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Humans of the U: Commencement 2020

As the Class of 2020 prepares to celebrate its success, meet a few of the graduates.

Omid Atlaschian

“I am an international student, which is a community of about 10% of the students here at the U. I came from Iran. We all made a long journey to get here, that’s common between all of us. Helping others, feeling their pain, and being with them is the least that we could do as a human being. Especially since our community may be the minority, being together and helping each other is very important.

Getting a degree might be the top priority that any student has. However, I think that could be just one goal during school! As a human, we have enormous potential and power, especially when we are together. If we isolate ourselves from others, we get weaker and weaker.

To be involved with other activities will enrich our personalities and make ourselves a more powerful person. Being in school is an exceptional opportunity to know ourselves better, find out more about other communities and cultures, and feel the great experience of being active while in an academic environment and making the most of it.

As a member of this community, I believe it’s our duty and role to help this community as much as we can. We are all busy with schoolwork but have enough time to help other students. I haven’t made a significant contribution; all I have done is to motivate, support, and cooperate with other international students so that we all can make a better community.

I believe that we all could do more to support our community, keep it alive and active. We all could start from our community, try to feel more united and help keep it alive, and further help other communities.

We should also accept our differences, focus on what we all have in common, and try to have a mutual understanding. By being together, we could reach further steps. I would like to ask everyone to acknowledge and respect the effort of those who are active and initiate activities, even though we are all super busy. Help them as much as you can, since it is equal to helping yourselves.

It makes me feel great when I see that someone cares about other’s problems and pain as well. It is the true meaning of a human being, I believe.”

Omid Atlaschian, Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering and the inaugural recipient of the International Student Council Scholarship

Youngjoo Cho

“Some people are afraid of those who are not like them, but I love meeting new people because I can learn about their culture and their language. I really like to see people’s happy faces when they’re discussing their different cultures, sharing their ideas, and sharing their personal experiences. My biggest interest is learning new things.

This is my second semester at the main University of Utah campus. I came here from studying at the Asia campus in South Korea where the classes are smaller but you can get to know your professors and classmates better. Part of the requirement of studying at the Asia campus is to come to the U.S. for two semesters to study at the main campus. The campus here is so massive, compared to Asia campus. I was afraid to come here at first but there are so many different classes and events I can choose from. There are a lot of diverse fields of study you can try; even though I’m majoring in a specific class I can integrate my learning with various studies. I’m exploring and expanding my career opportunities. Graduation is coming up but the reason why I’m graduating next semester is that I want to learn more.

While studying in Asia campus I was able to apply for an internship during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. I was afraid because I thought internships were only for the students who were really intelligent and know what they are doing. I was surprised when I was selected. I have a lot of friends like me who are afraid to try something new, to try an internship because even the word internship was heavy for me. But don’t be nervous. Just go try new things and believe in yourself.

Something new I tried while at school here was joining the women’s air pistol team. I was looking for a novel student club to join and something not found at the Asia Campus. First, I joined out of curiosity and now I’m having so much fun with the team.

There are quite a lot of Asian students who want to make American friends here but they are afraid and just don’t know how. My advice to anyone is, just say hello to your classmates. That’s how you start. So don’t be afraid to talk to the Korean students. We’re going to be so friendly.”

—Youngjoo Cho, Class of 2020, B.S. in Communication, emphasis in strategic communication

Arielle Gulley

"When I transferred from Salt Lake Community College to the University of Utah in 2018, I decided to pursue a degree in communication. I had wanted a versatile degree but also to do something I loved.

I’ve always loved writing since it doesn’t typically involve how you look or where you come from. It’s simply the words you are putting on the paper. I’ve never liked being judged based on appearance or a perceived persona. I appreciate being judged on the work I can bring to the table.

This is a crazy time for media in general, but I think being educated in journalistic writing will help me in the long run. I don’t know what my next move is regarding my career. I do know I want to go to graduate school, though, and focus more on my writing.

I’ve always loved watching movies and television shows, and I have such an appreciation for the seamless banter that certain shows create, this quick back and forth between characters. I want to be able to write for the screen one day. One of my favorite writers is Dan Harmon. He created 'Community' and 'Rick and Morty.' His writing itself is funny but the way he writes is what sets him apart. It’s entertaining but it also makes you think. If you’re not quick enough, then you miss the joke.

The education I’ve received at the U is something I will always be grateful for. I’m sad to see my time here coming to an end—and even sadder about the circumstances of how it is ending. However, I will celebrate my time at the U as one of the greatest experiences in my life so far."

—Arielle Gulley, Class of 2020, B.S. in Communication, emphasis in journalism

Connor Haller

“Two seasons ago, we were playing the University of Washington at home. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 in the country. The atmosphere was electric with ESPN broadcasting the game. We were all feeling the pressure to perform our very best.

We were down 21-7 in the third quarter. Momentum clearly shifted when we got a turnover, and this was our chance to come back and win the game. On fourth down, coach called a play specifically designed to one particular player. The player was wide-open in the endzone. It looked like a sure touchdown, but the player dropped a game-changing touchdown pass in front of 50,000 fans and millions more people watching the game on national TV. We went on to lose the game, and as you can imagine that player was absolutely devastated.

