It should come as no surprise that there are countless stories of perseverance and success within this year’s graduating class. However, that isn’t to say that each and every student has not been faced with unique challenges on their way to this momentous occasion. 2020 may always be remembered by the presence of COVID-19 and the disruption it has caused to scholarly pursuits and the traditional commencement ceremonies, but this disturbance just further proves that NOTHING will stop this graduating class from receiving their degrees and taking confident strides towards the future. We are honored to be presenting these exceptional students and their stories to you. Please join us in celebration of the class of 2020!
Masters of Education, Educational Leadership & Policy, Student Affairs Emphasis
Tanaeya BoClair (she/her) is receiving a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership & Policy with an emphasis in Student Affairs. During her academic career at the U, she worked as a graduate assistant for the women’s basketball team and an intern for Athletics Academic Services. Tanaeya plans to continue working in intercollegiate athletics and has an interest in getting into coaching. Her ultimate goal aims at working in student-athlete development/athletics academic advising.
“Find something that you love doing and make time for that, and enjoy your time as a student because you will never get these years back.”
Bachelor of Science, Materials Science and Engineering
Elise Buki (she/her) is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering. She was highly involved in varying organizations throughout her time at the U – including Housing, Athletics, and Pi Beta Phi – which she credits as the catalyst to “meeting more people and branching out her interests.” Throughout her involvement she was given opportunities to volunteer for reading programs at elementary schools, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and the Materials Science & Engineering Advancement Student Society (MASS).
Elise plans on getting more work experience before pursuing another degree, since materials are critical components of any engineered device, but hints at her interests in renewable energy and biomedical fields.
“Do not underestimate yourself: hard work pays off. However, do not overestimate yourself either! Learn to recognize the signs of burnout and be honest with yourself. If you are struggling with a course, make sure to surround yourself with classmates that will help you get better. If you are naturally gifted, do not become complacent. Help others around you as you will get better in the process. It’s easy to stick your head in the sand when times get tough but you have to learn to take one step at a time. You’ve got this!”
Bachelor of Science, Psychology; Chemistry Minor
Ivan Cardenas (he/him) is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a Minor in Chemistry. He was involved in many organizations throughout his undergraduate career (Beacon Scholars, Bennion Center, Health Sciences LEAP, Moran Eye Center, Food Recovery Network, and more), but credits volunteering at the Maliheh Free Clinic for allowing him to support his community and gain experience for his future career. “I was able to build many peer and mentor relationships and I learned valuable lessons from the patients we interacted with. Being involved in activities like this allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and develop the skills necessary to succeed during and after college.”
Ivan was recently accepted into the University of Utah’s Doctorate of Medicine program and is excited to continue his educational career at the U. With this degree, he is planning on becoming a physician “to provide underserved communities with the quality care they deserve.”
“Do your best, take care of yourself, and have fun. College is difficult, both physically and mentally. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, this is your journey, your experience, and the most important person in it is you. Your struggles and accomplishments, no matter how big or small are valid and exceptional. The goals you set out to accomplish may not come easily, but with time and effort you will reach them. Everything will be okay!”
Shaniah Morning Star Chee
Bachelor of Arts, Anthropology; American Indian Studies Minor
Shaniah Morning Star Chee (she/her) is receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with an American Indian Studies Minor. Throughout her college experience, Shaniah worked as a research assistant and intern through the Department of Anthropology, but cherishes her experience as a member of the Inter-Tribal Student Association (ITSA).
“It has really allowed me to connect to life outside of the reservation, where I was able to balance my education being a scholar and as a Native American individual. We are always there for one another and I believe this kinship, also known as K’e in my Dine language, has helped me succeed in school.”
Shaniah is planning on becoming an educator in either elementary or middle school and wants to work her way up to becoming a principal, school board president, or education administrator within the San Juan School District. She has already started working on an immersion program aimed at revitalizing Diné Bizzad language and culture.
“My advice to incoming and current students, especially Native American students, is T’aa Hwo Ajiteego, it is only up to you to decide what you want to do with your life. Go out there and do it for you, your family, and your people. You matter! Don’t be afraid of things that scare you, if it scares you than you’re doing something right.”
Bachelor of Science, Biology – Cell and Molecular Emphasis; Chemistry Minor
Hanthao Phan (she/her) is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a Cell and Molecular Emphasis and Chemistry Minor. For the past four years, Hanthao was a member of the Health Sciences LEAP program where she was introduced to healthcare ethics and gained a new perspective on and passion for dental research. By joining Dr. Pinzon’s research lab at the School of Dentistry, Hanthao utilized her undergraduate term by working on dental research, a dental mission to rural Colombia, and presenting at conferences. She was also awarded the Trustees Scholarship and a Biology departmental scholarship.
Hanthao assisted with writing five papers in Dr. Pinzon’s lab – three of which have been submitted to journal publications and two awaiting submission – and her research team was awarded Best Poster at the UDA 2019 Conference. Hanthao is a member of the International Association for Dental Research, American Association for Dental Research, and Connect2health and is continuing her work as a research assistant while she prepares to apply to dental school.
“Don’t hesitate to explore new things and ask for help. There are many wonderful resources and programs at the U that will help you finding what you are passionate about and guiding you in your career journey. Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid of going outside your comfort zone. You never know what opportunities may arise unless you try it.”
Maria Fernanda Rivera
Bachelor of Arts, Political Science – International Relations Emphasis
Maria Fernanda Rivera (she/her) is receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations. Despite a busy schedule as a member of the Crimson Transfer Honor Society (CTHS), Somos Dreamers, and Beacon Scholars, Maria Fernanda still found time to get involved on-and-off campus with the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA), Office of Orientation, Comunidades Unidas, Unidad Inmigrante, and La Red de Solidaridad.
“I received a lot of help from the Dream Center during my years at the U and there I found a community within the campus where I always felt supported.”
Maria Fernanda will be starting law school this fall with the goal of becoming an immigration attorney. Her work with community organizations “helped shape my goals and aspirations, not only as a person but also as a student, to continue learning about ways in which I can make a positive change in my community.” With her Juris Doctorate, she hopes to directly help her community being impacted by the country’s immigration laws.
“¡Si se puede! No matter how hard it may seem or how many people tell you you can’t, you most definitely can. Don’t give up on your dreams and continue fighting for what you believe in. I know imposter syndrome is real and more so as a first-generation student, but don’t let it stop you and believe in yourself. You’d be surprised how many people are always willing to help you and genuinely care about your success. And once you open a door, make sure you continue to keep them open for others that come after you just like others have done for you.”
Honors Bachelor of Science, Psychology
Aurora Sin (she/her) is graduating with an Honors Bachelor of Science in Psychology. During her academic career, Aurora was involved in multiple leadership positions in student organizations and Student Affairs: director of fundraising and director of high school conference for the Asian American Student Association (AASA), campus life mentor and Swoop Camp captain with the Office of Orientation & Transition, president of Students for Smiles, site leader for the Bennion Center’s Alternative Breaks Program, and international ambassador for International Students and Scholars Services.
Her leadership skills, and impact on those around her, helped Aurora get accepted into dental school at the University of California San Francisco! She will be working towards a DDS starting this fall.
“I highly recommend joining lots of student organizations! They are the highlight of my college career and the reason I find college so fun. But also make sure to not overload yourself by over-committing. When you are overwhelmed, it takes a toll on your mental health and nothing is fun. Also, take advantage of the school gym. Your tuition is already paying for a gym membership so keep yourself active and healthy!”