Grid of 2023 graduates
May 31, 2023

Celebrating UCR’s Class of 2023

Highlanders share their bold hearts & brilliant minds moments while reaching their degrees

Author: Malinn Loeung
May 31, 2023

Most of the students from the Class of 2023 started this journey in fall 2019 — the last quarter of pandemic-free existence. Just months after they stepped onto UC Riverside’s campus, they exchanged classroom numbers for Zoom links and ventured through their first year of higher education without traditional support systems or experiences.

Four years later, despite detours that ranged from annoying to life-threatening, this cohort is ready to burst forth and add motion to a world that was once stuck on pause. Yes, each graduating class has its challenges and successes, but this class made it through a worldwide pandemic — some of the darkest days recent generations have seen.

We invited soon-to-be graduates to share their Highlander experiences — here are some of their stories. 

Marina Dunn convinced herself at 4 years old that she was going to study space. Despite being almost killed by a drunk driver, losing an uncle to suicide, being diagnosed with ADHD, and moving back home during the pandemic — this engineering major completed research in astrophysics and has worked at NASA and Lawrence Livermore National Lab. (College of Engineering)

Hector Jimenez dresses up in early 20th-century men's clothing every day. He’s been doing it since his senior year of high school and has continued the tradition through his four years at UCR, even during quarantine. This history major’s unique sense of style has brought upon this campus an identity and his fellow Highlanders can’t get enough of his tailcoats and top hats. (College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences)

Gwyndolin R. Limon came out as transgender and transitioned at UCR during the pandemic. As a Hispanic, first-generation, transwoman in STEM, Limon’s trailblazing was difficult but rewarding. Hard work, perseverance in the face of adversity and discrimination, and self-acceptance were hard lessons to learn for this environmental engineering major, but the connections made at the LGBTRC gave Limon strength and confidence to overcome any obstacle. (College of Engineering)

Edgarventura Melendrez is the eldest of a family of immigrant parents. Despite receiving little guidance from family and no financial aid, this computer science major will graduate with honors. Melendrez will also graduate debt free after paying for college out of pocket with funds earned through paid campus positions, teaching computer science to middle schoolers. (College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences)

Zyon Pullin made multiple game-winning shots this season, ultimately helping the Highlander Men’s Basketball team attain its first 20-win season at the Division 1 level, revitalizing and capturing the attention of the campus and local community. This business major also earned two All-Big West and three Big West All-Academic honors during his athletic career. (School of Business)

Skylar Rains was 10 years old when her mother passed away during surgery. Now she’s becoming a physician to address the need for high-quality care in the Inland Empire and other medically underserved areas. Rains was also the first elected female president of UCR’s medical school. (School of Medicine)

Isabella Scarlett championed for the Black Lives Matter movement, marching in the wake of George Floyd's murder. This psychology major continues activism through social media, donating to nonprofits, and working with the Big Yard Foundation, founded by her brother Brennan, an NFL linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. (College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences)

Xochilt Salgado has held countless positions of honor. Her work highlights the educational injustice that marginalized students are forced to endure, while admiring the triumph of every marginalized graduate. Salgado was unanimously selected by a group of staff to be SOE's student procession marshal at commencement. (School of Education)

Creiselda Terpoorten is system-impacted, with both parents and several family members experiencing incarceration. She is president of UCR’s chapter of Underground Scholars Initiative, a student-led organization that recruits, retains, and advocates for the higher education of formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students. Terpoorten is dedicated to fighting the discrimination and stigmatization society places on people who have carceral connections. (School of Public Policy)

Zabdi Rafael Velásquez has elevated his trajectory since immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico with his family. And although neither of his parents completed middle school or high school, let alone college, they raised him with higher education intentions. Since transferring from a community college and joining the Highlander family, this political science/international affairs major has spent the past two years soaking in all the experiences available to him, including involvement with the Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society, Model United Nations, UCR's UNICEF chapter, Chicano Student Programs, Middle Eastern Student Center, Veterans Resource Center, Native American Student Programs, Student Disability Resource Center, and more. (School of Public Policy)

Press play to watch a celebration video:

Watch Video: Class of 2023 shares their bold hearts and brilliant minds moments at UCR.

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