Class of 2020 and 2021 graduates on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (UCR/Stan Lim)
June 16, 2021

‘Closure’ for 2020 and 2021 graduates

Nearly 4,500 students participated in modified in-person commencement ceremonies

Author: Sandra Baltazar Martínez
June 16, 2021

Through early mornings and afternoon heat, students and their guests trekked to UC Riverside for this year’s modified in-person commencement ceremonies. 

Nearly 4,500 UCR students signed up to participate in these live events, including students from class of 2020. 

Here are a few moments captured during ceremonies that took place between June 12 and June 14. 

Graduates shared their thoughts and emotions after walking across the stage:

Itztlixochitl Arteaga, 22

B.A. in dance, education minor

Her commencement Aztec regalia known as “copilli,” an array of colorful plumage fanned across her back. Feathers help dancers like her to connect with ancestors, she said. Her parents have been teaching youth in East Los Angeles through their organization Danza Azteca Xochipilli for 31 years.   

“I feel like it signifies a culmination of what my parents fought for coming to the United States. I’m proud that I did this; it’s been a hard four years. But my family pushed me to succeed, always showing pride for my culture.”

Itztlixochitl Arteaga graduated on Monday, June 14, 2021 (UCR/Stan Lim)
Niko Romero, 22

B.S. in finance

He attended commencement with his little brother by his side, Ezekiel Romero, 14. 

“I’m happy, and I’m going to pursue whatever God has for me. I’m currently looking for opportunities, internships in finance.”

Niko Romero and his little brother, Ezekiel Romero, 14, on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (UCR/Stan Lim)


Darrell Richardson ’16, 26

Master’s degree in business administration, with a concentration in management; bachelor’s in sociology

Richardson and his parents, Chandrika and Darrell Richardson, had huge smiles as they made their way to the front of the gym. Seeing students like their son walk across the stage is great because they worked hard and deserve the acknowledgement, Chandrika said. 

“I was nervous at first because I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I’m happy to be here today.” 

Darrell Richardson graduated on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (UCR/Stan Lim)


Tyler Benjamin Smith ’20, 29

B.S. in physics, current doctoral student at UC Irvine

A few days before UCR’s commencement, Smith was working on completing his first year at UCI. After finals he planned on spending time with his daughters and taking them to gymnastics. His fiancée, Patrisha Martinez and mom Luci Smith accompanied him for the in-person ceremony. 

“It feels nice to return to campus because there is a sense of closure. I would be lying if I didn’t say it is a pain to make my way out right after finals, though. It was definitely nice to have my mom there. I didn’t graduate high school, so this is the first time she has seen me walk. Hopefully she’ll be able to attend another in about four years.”

Tyler Benjamin Smith, 26, with his mother, Luci Smith (left) and fiancée Patrisha Martinez. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Benjamin Smith)


Justin Khuong, 21

B.S. in accounting

Khuong's mother, Lien Duong, was full of emotion. Her son graduated and already has a job lined up with an accounting firm in Los Angeles. His father, Peter Khuong, said he's excited for his son's new journey.

“I am relieved and scared at the same time. I’m a little scared for what the future holds, but this is also a new beginning.”

Justin Khuong with his parents, Lien Duong and Peter Khuong on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (UCR/Sandra Baltazar Martínez)


Lindsey Delgado, 21

B.S. in business administration

“I’m so happy and excited. On Monday I start a summer internship with Deloitte in San Francisco, and a master’s at UC San Diego in the fall. It was just really exciting to share the moment with my parents. I really appreciate them; they’ve done so much.”

Lindsey Delgado with her parents, Violeta Delgado and Adalberto Aparicio, on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (UCR/Sandra Baltazar Martínez)


Darlyn Garcia, 32

B.S. in accounting and auditing

"¡Sí se judo!" Garcia's mom, Hortencia Garcia said in Spanish. "Yes, it was done!" she said as she and her husband, Simon Garcia, walked with their youngest daughter. 

