Clouds loomed over the Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Quad last weekend, but nothing was going to rain on the parade of the more than 1,300 Bobcats who walked the stage at UC Merced’s commencement.
Baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral graduates from the schools of Natural Sciences, Engineering, and Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts were celebrated at the university’s 14th commencement exercises, with Chancellor Dorothy Leland delivering the keynote address at both ceremonies. This was Leland’s final commencement, as she announced her retirement on May 13.
“This is a joyful moment in a journey propelled by your decisions, big and small. It took courage, determination, long hours and sleepless nights to get here,” Leland said in her address. “But here you are at last, poised to become a proud graduate of the newest campus in the world’s most respected public university system.”
Applied mathematics major Victoria Arias and Spanish major Cydney Caradonna delivered the student speeches.
“I've seen you come together to solve problems and initiate change, build apps and drones, lead and volunteer. Thanks to all our hard work, we're leaving UC Merced a better place than we found it just four or five years go,” Arias said. “Today, we leave equipped to pursue our dreams.”
“As we reflect on all our time here, we will find that what we did most frequently was discover. We discovered who we were at UC Merced,” Caradonna said. “We were given spaces to fully tap into every identity we hold close to our chests under our gowns today. Once tapped into, we then found spaces to celebrate each and every one of those identities.”
Saturday’s ceremony included a historic moment for the university. Modesto native Berenice Cervantes-Perez became the first graduate of UC Merced Extension's Teacher Preparation Program. The program debuted this academic year and provides culturally responsive instruction to help educate the newest group of TK-12 teachers in the San Joaquin Valley. Berenice completed the program in less than a year and is set to begin her teaching career in Manteca in the fall.
The weekend’s festivities also marked the 10-year anniversary of UC Merced’s first full graduating class. Members of the class of 2009 played a role in the commencement ceremonies, with several serving as flag bearers. Brooklynn Pham (’09), who sang the national anthem at the 2009 commencement, returned to sing the alma mater at Sunday’s ceremony. Jason Castillo (’09), the student speaker for the first graduating class, presented the alumni speech Saturday to the newest cohort of UC Merced alums — a group that now includes more than 10,000 former Bobcats.
“Your UC Merced journey does not end here, and neither does the connection you have with your alma mater,” Castillo said. “What sets UC Merced apart from other universities is that this is a young university that has been completely built on the efforts of its faculty, staff, students and alumni. Unlike more established institutions, we cannot rest on the reputation of our university, but instead, we are part of creating our reputation as a campus.”