Though traditional graduation season is months away, dozens of freshly minted UC Merced grads marked the completion of their degrees during a ceremony over the weekend at the Merced Theatre.
The audience of supporters cheered, whistled and clapped Saturday afternoon as about 80 graduates crossed the stage for the university’s first Winter Celebration to honor students who earned their degrees in the fall semester.
The increasing number of such students led administrators to give this option to about 400 students, said Charles Nies, vice chancellor of students affairs at UC Merced.
“This is an opportunity to really celebrate student success,” Nies said.
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For Jeremy Bowen, 22, being able to help organize the first Winter Celebration while being a graduate in the ceremony was one of the reasons he decided to attend UC Merced four years ago.
“Starting something new at a small school and helping it grow … is an amazing honor,” said Bowen, a graduate in biological sciences. “It’s nice to be able to say I was a part of that.”
Bowen, originally from Sacramento, has left his mark at UC Merced by starting a chapter of social fraternity Pi Lambda Phi, which focuses on eliminating prejudice, he said. He also helped start a Student Success Internship program, where students are provided with career exploration and professional development.
Graduate school is Bowen’s next step to becoming a professional athletic trainer, he said, and he hopes to pursue a master’s degree in athletic training at the University of Idaho.
“It’s a little unreal,” Bowen said. “It feels great to call myself an alumni now. After four years of being here, I definitely call UC Merced home.”
Elizabeth Arguellez recalled the first time she persuaded her parents to make the five-hour drive from Los Angeles to attend Bobcat Day and, after that, she knew she “had to come here.”
“UC Merced is way different on paper than it is in person,” said Arguellez, who studied economics and earth system science. “You get to see different types of beauty. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.”
Although newcomers to the Valley might not find the “big-city life” experience, she said, there are many opportunities to take advantage of while attending UC Merced.
In four years, the 22-year-old said, she created lifelong friendships, was on the Student Sustainability Council and had various internships. She plans to stay in the San Joaquin Valley area to work, she said, so she can help be part of the solution to the many problems individuals face.
Arguellez recently was accepted into a fellowship in Modesto where she will be a representative for Valley Clean Air Now, she said, working on projects pertaining to air pollution and smog issues in the Valley.
“I definitely feel like the Central Valley has a lot of issues that can be addressed,” she said. “I want to stay instead of running away from the issues. I want to stay and find a solution.”
The opportunities students have at UC Merced is what makes the university stand out from other schools, Arguellez said, and every year she felt she grew as a student and person.
“Your relationship with UC Merced has just begun,” Keith Ellis, president of UC Merced’s Alumni Association, told the graduates. “UC Merced is a home you can always come back to and will welcome you with open arms.”
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486