Many Amazing Stories Among UCR Graduating Class of 2014

Commencement includes seven ceremonies held June 13-16 on Pierce Lawn


More than 5,000 students are eligible to participate in the 2014 Commencement Ceremonies at UC Riverside from June 13 to 16. Photo by Peter Phun

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — More than 5,400 students are expected to participate in the 60th commencement at the University of California, Riverside. The university will welcome friends and family to campus for seven ceremonies across four days, from June 13 to 16, 2014.

Commencement ceremonies will be held on the Pierce Lawn, just east of the UCR Bell Tower. They range in size from the intimate Graduate School of Education ceremony to the three separate ceremonies for the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. More information about the Commencement ceremonies themselves may be found at the end of this article.

This year, 5,423 students are eligible to participate in Commencement. Of those, 357 are graduating Cum Laude, 141 graduating Magna Cum Laude and 48 graduating Summa Cum Laude. In all, the campus expects to welcome as many as 36,500 students and guests over the four days.

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.

There are more than 5,000 unique stories that have led our graduates to this point in their lives – here’s just a few of them. You can click the links to read extended profiles of each graduate.

  • head shot in front of flowers

    Cynthia Mariott

    Cynthia Mariott, a native of Riverside, overcame multiple challenges in childhood, including homelessness and abuse. She decided to fulfill her childhood dream of attending college after being laid off from her job in the telecommunications industry after a decade of work. She first attended Riverside City College before arriving at UCR. Making her path more challenging was the fact that she became pregnant shortly before starting school, but she managed to balance her time and will receive degrees in U.S. history and women’s studies,

    “I knew it would be a bit difficult, but I decided to go ahead with it,” she said, laughing. “I may have been crazy.”

  • Insia Hirawala was a Chancellor's Research Fellow during her senior year at UC Riverside. Photo by Carlos Puma

    Insia Hirawala

    When 22-year old psychology major Insia Hirawala decided that she wanted to attend graduate school to become a counselor, she knew her chances would be aided by undergraduate research experience. And so she threw herself into the undergraduate research opportunities presented by UCR. Her project, “Muslim Children’s Conceptualization of Allah and Prayer,” earned her a Chancellor’s Research Fellowship for the 2013-14 school year. It has required her to interview 48 children between the ages of 3.5 and 6.5 to find similarities and differences in how they conceptualize God and prayer.

    “My research has provided data for the underrepresented Muslim population,” she said. “Studying children’s conceptualization of God and prayer gives insight as to how they form perspectives of the supernatural as well as the natural. This research will be compiled with the ongoing study being conducted in my research lab and will, hopefully, provide a comprehensive understanding on all three religions.”

  • Lugo family at Halloween.

    Rosemblim Lugo

    You would forgive Rosemblim Lugo if he had chosen to give up on his dream of going to college. Son of an immigrant family, Lugo went back and forth between Mexico and the United States, then struggled to navigate the complicated that can be the American college system, trying to avoid becoming “lost in the system.” Or perhaps the day he was diagnosed with lymphoma, or any of the days thereafter when he underwent treatment, unable to take time off from the university because it would eliminate his health insurance.

    “My advisor recommended that I take a quarter or two off, even a year off if necessary.  I would always tell them no,” he said. “I was afraid that I would start working somewhere, and never ever find time to go back to school.  I just wanted to finish the program, no matter what it took.”

    And Lugo has done exactly that. The 34-year-old finished his course work in electrical engineering during winter quarter and will be receiving his degree on June 16, 2014.

  • Festus Ohan

    Festus Ohan

    To say that Festus Ohan had his choice of medical schools would be a bit of an understatement. The 22-year-old, who will receive his degree in neuroscience on Saturday, June 14, 2014, was accepted into nine prestigious programs, including the UC Riverside School of Medicine, UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. UC Davis, UC San Francisco, Cornell, Columbia, USC, Northwestern, and the University of Pittsburgh.As if this achievement was not impressive enough on its own, it is magnified by the fact that Ohan spent his teen years in foster care with providers who labeled his dream of becoming a physician “unrealistic.”

