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Meet the Graduates: Class of 2016

Commencement will be held on Thursday, May 5, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we’ll profile graduates from across the university.

Each year, thousands of students graduate from the University of Utah excited to begin the next chapter of their lives. Armed with a degree, knowledge, friendships, memories and enthusiasm, they embark on their journeys, which take them all over the world. University of Utah alumni are a passionate group of people dedicated to making the world a better place, and include among their ranks astronauts, senators, authors, artists, Pulitzer Prize winners, athletes and more. Over the next few weeks, as the next group of students prepare for graduation, we’ll meet a few of them. We hope you’ll enjoy getting know to know the class of 2016.


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Going back to school

I received my bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Alberta. Afterward, I worked for a while, but then I stopped when I had two children. I decided when they were old enough, I would go back to school. I knew there would be a time to get back doing what I love. Getting a master’s degree will give me new information and give me an edge on what’s happening in the field right now.

I was pleasantly surprised on the first day of class. I was warmly welcomed by the fellow students, and the professors were amazing. I knew I belonged, and I just loved it from the very first day. I was thinking about all the things that could go wrong, but none of those things happened. It was such a positive experience. I don’t know why I didn’t do it 10 years ago.

Sandra Albano, Salt Lake City, Utah
Master’s in civil and environmental engineering


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Helping home

I was born and raised in Nepal, but moved to the U.S. almost seven years ago. When I started a career in the social work field after being admitted to the University of Utah College of Social Work, I always dreamt of going back to Nepal to serve my nation. The need for social work in the western world and the developing world is different. Having been exposed to the realities of a developing nation like Nepal — where people go through the struggles of finding basic needs such as food, housing and clothing — I know and understand the desperation of people in Nepal to often meet basic needs. When a massive earthquake happened in April 2015, I was even more determined to give service to the nation where I was born. I did that last fall, after I received a Hinckley Global Scholarship from the U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, and was able to embark on a practicum in Nepal through an internship at CHOICE Humanitarian, a nonprofit that helps communities develop tools to become self-sustainable.

I graduate this spring with my BSW and want to start a master’s program. One of my biggest dreams for the future is to be able to work for the United Nations or an international nonprofit. I know it sounds like a pretty big goal, but the more I get engaged with the community on a global platform, the more my passions grow for the people in countries like Nepal where needs are great. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned from my time at the U is to never limit yourself. The world is always in need of good deeds, service and kind people. Any help is help.

Aarati Ghimire, Nepal
Social work


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Always do the arts

I’ve always felt the arts were undervalued. That’s why I see art as an act of rebellion — as if the moment I stop creating art, society will force me to stop doing it. In a way, that’s why I majored in music at the U. I felt if I could get a degree in music and still affect change, I could change people’s perceptions about art. And I’m not shy about conveying the importance of the arts in today’s world. What’s the purpose of living a long life if you can’t enjoy it — if you can’t see the inherent beauty, value and significance of the arts? I feel like you can go to a performance, a gallery exhibition or a production and always learn something. That is why I’ve come to realize how much I love being a part of this community. As artists, we know how the arts and humanities work to shape a community for the better, that they cultivate a thinking that inspires empathy and universality. I’ve always wanted to be a renaissance person, but if I had to tell people one thing, it would be to always do the arts. It’s important to have a plan, but no matter what: Always do the arts.

Cindy Chen, Sandy, Utah


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Fulfilling two dreams

I am a first-generation college student. Both of my parents emigrated from Mexico as teenagers. They have always had high expectations for me and my siblings to do well academically since they were not fortunate enough to receive a good education when they were young. They wanted me and my siblings to have careers and be professionals so we didn’t have to struggle the way they have had to. Though they were unable to help me academically, with their consistent and unconditional support, I was able to graduate from high school with my associate’s degree and a high GPA, which opened the doors to attending the University of Utah. Their struggles have been my drive to excel and are my motivation to succeed at everything I undertake.

The University of Utah offers so many opportunities to get involved in ANYTHING that you are passionate about. I have been able to make a difference in the lives of others — by being a teaching assistant, a reading tutor and a volunteer in many organizations — which I didn’t think I could do while I was a student. I have met some incredible people that have impacted my life in the most positive ways. College has helped me find myself and has given me the tools to be able to follow my dreams and to make them a reality.

My next step is dental school! I was just accepted to the University of Utah School of Dentistry and will start this fall. I will be able to provide my future patients with more than the technical aspects of dentistry. My background in psychology will give me a better understanding of my patients and the skills needed to maintain long-term relationships with them.

Commencement means a lot of different things to me right now. It means that all of my hard work since high school has finally paid off. It means that I’ve successfully overcome many life obstacles to get to where I am today, which is an amazing feeling! It means that I am about to move on to the next step of my life. It’s still so unreal. Most importantly, it means that I achieved not only one of my lifelong dreams, but also my parent’s dreams, and that is one of the most rewarding feelings in my life.


Dayana Arreola, Tooele, Utah


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Service brings happiness

I’m a pre-dental student and the Bennion Center liaison to recruit students to help refugees go from harm to home. Sometimes I’m finding students to help teach English to refugees who are trying to pass their citizenship class. Sometimes I’m helping with food or clothing drives. I’m married with three kids, and I’ve always been interested in learning about different cultures. I speak Korean, and my wife speaks Spanish. Working with refugees is super rewarding. I learned early on in life the paradox that when you focus outside of yourself it helps you become happier. My whole dream as a dentist is to help underserved populations.

Hyrum Mitchell, Green River, Utah


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Try as many things as possible

When I moved to Utah from Russia at 11 years old, I had to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture. During my time at Wasatch High School, I was able to develop a growing love for the business world. Starting at the University of Utah, I wasn’t sure which major would suit me best; however, my participation in the Freshman Business Scholars program convinced me that marketing was the field I wanted to pursue. Over the years, my passion for marketing grew, and I gained world-wide experience. This led me to strive toward many academic endeavors. Throughout my time at the Eccles School of Business, I have been able to go on multiple international experiences, work as a peer advisor in the Undergraduate Advising Services, become the CEO of BLInc. (Business Leaders Incorporated) and be one of the founding fathers of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity. My parting advice to students is, it can be very difficult to try and find your place, so just experience as many things as possible. Get involved and don’t be afraid to fail. The only way to learn if you love something is to give it your all.

Margo Vacheva, Dimitrovgrad, Russia


About Commencement:

The University of Utah commencement and convocation ceremonies are held annually at the conclusion of spring semester. Candidates for graduation from the summer 2015, fall 2015, spring 2016 or summer 2016 terms may attend. Commencement will be held on Thursday, May 5, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. This year’s commencement speaker will be foreign policy expert and work-life balance thought leader Anne-Marie Slaughter. Honorary degrees will be awarded to Kem C. Gardner, Lynette Nielsen Gay, Kirk M. Ririe and George D. Smith. For more information, please visit the Commencement Ceremony page.