commencement profile header
June 1, 2021

2021 voices: Grads share pivotal moments of their educational journeys

More than 7,100 students are eligible to graduate; Commencement events kick off on June 3 with the School of Medicine

Author: Sandra Baltazar Martínez
June 1, 2021

A total of 4,472 UC Riverside students have signed up to participate in a modified in-person commencement celebration during the month of June. 

This number includes 899 students who graduated in 2020 and were unable to walk across the stage due to COVID-19 pandemic group gathering restrictions. The 2021 class has more than 7,100 students eligible to graduate this year.

Students from both 2020 and 2021 classes have the option to join virtually or to request participation in this year’s 67th commencement as a modified in-person celebration. All events will be fully virtual and livestreamed. 

For the in-person name recognition, each student can invite up to two guests. Celebrations begin Thursday, June 3, and run through Monday, June 14. Commencement events kick off on June 3 with 70 eligible medical students from UCR’s School of Medicine.  

“I am so proud of our graduates who persisted, despite the challenges COVID created,” Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said. “Whether they choose to walk across the stage, an important tradition for many, or celebrate virtually, I want each to know that I admire their tenacity and perseverance. This has been a year like no other and I am incredibly proud of every graduate.”

Because events will be fully virtual and livestreamed, the formal ceremony will be a prerecorded program of about 30 minutes released at the beginning of commencement weekend, with remarks and greetings by university, Academic Senate, alumni, and student leaders. Students and their families can watch at their convenience and enjoy a tassel-turning or hooding moment with their loved ones at home.

For the in-person celebrations, short-term parking is free for graduates and their guests. Visitors should expect traffic congestion and are encouraged to plan ahead, said Kim Huynh, event and mobility manager with UCR’s Transportation and Parking Services.  

For June 12-14 ceremonies Lot 25 will be closed except for the front of the lot where there will be “drop off only” access for the mobility impaired. Details for accessible parking can be found at the TAPS commencement site.

“Parking is part of the greater experience,” Huynh said. “This has been a tough year for everybody, our life was upended. We just want them to have an overall phenomenal commencement experience.”

What you need to know for in-person participation


Meet some of the graduates. Click on the image to listen to their story.
Alexander Brinkley

For the past four years Alexander Brinkley, 21, a biology major, has researched bumble bees and their behavioral ecology, primarily concentrating his work on how pesticides affect bees and biodiversity. He is part of Assistant Professor Hollis Woodard’s lab. During summer breaks, he worked 40-hour weeks to advance the research. This summer Brinkley is headed to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado to continue research for Woodard’s lab. He is also applying to medical school to become a physician research scientist. At UCR he’s been a Chancellor's Research Fellow, a Promoting Engagement, Retention and Success in STEM peer mentor, and a College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences Science Ambassador.

“One of the biggest motivations has been that I always wanted to make my parents proud. I was given so much as a student. CNAS had a peer mentor program, which means I had senior students giving me guidance and information. UCR has been incredible. I really want to give back to the community that’s really given so much to me. My experiences were so wonderful in the lab.”


Antara Chakravarty

Can plants be used to make vaccines against the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV? That’s one of the many questions plant pathologist Antara Chakravarty, 30, is trying to answer. She is an international student from India who has spent the last six years focused on projects that involve plant viruses — the kind that can devastate farm crops. Her work has primarily been alongside A.L.N. Rao, professor of plant pathology and microbiology. Three years ago, though, her graduate experience pivoted. Her father passed away unexpectedly in India. In the midst of her pain, she looked inward for strength and learned new skills. She became a teaching assistant, taking on projects to offer continuing training for other teaching assistants, and even teaching a class with 130 students. Throughout this entire experience, her husband Rajesh Yadav, has provided unwavering support, she said. Yadav received his master’s in business administration from UCR in 2020.  

“My father was everything to my brother and I. After father died, I knew that quitting was not what my father would have wanted for me. I pulled myself out of that deep sadness and looked for resources, opportunities. Father was social, never afraid of speaking in front of people. I was told that in order to process that grief, I had to honor my dad’s legacy. I then competed in Grad Slam, requiring me to speak in front of an audience, making a three-minute research presentation speech. I didn’t win, but I reached the finals and it changed my life. In interacting with Dr. Hillary Jenks, my mentor and director of GradSuccess, I discovered I really wanted to continue teaching and was hired as the lead consultant in GradSuccess to offer continuing training for other teaching assistants. I actually started thriving from there. Dr. Rao has a lot of empathy as a PI as he allowed me time to heal, which I am very grateful for. Also he contributed greatly in developing my scientific communication as well as grantsmanship skills as he is really good at explaining complex things in simple ways. As international students we are not eligible to apply for external funding, but I still managed to get all I was eligible for, like the Dissertation Program Fellowship and Charles W. Coggins Jr. Endowed Scholarship from CNAS.”

