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UTEP Celebrates 2019 Spring Commencement

Last Updated on May 18, 2019 at 1:45 PM

Originally published May 18, 2019

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

Katia Ochoa was understandably riveted Sunday, May 19, 2019, as she filed into the Don Haskins Center with nearly 800 graduation candidates for the last of four spring Commencement ceremonies at The University of Texas at El Paso.

Photo by UTEP Communications

Ochoa was one of approximately 3,000 spring graduates and summer candidates celebrated throughout the weekend by more than 26,700 family members and friends who cheered them on at the Haskins Center. The Bel Air High School Health Magnet graduate received her bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biochemistry. To mark the occasion, Ochoa emblazoned her mortarboard with an illuminated conical flask and the phrase, “This took a lot of nerve.”

“I’m excited it’s finally done,” said Ochoa, who hopes to enroll in medical school. “It took a lot of effort. That’s why I put that on my cap, because it did take a lot of nerve.”

Sunday’s ceremony, which was attended by about 8,100 people and recognized candidates from the colleges of Engineering and Science, also marked the culmination of another sort – it was the final Commencement presided over by UTEP President Diana Natalicio. In May 2018, President Natalicio announced she would retire from the campus’ highest office once a successor was named and took office. Before the list of graduation candidates was read during her 131st ceremony, interim Provost John Wiebe took a moment to recognize the contributions of the storied outgoing leader, who oversaw unprecedented growth in enrollment, facilities and research expenditures during her 31-year tenure.

“On behalf of everyone in the UTEP family, our graduates here today and their families, and on behalf of the more than 90,000 Miner alumni that they will join today, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all that you have done and all that you continue to do for this University, for the community and the students we serve, “ Wiebe said.

In her final presentation, President Natalicio drew on her long-held commitment to the El Paso region as part of her remarks.

“Class of 2019, a majority of you are from this region,” President Natalicio said. “You are proof that great things happen in communities where talented young people from a broad range of backgrounds are afforded respect and authentic opportunities to achieve their dreams, and where educators from school districts, the community college and the University work collaboratively to create conditions for all talented young people to achieve their full potential.”

Being part of the President’s final ceremony added to a momentous day for Karina Monticone. The Hanks High School graduate received her undergraduate degree in biology Sunday and had the added distinction of being named a Top 10 Senior. Monticone hopes to enroll in a physician assistant master’s program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio this fall.

“It’s exciting and nerve-wracking,” Monticone said. “It’s a great feeling knowing that our names (Top 10 honorees) are on the last placard with Dr. Natalicio.”

James Newsom is grateful for President Natalicio’s service as well. The Burges High School graduate received his master’s in industrial engineering Sunday. He said he is not the only member of his family whom the renowned leader has touched. Newsom’s aunt was a student of President Natalicio while earning an English degree in the 1970s. She went on to a career as a teacher.

“I don’t think you ever expect your professor to go on to become the president of the University,” Newsom said. “But she did. Now it’s something to add to our celebration. It feels good to finish. All the work is finally going to pay off.”

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An exuberant crowd of more than 6,200 spectators along with eager candidates gathered at the Don Haskins Center on Saturday evening, May 18, 2019, to close out a day of jubilance and commendation celebrating graduates of UTEP’s class of 2019.

The evening ceremony acknowledged more than 600 spring graduates and summer candidates eligible to walk the stage from the College of Health Sciences, School of Nursing and School of Pharmacy.

In her address to the class of 2019, President Natalicio expressed her pride in the graduates’ achievements.

“You’ve capitalized on UTEP’s climate of academic rigor and excellence, and our culture of mutual respect and honor, to develop the competencies, acquire the knowledge, and draw on the abilities needed to achieve your highest aspirations,” President Natalicio said.

One such celebrant was Yessica Delgado. Delgado’s grandfather died when she was 12 years old, but in her grief, she gained a desire to help others the way she saw the nurses at the hospital care for her ailing loved one before he died. On May 18, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

Delgado is excited to hit the ground running and put her degree to use as early as next week when she interviews at a local hospital for a labor and delivery nurse residency – a role for which UTEP has well prepared her.

“I think UTEP has one of the best nursing programs,” Delgado said with a smile. “The faculty care a lot about their students and they go above and beyond teaching us what we need to know for a career in nursing.”

As a child, Pedro J. Maldonado Camacho would tell his mother that one day she would not have to work and he would take care of her when he becomes a doctor. His mother traveled all the way from Puerto Rico to the Don Haskins Center to watch as her son came one step closer to his childhood dream by earning his Master of Science in Nursing with a nursing practitioner concentration.

Camacho, a nurse of 10 years, plans to continue his education to earn a doctorate in nursing practice. In the meantime, he leaves the University with multiple job offers to be a nurse practitioner.