“I can’t believe I made it! I also have an accountant job with a Southern California Edison subcontractor. I’m just so happy!”

Darlyn Garcia, 32, with her parents, Hortencia and Simon Garcia, on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (UCR/Sandra Baltazar Martínez)


Raymond Jimenez ’20, 28

B.S. in business analytics 

During the height of the pandemic, he started working with Foodnome, a virtual marketplace of home-cooked and prepared meals. For commencement, he decorated his cap with a message in Spanish: “For my parents. They came with nothing and gave me everything.” 

“I love it. It feels like I’m actually being recognized for all the triumphs and tribulations that came from COVID. I also feel recognized as a transfer student. In the near future, I’m planning on pursuing a master’s in cybersecurity and public policy.”

Raymond Jimenez, 28, and his classmate, celebrate on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (UCR/Stan Lim)


Gethzemany Kassandra Gonzalez ’20, 22

B.A. in global studies and Russian language and literature (double major)

Her mother, Cora Gerardo, said she felt proud and couldn't hold her tears after seeing her daughter graduate — a day after her youngest daughter, Samantha Gonzalez, had graduated from high school.

“I’m just happy. I couldn’t not come today. Last year I was feeling hopeless because of the pandemic and the job situation. But I landed a job in September as a translator and office administrator at a law firm. I love it; now I’m going to paralegal school in the fall. I also have a part-time job writing scripts for TV commercials.” 

Gethzemany Kassandra Gonzalez, 22, with her mother, Coral Gerardo and little sister, Samantha Gonzalez (left), on Monday, June 14, 2021. (UCR/Sandra Baltazar Martínez)


Michelle Phan, 21

B.S. in business operations and supply chain management 

She and her friends waited in line to pose for a photo in front of a UCR School of Business banner. She carried a white unicorn-shaped piñata with a colorful mane, a gift from her friends, who added crisp dollar bills along its mane. 

“It feels great; we did it! It’s also a bit surreal, especially because we made it happen, even through this pandemic.”

Michelle Phan, holding her unicorn money piñata, on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (UCR/Sandra Baltazar Martínez)


Itzel Pulido, 20

B.A. in linguistics

Her two older brothers, Javier Pulido, 26, and Sergio Pulido, 24, waited in line to see her. The brothers held a white wooden frame with a photo of their late father, Saul Pulido. He passed away six months ago. 

“My experience at UCR was phenomenal; the student body was diverse, the faculty incredible. Graduating means being a first-gen Mexican American, showing my parents that I did it. This is the American Dream, I guess,” she said pointing to her father’s framed photo. “I just wanted to make sure I saw him today.”

Itzel Pulido, 20, with her two older brothers, Javier (left) and Sergio Pulido, as Itzel holds a portrait of their late father. (UCR/Stan Lim)


Emmanuelle Aruta ’20, 23 

B.A. in global and Latin American studies (double major)

Her parents, Gayle and Daniel Aruta, celebrated with her and said they were thankful to see her graduate in person. Her 2020 graduation “party” was in their backyard, with two friends and a COVID-19 virus-shaped piñata they gladly shattered.  

“Closure,” Emmanuelle said. “Today means closure.”

Emmanuelle Aruta, 23, with her parents, Gayle and Daniel Aruta, on Monday, June 14, 2021. (UCR/Sandra Baltazar Martínez)


Juan Morales, 22

B.A. in psychology and Spanish literature (double major)

Lucio Morales and Rosa Pascual said their son Juan Morales is a role model for their other four children. They are proud and supported his educational journey in as many ways possible.

“It means so much to me. I’m the first in my family to graduate, I have a list of accomplishments … but what I’m most proud about is having my parents with me and celebrating together. This is for their hard work, although they were not able to achieve greater than a sixth-grade education, we are able to be here today.”

Juan Morales with his parents, Lucio Morales and Rosa Pascual, on Monday, June 14, 2021. (UCR/Stan Lim)


What does UCR mean to these grads? Hear for yourself:


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