Crescent Rose Lauren

Crescent Rose Lauren’s life is filled with music, language, and drag. They are a drag performer majoring in linguistics and minoring in music. Crescent is their preferred name, but they also go by Erick Gonzalez. Crescent prefers they, them, their, and she pronouns. This 26-year-old has been a crucial leader at the LGBT Resource Center. They organized a panel of people living with HIV and helped organize and perform at the annual Dragalicious Drag Ball fundraiser to help raise scholarship money. For this and so much more, they was awarded the New Involvement Impact Award from the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on LGBT Students, Faculty and Staff. 

“I’m taking one year off, then pursuing a masters in speech therapy, specifically in voice affirming therapy to help the transgender community. It’s been interesting being at UCR. I feel like I’ve been at the right place at the right time. I’ve made new friends at the LGBT Resource Center, where I’ve worked as a student assistant for two years. I remember spring 2019, when students had to vote on the Highlander Empowerment Student Services Referendum. This included a no sunset clause that provides funding for Costco Hall offices, including the LGBT Resource Center. That was very important for me. I dressed up in drag — we needed 15% of the student body to vote — and for two days walked around asking people to vote. It worked! I feel like Crescent is more the performance type. Erick is more the reader, the writer, the student. I would consider both of us the musicians. Basically, I’m Erick by sunlight, Crescent by moonlight.” 

Jazlyn Landaverde

A high school counselor changed her life. Now she’s off to Cal State Dominguez Hills’ master’s in counseling program to eventually become a high school college counselor herself. Jazlyn Landaverde, 21, is double majoring in education and sociology. Both her parents are Salvadorean immigrants and much of her identity is centered around her family, motivated by her parents’ arduous dedication to providing a better life for her and her little sister.    

“I realized that college access was the biggest, most impactful thing for me. My high school counselor really, really helped me. He told me ‘This is your identity, this is who you are, this is you, a first-generation Latina.’ Without my high school counselor I wouldn’t be where I am; I can say that whole-heartedly. I was really shy in high school. Once I got to UCR, I pushed myself because I knew I couldn’t do that anymore. I joined Hermanos Unidos. I made a lot of friends and learned a lot about myself, my identity. As a kid in school — as someone who identifies as Central American — I was mainly taught about Mexican culture, I was told that my Spanish was ‘wrong’ because my accent and some vocabulary can be different than that of Mexicans.  At UCR I didn’t have to walk into a space and compromise my identity. I did community work, I started working as a peer mentor for the Academic Resource Center. There, it shaped the professional side of myself. It taught me to trust myself, to be able to guide students. People like Elena Perez at the ARC and Arlene Cano Matute at Chicano Student Programs, built a work environment to be like familia.” 

Jennifer "Jenn" Sayre

A few weeks ago, Jennifer Sayre received confirmation: she starts as a special education teacher in a San Bernardino County area school. It’s her dream job. She is receiving a master’s in education with a special education credential. Sayre is a transfer student and Army veteran who is raising three children alongside her wife, Nicole Sayre, who also graduated from UCR. Their 12-year-old daughter is autistic. Learning at school and managing the days with their daughter at home, have prepared her for the job, Sayre said. As she reflects on starting her teaching career, she says she is grateful for the financial aid she received. She was the recipient of Operation Education through UCR’s Veterans Resource Center and the Local Solutions Grant

“I don’t even know how I ended up on this path. I just remember the special education team came to speak to us at the Veterans Resource Center and I thought, ‘yes, that’s what I want to do.’ When I was at Victor Valley College I knew UCR is where I wanted to be. My wife went here and I had heard some really good things. The Veterans Resource Center is a home; Tami, the veteran services coordinator, is like our mom, she goes above and beyond to help us, keeps us motivated, tells us how proud she is of us. And outside of the VRC, everyone is very inviting, we are students, all learning together. Your race, your sexual orientation, your age does not matter. The support from my 10-member cohort is incredible, we are like a huge family. I’m so thankful for them.”

Laura Anaya-Morga

Since she was in seventh grade, Laura Anaya-Morga, 21, knew she wanted to become a journalist. For the past two years she has worked at The Highlander, UCR’s student-run newspaper. In March she was selected to join the Los Angeles Times inaugural spring internship cohort. She is a metro intern supporting journalist Esmeralda Bermudez with projects. Anaya-Morga has also interned for ¡Presente! Media, highlighting the work of local activists and mutual aid organizations. Anaya-Morga is a media and cultural studies major, and a proud first-generation Latina.  

“The first time I ever remember I wanted to be a journalist was in seventh grade. I was always interested in the storytelling aspect of it. When I was in middle school, I admired television journalist Jorge Ramos. My parents watched Jorge Ramos on Univisión and I thought, ‘one day I want to be the person my parents go to for news.’ The LA Times internship is everything I could ever hope for. I get to work with journalists whose work I admire, such as Esmeralda, and others who cover the Latino community in particular. They are telling people stories and connecting with them, giving people an outlet to the world.”

