Student and staff mentor hugging
June 3, 2024

Celebrating UCR’s Class of 2024

Graduating Highlanders and the special supporters who helped them reach Commencement

Author: Malinn Loeung
June 3, 2024

Rewind four years ago when most of this graduating class of collegians were seniors in high school and you’ll be reminded of bittersweet Zoom commencement ceremonies where graduates huddled around a screen to not get their diplomas or shake hands with their principals or hug their classmates.

Instead, they sat dressed in their caps and gowns, stacked with the typical flower leis, surrounded by balloons ... and disappointment. Sure, they were graduating in the technical sense — moving onto the next level of life. But the pandemic took away a celebration they had spent about 18 years earning and planning.

One thing that kept their spirits up? Their friends and family — their fans and supporters; every grad’s must-have. These were the people who made bad grades feel fixable and boring classes feel bearable.

So, we asked some of UC Riverside’s Class of 2024 to tell us who they shared their diploma journey with. Here are some of their messages of gratitude.

(Scroll down for a video.)

Aliyah Kargbo, bachelor’s degree in biology (College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences) Affiliations: African Student Programs, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and African Americans United in Science

“Victor Moreira, Black student success coordinator for African Student Programs, has offered expert academic advice and presented alternative approaches to help me overcome challenges. His mentorship has been transformative, providing not only academic support but also fostering my growth as a leader and professional. Recognizing my leadership potential, Victor entrusted me with the opportunity to serve as a mentor through the Sankofa Mentorship Program. In this role, I have had the privilege to guide incoming freshmen and transfers, sharing insights on campus life, navigating responsibilities, and effectively managing time. Victor's mentorship has been instrumental in shaping my journey, and I am grateful for his continued support and guidance.”

Austin Swisher, doctorate in medicine (School of Medicine) 

“Jesus Orozco, my classmate, helped me master pre-clinical knowledge by sharing a quiet companionship through the stretch of long study days in medical school.”

George Duru, bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering (College of Engineering) Affiliations: Gamma Rho Nu Chapter Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Nigerian Student Association, African Student Programs, BAC, BSU, NSBE, and Sankofa Mentorship Program

“Roman Chomko, my electrical engineering advisor, has helped me countless times with classes and with staying on track. He has given me countless chances and always recognizes the hard work I put into what I do.”

Isabel Pi Pliego, bachelor’s degree in business administration (School of Business) Affiliations: Women’s Resource Center, Campus Safety Escort Service, and UCR CARE SAVE PEER

“Nina Ruedas, director of the Women’s Resource Center, helped me bring the Campus Safety Escort Service back to life.”

Max Hill, bachelor’s degree in microbiology (College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences) Affiliations: Veterans Resource Center

“James Borneman, professor of microbiology and plant pathology, gave me the opportunity to join his lab and start my research experience at UCR. He also provided me with the research path I've chosen. To pursue my Ph.D. and research the effects that diet has on the gut microbiome and how that affects disease. He was a guiding force in my academics.”

Michael Yosef Jimenez, bachelor’s degree in English (College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) Affiliations: Black and African American Recruitment for Undergraduate Admissions & Music Enthusiasts Society Club

“Yael Jimenez, my sister, isn't only my best friend, but I don't think I would have gotten through UCR the same without her. She inspired me at multiple points and made me want to push to work harder in nearly every way, and I'm thankful that we're siblings and that I've been able to have her as my best friend for the past two years and longer.”

Miriam Fadel, bachelor’s degree in public policy (School of Public Policy) Affiliations: Student Alumni Association, Planned Parenthood & Facing Fentanyl

“Elliot Emmer, director of SPP development, supported me at a time when I was close to giving up. His belief in my abilities and his role as the mentor I needed during darker times have left a lasting impact, reminding me of the profound influence genuine encouragement can have on an individual's life. Thank you for being the person I needed when I was younger.”

