“After I served my country for two years, I didn’t want to go back to the U.S. to finish my architecture degree (I went to Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia before my service). I wanted to stay in Korea for a while and audition for ‘K-pop Star,’ but after three failed auditions, I decided to go back to school.
Because I became deeply interested in politics and media, I looked for various ways to transfer to another school to major in communication. I also wanted to stay in Korea but wanted to get an American education. Coincidentally, I heard that a famous American university opened a new campus in Songdo, South Korea (University of Utah Asia Campus), so I thought that would be the best opportunity to change my life.
I think professors here are so amazing because of how they guide and inspire me to achieve my future dreams. One of my professors encouraged me to start making videos, so I started a YouTube channel, “Warub Couple” to introduce my Korean friends to American culture and I eventually plan to do videos that will introduce my American friends to Korean culture.
After graduation, I plan to go back to Korea and work for a major media corporation.”
— Kangho Lee, class of 2017, part of the first graduating class from the University Asia Campus
“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to catch bad guys. I’ve always been passionate about public service and protecting people who can’t protect themselves.
I received a bachelor’s degree from Weber State University in criminal justice and psychology and was going to go on to get a master’s degree. I put that on hold after I was hired in September 2012 by the Unified Police Department.
I work graveyards as a patrol officer and have secondary assignments in the high-risk victims unit and as a field training officer. I also work security at St. Mark’s Hospital.
Two years ago, I applied for the U’s Master of International Affairs and Global Enterprise. I am the first in my immediate family to get a master’s degree.
I want to work in international law — international drug or human trafficking or counter terrorism. In the MIAGE program I was able to tailor classes to my work and career interests — counter terrorism, immigration law, national security policy, criminal justice policy.
I was the back-up officer on a domestic violence call. The victim was very reluctant to gives us information because she was afraid of deportation. But in my immigration law class I had learned about federal protections for domestic violence victims and I was able to tell her if she came forward that wouldn’t happen. It felt great. It was one more tool I had, one more word of advice I could give this victim.
I am celebrating graduation by participating in the Police Unity Tour bike ride from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., which honors fallen officers and raises money for their memorial. I will be riding for officers Doug Barney, Cody Brotherson, Eric Ellsworth and K9 Officer Aldo.”
— Chelsea Winslow, Class of 2017, master of international affairs and global enterprise
“My wife Cassidy and I met in gen chem. I was her TA. For part of our first date I took her to the ACS lab and showed her some demos.
I proposed on Feb. 15, 2015. I asked U police if I could get on the roof of the chemistry building to propose. I used some “gun cotton” which is nitrated cotton that burns really quickly. I told Cassidy I’d been given access to the roof of HEB. She went up to the roof with me and I had her light pieces of gun cotton. I had to keep giving her gun cotton because I couldn’t see where the ring box was. I found it, pulled it out and proposed. She said yes!
Cassidy is now in Pharmacy school and I’ll be teaching chemistry at Springville High, my old high school. There’s so much I’ve learned that I’ll take with me. One thing is the idea of trying to understand each individual student and what they’re going through.
It’s because of coming to the U and the people here that I’m able to graduate and have a job and the relationship I have with my wife. I owe a lot to this school.”
— Carter Jennings, Class of 2017, chemistry major
“Dental school anywhere is a wild adventure, but when you’re in the first class at a brand new dental school, it’s even more of a wild ride. I wanted to make sure I broadened my experiences in school. It was all about avoiding the tunnel vision of just studying all day long.
Early on, my classmates and I started thinking, “Well, we need student government, and we need to start some organizations.” As part of the first class, you have that responsibility to start establishing programs that future students can pursue, grow, and develop leadership opportunities. So, we started a chapter of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), which presented a great opportunity to engage my peers, interact with pre-dental students, volunteer out in the community, learn about advocacy for our profession and patients and even plan social activities.
National ASDA hosts a Gold Crown Award Ceremony every year, where awards are given to chapters for various achievements. Last year, we won a Gold Crown Award for Rookie Chapter of the Year, which is given to a chapter at a dental school three years or less in age. To receive that award was amazing — it was almost like, “Oh my goodness, our baby is growing up!” And it’s great to see new leaders come in with awesome ideas to help lay the foundation for even more to come.
That’s a huge benefit of coming to a new school. There’s nothing laid in stone just yet, so we can implement new programs and bring forth new ideas. When they selected our class, they chose some awesome, passionate, resilient individuals. There are ups and downs in the whole process, and we have definitely been the guinea pigs for all four years. But it has been a really good experience and it’s something that I would definitely do again.’
— Amber Clark, first graduating class of the new School of Dentistry. Next year, she heads to New York for a general practice residency and will pursue a pediatric dental residency
“I was very close to leaving law school my first semester, but our second semester we were able to start volunteering at clinics like the Pro Bono Initiative – an initiative that offers free legal advice targeting low income families who don’t qualify for any legal aid. It saved my law school career.