    Ohan chose to attend UCLA, receiving a David Geffen Medical Scholarship that will provide full financial support including a living stipend, tuition, room and board, books and supplies.

    “I’m looking forward to medical school and learning how to heal patients,” he said. “I will miss UCR. People here were excited about my dreams and believed I could do it. I had mentors who supported me and inspired me to believe in myself.”

  • head shot

    Ho Phi Huynh

    When Ho Phi Huynh receives his Ph.D. in psychology on Saturday, June 14, 2014, he won’t have too much time to celebrate. He and his fiance have to get on the road to Savannah, Georgia, where he will join the faculty at Armstrong State University. It’s the latest step along a path that started many years before when his family left Binh Phu, Vietnam in search of freedom and new opportunities.

    Those opportunities did come and Huynh made the most of them, becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree when he received a BS in psychology from the University of Arizona. He chose to pursue his Ph.D. at UC Riverside because of the campus’ diversity, the reputation of the psychology department, and the fact that the school was close to home, arriving at the campus in 2009. Like many students he initially had some doubts about whether or not he deserved to be here, but those were quickly quashed.

    “Thankfully, I was surrounded by people who reassured that I belonged and that they struggled through the same doubts,” he said. “I am so fortunate to have met mentors who became friends and so many friends who became mentors. The collegial and family vibe of the psychology department is irreplaceable. There’s so much love and support from every angle—my advisor, my peers, the administration, and undergraduate students included.”

  • Profile photo

    Alwail Ring

    Alwail Ring’s family fled from war-torn Sudan when she was just a child, eventually settling in San Diego. And while she doesn’t remember a great deal about her life there, she finds comfort in the stories that her family members told her. Perhaps it is their influence that led her along the path to her bachelor’s degree in creative writing, with a minor in women’s studies, on June 15, 2014.

    “The greatest feeling is when someone reads my work and they have an emotional reaction to it,” the 22-year old said. “I want to reach people, to have a connection with them.

    Ring’s parents, Francis and Adau, always emphasized her position as a role model for her younger brothers Majok and Agoth, and as well as for the other young people in the community.

    “My parents wanted me to set an example for my brothers and others,” she said. “To go to school, to get good grades. The kids who are in college, they are looked at as role models for the younger ones to follow. What you do doesn’t just affect your family, but everyone else in the community as well.”

  • Gina Guererro will receive her single-subject teaching credential at the Graduate School of Education Commencement ceremony on Monday, June 16, 2014. Photo by Ross French

    Gina Guererro

    Gina Guerrero has a lot of people who want to come out and see her receive her single-subject teaching credential from the Graduate School of Education on Monday, June 16, 2014. In addition to her six children, many of the students who she works with at Moreno Valley High School have asked if they can attend to support her as a thank you for her daily inspiration.

    “Several students have expressed their gratitude for making an impact in their life,” she said. “They have told me that they admire me for overcoming my hardships and that I am an inspiration to them. Many have asked if they can attend my graduation because they are so proud of me. It touches my heart and inspires me to continue working on my goals.”

    Guererro’s story is one that movies are made from. Abused as a child, she decided to escape the cycle of depression and abuse and struck out on her own. She was fortunate to meet Sherry Bex, who not only gave her a place to stay but also helped her fulfill her dream of going to college to become a teacher. She started at Mt. San Antonio College, then transferred to UCR in 2010. She received her bachelor’s degree in English in 2013, then entered the GSOE credential program. In the near term she plans to teach secondary English, but she has a long term goal of opening an Inland Empire-based domestic violence and homeless shelter for women and children called Butterfly Visions.

Commencement Schedule and Ceremony Information

School of Business Administration/A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management

Friday, June 13, 2014 • 6:00 p.m.

Keynote Speaker: Robert Stapleton ’80, M. Admin. ’82

A native of Riverside, Robert Stapleton used the knowledge gained from his degrees from UC Riverside to establish VoiceStream Wireless PCS in 1994. The business was purchased by Deutsche Telekom AG in 2001 for $35 billion and renamed T-Mobile. A lover of competitive cycling, the entrepreneur owned and managed various teams, including the professional cycling team HTC Highroad until 2007.

