Graduates and Awards
2022 Convocation Speaker
Excellence in Humanities
2022 Convocation Speaker, Honors at Graduation
Vivian is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication. As a first-generation college student and daughter to an “awesome single working mom,” Vivian has embraced all avenues of opportunity at the U. She is a valued member of the John R. Park Debate Society, the ASUU Scholarship Board, the Asian American Student Association, and a peer advisor for the Department of Communication, where she found her academic home early in her time at the U.
Vivian chose communication studies the second semester of her freshman year and knew immediately it was the track for her. “I had never heard of a discipline that focused on so many facets of my life that were crucial to my understanding of the world. I learned about cultural studies and how that related to my understanding of different groups and the way we communicate about important topics such as race. Or in memory studies where we get to talk about the way we remember things and how that shapes current discussions. I have been completely engrossed in this major and was fortunate enough to have been inspired by such amazing professors within the communication department.”
One such amazing professor, Dr. Michael Middleton, describes Vivian as a student, “who embodies not only the critical thinking and studied insights characteristic of an education in the humanities, but she is also committed to bringing that experience and knowledge to bear on her commitments to civic life.” In addition to her outstanding academics and leadership, Vivian has worked to develop her own research abilities by pursuing independent research, presenting at a disciplinary conference alongside faculty and graduate students in February 2022. “She has sought out opportunities to cultivate her interest in community-engaged teaching and learning that is responsive to both her intellectual interests and her political commitments,” writes Middleton.
This fall, Vivian will begin graduate studies here at the University of Utah in the Master of Education program in Education, Culture and Society, where she will apply her communication background to policy and social change in education.
Paola Linette Cervantes
Paola is graduating with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Latin American Studies, International Studies, Political Science, and minors in Anthropology and Portuguese & Brazilian Studies. In addition to completing triple majors and dual minors, she has maintained impressive student and community leadership roles, conducted extensive undergraduate research, and engaged in social justice community activism, making her a truly outstanding senior.
“Social justice is not a hobby, it is the decisions I make every day,” writes Paola. “I came to Utah six years ago, without mastering the language, not being able to understand so many new things, and forced to fit in a new society. I see everything from my immigrant Mexican and American perspective.” Paola’s experiences as a first-generation immigrant student living in a non-traditional family deeply impacted her approach to education. She became aware of social issues affecting her community and herself directly and knew that the only way to overcome institutional oppression was to access higher education. For this reason, she chose to major in Latin American Studies, International Studies, and Political Science while maintaining deep engagement in social justice leadership on and off campus.
In her time at the U, Paola has served as a Dream Ambassador for the Dream Center, a Second Year Experience Scholar and Peer Mentor, a Step-Up Utah Ambassador for the Utah System of Higher Education, and a Hinckley Institute Ambassador. In her community, she has worked with Latinx community networks to empower young Latinx in different professional and advocacy areas and currently serves as Development Promotora at Comunidades Unidas, an immigrant and workers’ rights organization supporting the different programs and services. Paola has conducted research on diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public law schools and has worked with a research group studying death seasonality in lower California to identify death patterns in the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.
After graduation, Paola hopes to earn a master’s degree in International Relations and ultimately pursue a legal or political career to continue her work advocating for social justice.
Excellence in Humanities
Will is graduating Cum Laude with Bachelor of Science degrees in Philosophy and Environmental and Sustainability Studies and a minor in Creative Writing. The thread that ties these studies together for Will is storytelling, for it demands an acknowledgement of underlying assumptions and values. “To create a sustainable and socially just world, we must notice how our existing stories allow injustice to flourish,” he writes.
Will chose his three courses of study for the academic diversity they offered. “I like to say that philosophy is my how, sustainability is my why, and writing is my what,” he explains. “My majors have helped me see the world not as a series of individual problems, like carbon emissions or wealth inequality, but as a connected system. That generalist approach helps me recognize my place in the world and how I can help us improve it. And that comes with recognizing that it’s an ‘us’ problem and an ‘us’ solution, not a ‘me’ solution.”
In his time at the U, Will has exercised his love of storytelling, contributing more than 45 articles to the Daily Utah Chronicle. He served as a speechwriter for U of U Professor of Law Christopher Peterson in his gubernatorial run, conducted philosophical research on the Utah Wildlife Action Plan and the Greater Sage-Grouse, and participated in an Alternative Spring Break in marine conservation in the Santa Cruz and San Francisco Bay areas through the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center. “Will has a track record as an accomplished writer about issues that matter,” writes Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Lex Newman.
After graduation, Will will take a year off to write, reflect, and prepare for graduate school. He intends to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy, environmental humanities, or creative writing, and to ultimately complete a Ph.D. in philosophy with an emphasis on environmental philosophy and public philosophy.
University of Utah Commencement