Home has always been something important to me. I love traveling, but I’ve always felt very rooted in one place. The idea that so many people have lost that and can’t go back – like my dad who couldn’t go back to Iran for a long time — is particularly gut-wrenching to me.
I grew up in a very international family. My dad is from Iran, my mom is Portuguese and my step-mom is from the Philippines. I began working with refugees when I was in high school. That was just such an impactful experience and I knew that was a community I wanted to work with. I came to law school with this in mind and this has been my entire focus here, even my involvement in the Pro Bono Initiative has been centered around clinics for refugees and immigrants. And after graduation I will be working with a local immigration law firm, Perretta Law, where I will focus on asylum and deportation defense.
I’ve been through a few graduations now. Graduation is a rite of passage, but it means so much for so many people. I hope everyone can see the value in it, especially for families that emigrate here for educational opportunities. Showing up and being a part of the collective experience, especially for those who are first-generation, for those whose families have fled impossible situations, I think the symbolism of that is just so important and so inspiring. It means a lot to me.”
— Mel Moeinvaziri, third year law student, Class of 2017, S.J.Quinney College of Law
“A commitment to my education and a career came after a year of personal tragedies.
In May 2007, I was assaulted and nearly died from a traumatic brain injury. I was placed in a medically induced coma for a month. They didn’t know if I was going to make it.
At the same time this happened to me my mother was in Somalia, caring for my grandfather — the first president of Somalia — as he died at age 98.
In May 2008, almost a year after my severe brain injury, my father passed away from pneumonia. It was very tough for me.
I had just begun taking low-level classes at Salt Lake Community College. The doctors weren’t sure if I was going to be able to take high or even mid-level courses. But I started to heal and was able to go to school and work. I began experiencing seizures because of my head injury, but I finished at SLCC in 2012. I took one semester at the U and then needed to work so I didn’t come back to school fully until 2015. I have not taken a semester off since then.
I am getting a degree in sociology because I like communicating with people and want to assist people who are going through trauma like I did. My ultimate goal is to work with people who have brain injuries.
The fact I made it is a miracle. When I look back to where I was and where I am, I think I’ve accomplished more since my brain injury. Before that, I wasn’t thinking about my career or anything. That brain injury may have made me stronger. I never declared a disability. I want to do things just like everybody else does.
I am going to graduate school, either in Virginia or Minnesota. I am going to miss the U, but there is another road I need to take.
I wish my dad was alive to see me graduate. When he died, I was just at the very start of my schooling. But maybe he will see me when I graduate on May 4.”
— Ibrahim M. Jama, Class of 2017, bachelor of science in sociology
“When I think about my time at the University of Utah, I’m reminded of so much warmth and growth. From my involvement and activism with the Asian American Student Association and the Queer and Trans Students of Color groups, to being a part of the creation of the new School for Cultural and Social Transformation, I was able to find family and community. I felt like I was able to come home to myself, and be in community with folks who I was able to learn and grow with.
I’m especially thankful and inspired by professors such as Dr. Janet Theiss, Dr. Dolores Delgado Bernal and Dr. Edmund Fong who inspire and nurture me, helping me grow as a scholar and activist. They inspire me to find the humor and beauty in all things, and the joy discipline in storytelling and writing.
The U was where I was able to discover who I wanted to be, and create a future for myself as a queer person of color. There’s a lot to be done still at this institution, but in an increasingly cynical world, I find solace and hope in the people I call family at the University of Utah.”
— Heidi Qin, Class of 2017
“Life is not fair, life is not easy. You’ve probably heard that from a number of different sources. Advertisements always try to tell you that life is bright and easy — it’s vacations, soft drinks and fried food. But life is hard. And wherever you’re at in life, you have unexpected challenges. Perhaps I’ve seen more of them because I’ve chosen to seek a life of adventure and risk in the high mountains. There’s a certain understanding that one gets through hardship. The basis of that is compassion and empathy for other people. And if you’ve been there and you’ve been through hardship, then you realize what those challenges are.
When you’re a mountain climber, you’re out there suffering away, living off of couscous and a cup of tea, it’s kind of a little self-imposed hardship. But when you come back, we’re fortunate. I’m not for want of food or shelter or transportation. When you experience a little bit of hardship and you realize what hardship entails, it’s motivation for us to give back and to think about the bigger picture. The people who have been humbled and been in other people’s shoes are people who are empathetic. They’re not going to think about the world ending 4 inches past their fingertips. Their world will be, “How are my actions impacting other people?”
We are dependent upon other humans, we are not an island unto ourselves. We are collectively one of 7.4 billion humans on this planet.
Life is short. We’ve got this one chance to make positive changes on our planet.”
— Conrad Anker, world renowned mountain climber, author, filmmaker, philanthropist and University of Utah alumni class of 1988. He will deliver the 2017 commencement address