in recognition of his professional achievements.

He is chairman of the Dean’s Advisory Council at the UCR business school, and is a member of the executive board of the UCR Alumni Association.

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