Nancy Aguilera, bachelor’s degree in mathematics (College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences) Affiliations: Women’s Resource Center

“Nina Ruedas, director of the Women’s Resource Center, has helped me grow as a person and supported me when I needed her. She willingly helped me on my struggle to get to grad school and was there with me every step of the way.”

Peter Carney, bachelor’s degree in physics (College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences) Affiliations: Astronomy Club at UCR (president), 2 different on-campus research groups, Society of Physics Students, UCR-Josai International University student exchange program, African Student Programs, and National Society of Black Engineers

“Jhasitti Marie Gardley is one of my more recent friends, but she's been there for me through by far the most crucial period of my life. I met her at a time when I was getting over a heartbreak and trying to make my graduate school decision. She not only helped me get over the heartbreak, but she and I made a pros and cons list for each graduate school I was considering, which helped me tremendously. I've also helped her too in many ways. I never experienced it until now, but seeing your help and care making a difference in someone's life really does good for your own soul, too. It's been a good dynamic between us, and she's helped me set my life on the right trajectory.”

Ranya Oubeid, bachelor’s degree in psychology (College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) Affiliations: Students Organize for Syria, Middle Eastern Student Center, Sahaba Initiative, Muslim Student Association, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Life Events Lab

“Azza Jandali, my mother, has always been my number one supporter and has always been there for me through it all. Without her, I wouldn’t be here. I am so incredibly grateful to be her daughter and to call her my mom. I love you, momma.”

Russell Garcia, bachelor’s degree in business management (School of Business) Affiliations: Student Veteran Organization (SVO) and American Legion/American Legion Riders

"Tami Thacker, director of the Veterans Resource Center, from the moment I attended Highlander Day before commencing my studies until I completed my degree, has provided invaluable assistance with VA benefit inquiries and addressed any conflicts that arose. She offered support by directing me to campus resources and external organizations, ensuring my tuition was promptly paid, and allowing me to maintain focus on my coursework.”

Stephanie Gutierrez, triple major bachelor’s degrees in education, society, and human development; gender and sexuality studies; and public policy (School of Education) Affiliations: Riverside Underground Scholars, UCR LIFTED, Student Disability Resource Center, Chicano Student Programs, Women’s Resource Center, Residential Life, and Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective

“Amos Lee, assistant professor of teaching, helped me get into the Ph.D. program and helped me heal through the trauma of incarceration. He's now my current faculty advisor. He is so inspirational and kind.”

Tam Du, doctorate in medicine (School of Medicine) Affiliations: Riverside Free Clinic, Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association, Family and Preventative Medicine Interest Group, OACSIG, HABLAMoS, Didactic, and Anatomy Tutors

“Miles Reyes was more than a friend, she's also a housemate and someone I looked up to. As a first-generation immigrant who came in 2013 and moved from Northern California to So Cal without any family, acquaintances, or friends, my life could have taken a different path if Miles hadn't reached out and asked me to be her housemate. She taught me many new things, inspired me to be a better version of myself, and showed me the world.”

Thomas Ferrer, bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (BCOE) Affiliations: National Society of Black Engineers and BCOE Peer Mentor

“My sister and UCR alumni, Adrielli Ferrer, is the reason I majored in mechanical engineering. She helped me understand that I was capable of succeeding in a difficult major. I have always had a passion for physics, automotive, and aerospace. With that being said, I still went into UCR as a business major because I was afraid of the challenge. My sister motivated me to pursue my interests and equipped me with everything that I needed to succeed.”

Violeta Covarrubias, doctorate in medicine (School of Medicine) Affiliations: Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA)

“Dr. Christina Granillo, assistant clinical professor, was pivotal to my success. She was my go-to person for advice when it came to studying for our board examinations and she was also my biggest cheerleader when I doubted myself. She was also super encouraging of my decision to start a family in medical school and never doubted my ability to succeed. I felt a great connection to her not just because of her kindness, but also because she is Latina. I am so thankful for her and her dedication to us.”

Press play to watch the moments where the graduates thanked their special supporters for everything they did to help them reach this university milestone. Warning, you will feel feelings...

Press play to watch a 4-minute video.


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