“Little by little, block by block, I did it,” he eagerly exclaimed. “My UTEP experience was wonderful. The faculty not only taught us the technical knowledge and skills we need but also shared their own professional experience, which was my favorite part of the program.”

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Martina Murillo pumped her hands in the air as she crossed the stage at the Don Haskins Center to collect her bachelor’s degree in education from UTEP on Saturday afternoon. The celebration had been 30 years in the making for the mother of two girls, ages 7 and 13.

Murillo dreamed of becoming a teacher since she was a little girl, but life took her in another direction, and she worked as a paralegal for most of her life instead.

“I’m ecstatic!” said Murillo, who earned a bachelor’s degree in applied learning and development and a 4.0. GPA. The words, “And she taught happily ever after,” were written in bold blue letters on her cap. “I want to be a role model for my daughters. When they see me on stage, I told them I’m going to do a little dance for them. I hope I don’t embarrass them. No back flips though.”

Murillo was among more than 600 graduates from the colleges of Business Administration and Education who crossed the stage during the afternoon ceremony.

A crowd of more than 5,300 family and friends flanked graduates who sat on the floor of the Haskins Center eagerly waiting for their names to be called up to the stage. Many had decked out their mortarboards with glitter, flowers and LED lights. They cheered as President Natalicio lauded their many accomplishments, including being designated as an R1 doctoral research university in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

“You are proof that great things happen in communities where talented young people from a broad range of backgrounds are afforded respect and authentic opportunities to achieve their dreams, and where educators from school districts, the community college and the University work collaboratively to create conditions for all talented young people to achieve their full potential,” President Natalicio said.

Among those listening to the President’s remarks was Samantha Fierro. At age 22, Fierro was graduating with a Master of Accountancy and had accepted a job offer from PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas.

“It’s like a dream,” Fierro reflected as she waited in Memorial Gym for the ceremony to start. "I never imagined I would get my master’s so young and so fast. It feels really, really nice."

Fierro, who was born and raised in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, credits many of UTEP’s student services for helping her to succeed in school. She benefited from the University’s student employment, tutoring and resume preparation services.

“I think my experience at UTEP is great,” Fierro said. “I think it’s a really good way to get out of my comfort zone. UTEP is one of those schools that is still affordable, yet you get so many things out of it. I don’t think many of us realize how many opportunities we have here at UTEP.”

Before the ceremony, Martina Murillo and her classmates, Aide Rivera and Celeste Meza, posed for pictures in Memorial Gym. Over the past three years, the three friends spent long hours together eating potato chips and hot sauce while studying for exams and working on group projects.

They decorated their mortarboards for their final project. Following the example of the television series “Friends,” in which each episode title begins with “The One,” Meza adorned her cap with the words, “The One Where Celeste Graduates.”

“We’ve been friends for three years,” said Meza, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education. “Now we get to celebrate this day together.”

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The Saturday morning Commencement exercise was one last opportunity for Jeffrey Quintana to be on a UTEP stage. He performed the role of graduation candidate along with approximately 800 fellow Miners at the Don Haskins Center.

Quintana, a California native who grew up in El Paso, earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre performance. As his academic clock was about to strike midnight, he looked forward to his next act as a graduate school student.

“My schedule was so busy,” he said at Memorial Gym as his fellow candidates took photos and sent messages on their cell phones. “I would be here from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., but I wouldn’t change a thing. I got a lot of experience and learned a lot about responsibility. My professors pushed me out of my comfort zone.”

A crowd of more than 7,000 was loud and proud to honor graduates from the College of Liberal Arts. It was the first of four University Commencement exercises.

President Natalicio, standing on a stage decorated with green plants with orange and blue bows, told the graduates that it was her honor to celebrate this day with them.

“Class of 2019, I want you to know how genuinely proud I am of each of you and your accomplishments,” she said. “I am moved and inspired by the fact that this University has played a major role in unlocking your potential and transforming your future.”

Listening to the President’s words were Nicole A. White and Esperanza Fuentes, who expressed their appreciation for their University education and anticipation for a brighter future because of it.

White, a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, who is visually impaired, was an online student who earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

“I dipped my toes in a lot of genres that I probably would not have chosen for myself,” said White, whose thesis was a science fiction novel about a person who communicates with ghosts. Her immediate plans are to find a publisher.

Fuentes, a first sergeant in the U.S. Marines, earned her Master of Defense and Strategic Studies with a 4.0 GPA while also studying at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss.

“Today has been hectic,” admitted Fuentes, who wore numerous cords to include a blue and green cord for being a first-generation college student. This is the first year the University presented that cord. “It took me 20 years to get here.”

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