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UTEP Celebrates 2018 Winter Commencement

Last Updated on December 11, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Originally published December 11, 2018

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

The final leg of The University of Texas at El Paso’s 2018 Winter Commencement — which acknowledged the accomplishments of candidates from the colleges of Science, Engineering and Health Sciences — capped a day in which more than 2,500 graduation candidates were celebrated throughout three ceremonies.

The University of Texas at El Paso will celebrate summer and winter graduates during UTEP’s three Commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 15, in the Don Haskins Center. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications
The University of Texas at El Paso celebrated summer and winter graduates during UTEP’s three Commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Don Haskins Center. Photo: UTEP Communications

UTEP President Natalicio finished the evening ceremony Saturday, Dec. 15 in UTEP’s Don Haskins Center with a reminder of the weight of a UTEP degree and the impact it will have on the future of its bearer.

“We know that you, our graduates, are the real proof of the quality of this University,” President Natalicio said to nearly 850 graduation candidates and about 6,800 onlookers. “Your future accomplishments will reflect this institution’s level of academic rigor and attainment. Please be aware of our hopes for you and be assured of the joy we will feel when you succeed. We hope, too, that you will remember this University with pride and fondness.”

That message resonated with Darnell J. Davis, who received his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences.

The U.S. Army veteran entered his final year at UTEP with excitement. But he also experienced tragedy. Davis lost his brother and his uncle this year in the span of six months. While the grief he experienced presented challenges, he was undaunted. The North Carolina native found solace within his UTEP family, a family he first met after his time at nearby Fort Bliss.

Davis said he is indebted to his mentor, Manuel Llano, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences, for helping him push through his anguish to complete his academic journey. While it wasn’t easy, Davis is grateful to have reached this day. He leaves UTEP with a goal of enrolling in a medical school on the East Coast to be near family, many of whom made the trip to see him graduate, including seven other siblings.

“I’m excited, obviously,” Davis said. “My whole family came down to Texas for my graduation and I’m really happy that they are all here. I just feel really blessed.”

As it was for Davis, the notion of excitement was also palpable for Donya Youssef. Youssef spent the moments inside Memorial Gym before entering the Haskins Center furtively alternating leaning on one foot. The native of Bulgaria moved to El Paso with her family four years ago from Florida. She promptly enrolled at UTEP. The finality of earning her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences was a feat she couldn’t wait to mark.

“I’m excited and relieved,” Youssef said. “I am so happy that this is finally happening. I am proud that my mom is here to watch this.”

Youssef said she hopes to enroll in medical school and is preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test. Wherever her road takes her, she said she is simply pleased to be the first in her family to receive a college degree and hopes she can serve as an example to her two brothers.

For Francisco Javier Peña Jr., making family members proud won’t prove difficult. Peña not only became the first member of his family to graduate from college Saturday. The Montwood High School graduate did so with two bachelor’s degrees, one in kinesiology and one in rehabilitation sciences.

“I can’t even describe this feeling right now,” Peña said. “It really barely hit me today, you know, that ‘Wow, this is actually happening.’ I’m just really happy and hope my family is happy.”

Peña said he is leaning toward continuing his education at UTEP but is still weighing his post-graduation plans.

One thing that is certain, however, is that whatever path Saturday’s graduate candidates pursue, they will do so primed for success.

“You set high aspirations for yourselves, persevered, and worked hard to develop your talents and achieve your goals,” President Natalicio said. “You have greatly increased the probability that the success you celebrate this evening will serve as a springboard for other big dreams that you’ll achieve in the future, much as you did this one.”


The afternoon ceremony celebrating graduates from UTEP’s colleges of Business Administration and Education and the School of Nursing marked a ceremonial close to college life for a new crop of up-and-coming educators, nurses and business professionals eager to embark on their aspired careers.

“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 to more than 1,000 summer and winter graduates and 7,600 family members, friends and supporters who filled the floor of the Don Haskins Center. 

Nicholas Christian Valles, who received his bachelor's degree in accounting, felt confident that his UTEP education more than prepared him for what comes next.

“The College of Business Administration provided a competitive environment, our professors expected a lot out of us, and the college provided many opportunities to build professional experience outside of the classroom,” Valles said. “I feel all this gave me a competitive edge for life after college and to accomplish my goals. I loved every minute of my UTEP experience.”

For some graduates, the degree they earned brings them one step closer to attaining their long-term goals. Agatha Orona worked full-time as a high school math teacher while pursuing her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with dual credit credentials.

While the journey was difficult, it was well worth it. Receiving her degree not only enables her to teach dual credit pre-calculus at her high school, but it will also allow her to pursue her ultimate dream of earning a doctorate in education so she can one day join the professoriate.

“No matter how difficult it gets pursuing your dreams, just like Dory says, ‘Just keep swimming’ and get through it,” Orona advised.


A cold breeze seeped into the tunnel at the Don Haskins Center and ushered in a new era for 710 summer graduates and winter candidates from the College of Liberal Arts during the 2018 Winter Commencement morning ceremony.

The ceremony attracted about 5,500 graduates, family members and friends to the Haskins Center. Together they celebrated the past performance and future accomplishments of the new graduates, whose achievement of a highly competitive university degree has created for them a path toward personal and professional prosperity.

“Be proud and confident that your preparation at UTEP will enable you to compete with your peers anywhere in the world,” President Natalicio said during the ceremony. “Your UTEP degrees command global attention because we consistently, and with great determination, deliver on our mission of access and excellence.”

Priscilla JudsonWallace’s newly minted bachelor's degree in history has emboldened her to pursue a doctoral degree at the age of 62.

A retired AT&T financial analyst and operations manager, JudsonWallace enrolled at UTEP in 2015. As an undergraduate student, she earned several grants and scholarships, worked as a teaching and research assistant, studied abroad in Spain, attended conferences and took on leadership roles in campus activities.

“I’m empowered!” a jubilant JudsonWallance said while lining up at Memorial Gym for the procession into the Haskins Center. “I’m walking into a Ph.D. program at Princeton, Northwestern, Penn State or Berkeley. (UTEP has) given me the strength to find myself and become all that I want to be and can be.”

Even though Mosi lJumaa Dane’El had earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico and graduate degrees from The University of Texas at Houston and UTEP, this was the first time he attended a university commencement ceremony. 

Dane’El received a Ph.D. in psychology. The aspiring epidemiologist was hooded by Psychology Professor Osvaldo F. Morera and Dane’El’s mother, Kathleen Staudt, Ph.D., a retired UTEP political science professor. 

Staudt beamed as she placed her son’s doctoral hood across his shoulders.

“It’s been a long and rigorous process for him,” Staudt said. “He got excellent training in the psychology department. I’m very, very proud of him.”

Winter 2018 Morning Commencement Ceremony

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Winter 2018 Afternoon Commencement Ceremony

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Winter 2018 Evening Commencement Ceremony

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