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Group 1

(Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology)
Saturday, June 14, 2014 • 8:00 a.m.

Keynote Speaker: Daniel Greenstein

Daniel Greenstein is director of education, postsecondary success for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He works to substantially increase the number of students that acquire a postsecondary degree or certificate. He holds degrees from the Universities of Oxford (DPhil) and Pennsylvania (MA, BA) and began his professional life as a senior lecture in Modern History at Glasgow University. He has also served as vice provost for academic planning and programs at the University of California Office of the President, a role in which he acted as the director for UC Online Education – a new effort to integrate online education into the university’s undergraduate curriculum.

College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
School of Medicine Ph.D. Program in Biomedical Sciences

Saturday, June 14, 2014 • 6:00 p.m.

Keynote Speaker: Marigold Linton ’58

Cognitive psychologist Marigold Linton (’58) is internationally known for her research into long-term memory and as founder of the National Indian Education Association. A member of the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians of the Los Coyotes Reservation and a member of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Linton made news upon her arrival at UC Riverside, when she became the first Native American from a California reservation to leave that reservation to attend a university. She graduated in 1958 then went on to earn her Ph.D. in experimental psychology from UCLA, reportedly becoming the 17th Native American to earn that advanced degree in any discipline.

Linton went on to teach at San Diego State University, the University of Utah, Arizona State University and most recently at the University of Kansas.  She is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring and the 2012 UC Riverside Distinguished Alumnus Award

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Group 2

(Anthropology, Economics, History, Political Science)
Sunday, June 15, 2014  • 8:00 a.m.

Keynote Speaker: Frank H. Wu

Frank H. Wu is in his fourth year as chancellor & dean of University of California Hastings College of Law. He is the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, and co-author of Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment.

In his storied career, Wu was a faculty member at Howard University, the nation’s leading historically black college/university, for a decade. Prior to his academic career, he held a clerkship with the late U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti in Cleveland and practiced law with the firm of Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco. He received a B.A. from the Johns Hopkins University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan.

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Group 3

(Art, Art History, Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages, Creative Writing, Dance, English, Ethnic Studies, Media and Cultural Studies, Hispanic Studies, Interdisciplinary Programs and Liberal Studies, Music, Religious Studies, Theatre, Women’s Studies)
Sunday, June 15, 2014  • 6:00 p.m.

Keynote Speaker: Diane Rodriguez

Diane Rodriguez– ( is an Obie Award winning director, writer and performer. She has played a major role in advancing feminist presence in the arts and fostering the visibility of Latina/o theatre on the American stage.

Rodriguez is associate producer and director of New Play Production at the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles and is an associate member of Cornerstone Theater. She is president of the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) Board and plays a major leadership role within the American theatre. In 2014, she was chosen to represent the United States by writing the U.S. address for World Theatre Day.

Graduate School of Education

Monday, June 16, 2014 • 9:00 a.m.

Keynote Speaker:  Michael Kirst

Michael Kirst is the president of the California State Board of Education and professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford University.

Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty, and Director of Program Planning for the Elementary and Secondary Education of the U.S. Office of Education. He is co-author with Andrea Venezia of From High School to College.

Bourns College of Engineering

Monday, June 16, 2014 • 6:00 p.m.

Keynote Speaker: Ernest C. Levister, Jr., M.D.

For decades, Dr. Ernest C. Levister has served the Inland Empire as a doctor of internal and occupational medicine in San Bernardino. A long-time supporter of the University of California, Riverside, he is a highly regarded advocate for underrepresented communities and has served as a mentor for students pursuing careers in medicine, engineering and education, including playing an instrumental role in the creation and support of the student organization African-Americans United in Science.

Levister earned an A.B. in chemistry from Lincoln University, a B.S. in chemical engineering from Lafayette College and an M.D. from Howard University College of Medicine. He received an honorary doctor of science from Lincoln University.

Levister was a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and served as a medical attaché for the U.S. State Department. He currently serves on advisory boards for the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, UCR’s School of Medicine and the Bourns College of Engineering. He is a clinical professor of internal and occupational medicine at the University of California, Irvine. He has served as a health columnist for the Black Voice News newspaper since 1986.

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