'You worked hard,' UC Merced students told as they claim diplomas Saturday

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comMay 18, 2013 

— For inspiration, the 460 graduates of UC Merced on Saturday could draw upon the wisdom of an ex-astronaut, their chancellor, and a fellow student and researcher as they chart their futures.

All three speakers told students from the Schools of Natural Sciences and Engineering that anything is possible if they persevere.

In the first of two graduations over the weekend, more than 5,000 people assembled at the South Bowl of the campus Saturday to hear keynote speaker Jose Hernandez.

Hernandez, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in November, credited his farmworker parents for pushing him to pursue a dream held since he was a 10-year-old — to become an astronaut.

"Look for opportunities in the short term that are consistent with your big-picture goals," Hernandez said. "Success is not an accident; you worked hard for this."

Student speaker Maxine Umeh-Garcia, who received her master's degree in biological science and is going to UC Davis for her doctorate, minced no words in challenging fellow graduates.

"Opportunities don't make you; you make opportunities," Umeh-Garcia said. "We will change the world; yes, we can and we will. We can accomplish the impossible, whatever the next step might be. What could you do if you knew you would never fail?"

Chancellor Dorothy Leland told graduates they would leave Merced benefiting from an education at one of the most highly regarded universities in the world, a degree earned in a rigorous, challenging environment.

Katherine Amrine, 27, received her doctorate in quantitative systems biology. She found out Thursday that she has been accepted for a post-doctoral position at UC Davis, which will extend her research career.

Amrine, who has studied at UC Merced for five years after five years at the University of Wyoming, thought Saturday's commencement ceremony was beautiful.

"After 10 years in higher education, it's kind of weird not to be in school anymore," Amrine said. At UC Merced, the wife and mother of a toddler has been studying the deep roots of the bacterial tree of life.

Anibal Espinoza, 22, received his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and wore a lei fashioned from dollar bills around his neck. He is hoping to find a job related to engineering, adding that he may go to art school so he can learn design.

Espinoza's dream career would be in automotive design or aerospace. A UC Merced student for five years, he praised the quality of the education he received.

Brittany Broom received her bachelor's degree in microbiology and immunology. Hailing from Vacaville, she said it feels good to get a degree.

Broom said she's glad she came to UC Merced because it provided her with great opportunities to work one-on-one with the faculty. She wants to do research, possibly about cancer.

Michael Yonemoto, 22, received his bachelor's in human biology and plans to go to graduate school to study physical therapy, perhaps to become a therapist.

Yonemoto said he came to Merced four years ago from San Francisco. He said it was a journey he was glad he made as he prepares for the challenges of graduate school.

Hernandez, the astronaut, spent Aug. 28 to Sept. 11, 2009, as part of a space shuttle crew visiting the international space station. He advised grads to learn to work with people and benefit from their experience.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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