Madeleine "Maddie" Bunting

Madeleine "Maddie" Bunting will be living in Washington, D.C. for the next year. She is part of City Year, a national service program that places young adults in different communities throughout the world to fulfill full-time community service work. Bunting, 20, has been placed in an underserved school in D.C. As a public policy major she took classes that taught her about the inequities in education. They fueled her passion to pursue this as a career; after completing her City Year program, she plans to pursue as master’s in public administration. During her time at UCR Bunting was regularly on the dean’s list, was the Dean’s Chief Brand Ambassador, and the public affairs student assistant at the School of Public Policy. She also helped establish and host the school’s official podcast, Policy Chats, where she recently interviewed California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis. 

“I have always loved school. I have always been a learner. Now I’m interested in education reform. I came in as a political science major, but during my second quarter I took public policy 1 and realized that public policy was better suited for me. It is more hands-on, so many laws affect all of us. I really got into politics in 2008. I became even more passionate about learning and as I got older and decided I wanted to work with the federal government. I want to get out to D.C., live it, be there. In terms of the podcast, Policy Chats, it’s a great opportunity to highlight UCR. We make a conscientious effort to take part and be aware of what’s happening at the community, state, and international level. The goal is to expand our audiences and cover as many policies as we can, along with bringing experts to discuss issues and end with a solution or call to action.”

Marlene Alfaro

Growing up Marlene Alfaro’s parents always told her that the stars that populate the night sky, are the number of dreams she and her brothers can achieve. She’s keeping that in mind as she starts a three-year emergency medicine residency at San Diego Kaiser Permanente. She is a Thomas Haider Scholar and received the Dean’s Mission Scholarship that covered her medical school tuition. In exchange, she has committed to joining a medical practice in the Inland Empire after completing the residency. Until a couple years ago, her intention had been to focus on pediatric medicine. But vacationing in Mexico with her boyfriend made her discover a new passion. They were in an all-terrain vehicle that rolled over, causing severe damage to his arm. Her early training equipped her to stabilize him, but by the time he was transported to a U.S. hospital, doctors had to amputate it. It was an eye-opening experience for Alfaro and she was inspired to learn more about trauma and emergency medicine. 

“My parents always told us that all the stars in the sky were dreams we could achieve. During high school I volunteered at the elementary school I had attended in Ontario. I thought to myself, how could I help kids get those stars? When kids are unhealthy and unwell, that prevents them from reaching them. My goal was to become a doctor and help them be healthy. But in the first year of medical school, my boyfriend lost his left arm after we were in an ATV accident. The community in Mexico was small and did not have the emergency response team he needed. It was then that I developed love for emergency medicine. Now he’s got a black, metal, prosthetic arm and he wears it proudly. He is always the life of the party. During my third year I worked at the Riverside Community Hospital’s ER and saw this doctor respond to emergencies so calm and collected. As I watched him stabilize patients in minutes I thought, ‘I want to be like him and provide comfort to patients in such vulnerable states.’” 

Precious Fasakin

Precious Fasakin wants to be a lifelong learner. As an economics major with an anthropology minor, she wants to change peoples’ minds about finances and their connection and influence on society. The 21-year-old spent the past four years as a DJ at UCR’s radio station, KUCR. Through economics, anthropology, and music, she has learned to further appreciate her Nigerian heritage, where she spent many summers with family. In the U.S., she’s been conducting research on West African economies and looking at the potential to utilize community-based media and radio programming for empowerment and socioeconomic development, including participating in the American Economic Association Summer Program at Michigan State University. At UCR she received the Chancellor’s Research Fellowship and the Affiliates of UCR Scholarship. Fasakin is also co-president of UCR’s Underground Scholars Initiative, a group that supports UCR students who were formerly imprisoned or are “system-impacted,” meaning they have family or friends who are or have been incarcerated. 

“My mom was the first woman in her family to be literate. My grandparents and great-grandparents sacrificed the literal clothes of their backs and unharvested crops in Nigeria to educate their children. So much generational sacrifice, my three siblings and I — all with a college education — stand on the shoulders of giants: my great-grandparents, grandparents and parents, and all the generations that came before them. I’ve loved my time at UC Riverside. I’ve found that money often has such a strange connection in peoples’ minds, in that too many of us have never had enough. In my work, I’m centering equity, and the possibilities for justice through economies, and anthropology and culture really informs this. For the past four years I’ve loved being at KUCR 88.3FM. I host a weekly show called ‘The P-Word.’ ‘P’ is for my name, but I often use a different p-word, such as power, perseverance, peace; I use language and history of the African continent and its diaspora to connect Black sounds and people from around the world.”


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