Unfortunately, that player was me.

I sat by myself after the game in the locker room feeling as low as I have ever felt in my entire life. Coach Morgan Scalley found me and said something I will never forget: ‘Don’t let this moment define you.’

Those few words deeply impacted me though I knew going forward would not be easy. During the next few weeks, I remember having to deliberately choose to fight overwhelming feelings of embarrassment, doubt and discouragement; to not give up but to rise above what had happened. I knew I had to keep focused on my personal goals of contributing to the team and earning a full-ride scholarship no matter how difficult it was.

I quickly realized I could react to what happened in three different ways. First, I could let it destroy me. Second, I could let it define me. Or third, I could let it strengthen me. I took the third choice. I fought back and kept working hard to help our team in any way I could. Like Coach Scalley challenged, I determined to not let this one unfortunate experience define me but purposefully chose to have it strengthen me instead.

The team rallied and won the next eight games and made it to the Pac-12 championship. And by the bowl game, I went from ‘walk-on’ to earning a full-ride scholarship.

Failure is inevitable, but how we respond to our failures is what really matters. This is by far the most powerful lesson I’ve learned at the U. I hope we can always build on the experiences we’ve had, the memories we’ve made and friendships we’ve built here at the U, and let them shape the rest of our lives.”

—Connor Haller, B.S. in Finance, Utah Football tight end

Adam Hiné

“I grew up in a broken home, like lots of Americans. When my parents separated, I lived with my mother. To say we lived paycheck to paycheck is an understatement. My mother never talked about finances, she wanted me to have a ‘normal’ high school experience. After high school, I left home to be a missionary in Panamá for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A week after I left home my mother revealed her financial situation. No more charades, we lost the house. I always thought, ‘I want to be able to pay forward what my mom has sacrificed.’ When I was little, I partially knocked out a front upper tooth while riding my bike. I pushed it back in because I didn't want to get in trouble. It healed up, turned gray, and then over time it just turned white again. I was like, "Whoa, what's going on?" That sparked an interest in dentistry, and I knew it was a profession that will allow me to one day help my mom.

What I didn’t expect was that dentistry would connect me with my heritage. Both of my parents are immigrants who came to the U.S. as teenagers. Neither of them has formal degrees from any American school system. My mother is from a small village in West Africa. She grew up with nine older siblings in a tightknit community. My father grew up in Haiti. He never talked much about his childhood, but from the stories he told, I knew it was harsh and that he was forced to be independent at a young age. Haiti is a part of my heritage I always felt a need to connect with. During my second year of dental school, I found out about an opportunity to do free dental care in Haiti. The organization I went with is called Haiti Health Initiative, they provide free dental and medical work twice a year in a rural town in Haiti. My experience volunteering in Haiti was life-changing. I love using my dental skills to help underserved individuals, however, my volunteer trips to Haiti are most meaningful because I get to spend time with and learn from the Haitian people. It’s helped me connect with a side of my father that I never really understood.”

—Adam Hiné, Class of 2020, Doctor of Dental Surgery, School of Dentistry

Johnny Rodriguez

“I recently found out I was accepted to the Master of Public Health program at the U and I know it’s going to set me up perfectly for my dream career field.

When I was a kid, my family had a lot of health issues, which led me to a firm decision to become a nurse. I believed I would be the one to get services and health care to my family. But when I applied to nursing school, I didn’t get in.

I had to stop and evaluate what was wrong with my application—and realized something. I didn’t care for nursing as much as I had once thought. I was most concerned with the problem of accessibility for minority and marginalized communities. It wasn’t that these people were less healthy, it was that they didn’t have the same resources to take care of their health.

My family is from Mexico, but I only spent 10 months there as a baby after being born in Utah. Nonetheless, my Latinx heritage is important to me and to my work. As a first-generation Latino college student, I knew I had a unique perspective. So, I shifted away from nursing and started to learn about ethnic studies and gender studies.

Eventually, I found a topic that intersected all three of my areas of study—the reproductive justice movement. Once I had a focus, I developed a research project looking at how women specifically in the Salt Lake Valley are accessing contraception based on race and ethnicity.

I started compiling all of the data that was already collected by organizations like HER Salt Lake, with the help of Dr. Claudia Geist, to write a journal article. At the same time, I have been working on a zine (self-published magazine) that explores forced and coerced sterilizations in communities of color. I’ve loved both projects—one very academic and structured and the other in sort of resistance to that—and both doing important work to spread knowledge.

I will graduate in May with all my pre-nursing requirements, a gender studies degree and an ethnic studies degree. I feel they all complement each other to explore how these communities of people are treated in their reproductive years. Of course, not all women can get pregnant, and not all people who can get pregnant are women. So, there are many factors to consider in this research.

Health transcends race and ethnicity, so sticking with one was only understanding part of the problem. It is important to understand the interactions between both because a person doesn’t just have one identity.

Being a Latino in higher ed is already a great accomplishment and being able to represent the Latino community and people of color has given my work such meaning. I was able to study all of these things at the U thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities graduate school at the U brings.”

Johnny Rodriguez, B.S. in Gender Studies and B.S. in Ethnic Studies