UCR’s 62nd Commencement Evokes Memories of Perseverance, Triumph for Graduates

Approximately 5,400 students have earned degrees this year

By Amy Zahn

It takes perseverance and courage to make it to one of the  seven graduation ceremonies to be held between Friday, June 10 and Monday, June 13 at UC Riverside’s 62nd annual commencement.

Approximately 5,400 students have earned degrees this year, and they join the ranks of more than 100,000 living UCR alumni in the world. Each graduate has a story about the support they received from family, faculty, staff and donors. Read about just a few.

Physics major Connor Richards, an academic star, will go from UCR to the University of Cambridge next fall to complete his masters in applied math and theoretical physics. After that he heads to Princeton University to begin his doctorate. He is one of the 4,662 UCR students registered to walk across the stage in the weekend ceremonies held outdoors, near the carillon tower.

Connor Richards and Julianne Rolf at the UCR Scholars & Donors Luncheon at the Mission Inn. Both are highly decorated graduating seniors from UC Riverside.

Connor Richards and Julianne Rolf at the UCR Scholars & Donors Luncheon at the Mission Inn. Both are highly decorated graduating seniors from UC Riverside.

Richards attributes the courage and determination that has driven his accomplishments at UCR – including winning the Donald A. Strauss, the Gates Cambridge and the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships – to the support he received from his advisor and mentor, Professor of Physics Owen Long.

“I almost didn’t apply,” Richards said about the prestigious Goldwater scholarship he won when he was a sophomore. On the day before the deadline, he still didn’t have an essay he was happy with. His professor convinced him to persevere, despite the fact that it was rare for a sophomore to succeed.

“He cleared his calendar and sat down with me on the spot and spent two hours helping me with the essay that ended up winning this award,” said Richards. That success gave Richards the confidence to apply for – and win – other scholarships and to continue in his path to becoming a physics professor.

Jasleen Rivera persevered to get to commencement with her son.

Jasleen Rivera persevered to get to commencement with her son.

Creative writing major Jasleen Rivera, a single mom, said she has also seen the power of UCR’s faculty and staff. She was hospitalized near the end of her third year, unable to finish her spring quarter. A campus social worker helped her find a therapist and talked to her professors.

“Even though I went through that, they helped me stay in school and not give up,” Rivera said.

“When I first met her, she hid behind bangs that covered her face,” said Geoff Cohen, the director of UCR’s CHASS First program. “By the end of the quarter, you could see her eyes. During the third quarter, she had a class with novelist Susan Straight and that gave her the opportunity to find her voice.”

Rivera’s family feared that she would not graduate after the birth of her son, Akylas, during her fourth year. Now 10 months old, her son will be with her as she walks across the stage, waving at her proud family.

Without resources like the UCR Child Development Center, Rivera said completing her degree would not have been possible.

Maurice Kenner, a captain in the U.S. Army, will graduate with an MBA from the Anderson Graduate School of Management. His next move will be to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he will work as one of the chief admissions officers, choosing qualified candidates to the very selective school.

Maurice Kenner in uniform

Maurice Kenner in uniform

He said his MBA classes at UCR will help him apply business techniques and theory to advance the nation’s men and women in uniform. He hopes to be a general one day.

Nicholas Carrillo is graduating with a degree in media and cultural studies and he uses theater, music and social media to make a large handprint on the world.

“He likes to unite the community and make sure everyone feels like they are part of the family,” said William Caganap, the director of the Asian Pacific Student Programs office.

Nick Carrillo uses music and theater to engage others.

Nick Carrillo uses music and theater to engage others.

Carrillo has starred in musicals, written his own songs, held elected office for ASUCR, all while getting his academics taken care of. “He is an amazing individual with a warm personality that makes you feel more at home,” Caganap said.

Biology majors Jade Zamorano and Hanni Schoniger have spent the last several years involved in various campus organizations, but their proudest achievement is co-founding and funding a science outreach club called Change in Scientific Importance for Youth, or Delta SIFY, they said.

Hanni Schoniger is graduating from the School of Business Administration.

Hanni Schoniger is graduating from the School of Business Administration.

“We try to bridge the educational opportunity gap in the Inland Empire,” said Zamorano. The club, funded by a Donald A. Strauss Scholarship that the pair won in 2015, holds career presentations about different STEM fields and financial aid workshops at local high schools to get younger, disadvantaged students interested in science.

Jade Zamorano

Jade Zamorano

Both Schoniger and Zamorano say that  experiences such as co-founding their club is what pushed them to become more confident.

“One thing I learned about UCR is that a lot of students are really involved in community  outreach,” said Zamorano. “So I saw that as an opportunity to get involved in things that I was passionate about while at the same time feeling comfortable.”

Sammy Mbisike holds down multiple jobs, including driving for Uber, to earn his way to graduation day. Kris Lovekin

Sammy Mbisike holds down multiple jobs, including driving for Uber, to earn his way to graduation day.
Kris Lovekin

Sammy Mbisike, 28, is graduating because of a work ethic and an optimistic nature that helped him hold down two jobs as well as full-time studies as a political science major. A native of Nigeria, he came with his mother and sister to the United States in 2009. A resident of Chino, he transferred into UCR from community college. He works at Costco, drives for Uber and Lyft, and holds down a full-time academic schedule.

“UCR is very peaceful. My professors were willing to help me, and my counselors mapped out the classes for me to take,” he said. “UCR has been a life-changing experience.”

A naturalized citizen, he plans to live in Southern California, working in in a career that combines art and the law.

Friday, June 10  

6 p.m. The School of Business Administration.

Saturday, June 11

8 a.m. Graduate Division and Teacher Credential Program
6 p.m. College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences

Sunday, June 12
8 a.m. College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Group one
6 p.m. College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Group two

Monday, June 13
8 a.m. College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Group three

6 p.m. Bourns College of Engineering

Approximately 5,400 students have earned degrees this year from UCR.

Approximately 5,400 students have earned degrees this year from UCR.

While many of this year’s ceremonies promise lots of sun, guests who are sensitive to the heat will have the chance to view a large screen, live video feed of any ceremony from the climate-controlled University Lecture Hall or Watkins 1000. Tickets are not required to view these feeds, and the live feeds will also be available from the commencement homepage at www.commencement.ucr.edu.

All guests attending a commencement ceremony must have a ticket, and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. For details regarding when to arrive and where to check in and information about a specific ceremony, graduates should refer to the commencement homepage.

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