Why? Because each year, without fail, the feeling one has in the Hahn University Center’s Forum rooms when hearing a UFMC program update, then an inspiring keynote address, and the awarding of top graduating students for their success in academics, leadership, service, social justice, inspiration and campus-wide impact, is the same. This banquet provides overwhelming, in-person evidence that when University of San Diego students take the mission statement’s words to heart and demonstrate traits such as leadership and compassionate service through their actions, this is the true measure of the impact of this event.
Said Judith Liu, a longtime USD professor and department chair for Theology and Religious Studies, while standing at the podium to present a student community service award: “Although this only goes to one person, I really want to thank all of you in this room because you all exemplify what it means to serve others; you are the student leaders for tomorrow.”
Student leaders at USD have many avenues to develop their skill set. Much of what drives students is the environment in which they grew up. Understanding what they’ve been through, they recognize the need and importance of seizing opportunities to help others who may be experiencing challenges similar to what they themselves overcame. For some students, this is documented through valuable undergraduate research on a topic such as immigration reform, health care equity, gender issues, or examining the education gap between students of privilege and students of color. Still others are deeply rooted within cultural traditions and they want to learn more about it and then provide a forum for other students on campus to easily access this resource in a student organization or a program committed to offering a safe, open space to dialogue.
“Rising Together Through Diverse Excellence” gave Newman the chance to remind the Class of 2014 that “while graduating with a degree is considered an individual achievement, there’s no doubt in my mind that you all were the beneficiaries of the love and support of family, friends, peers, teachers, staff, significant others and other community members. … These relationships are vital to our success.”
Newman shared compelling stories about his education role models, his mother and his grandmother, both of whom were longtime Los Angeles educators. He spoke openly about racially motivated obstacles his grandmother overcame to pursue her career as a teacher, which she was from 1946 to 1983.
She was among the first black teachers hired by the public Los Angeles school system, Newman said, even after “they gave her every test the could come up and she passed them all. See, she wasn’t just going to be teaching black kids, she would be teaching everyone. … My grandmother jokes that they had no choice to hire her because they ran out of tests.”
Newman’s mother followed her mother’s lead and worked in the L.A. school district from 1968 to 2009 as a teacher and administrator. She now works with various women’s organizations to help teens who want to go to college. She has helped raise hundreds of thousands in scholarship funds to assist with their educational dream.
His talk was directed at current students to remember not only those who came before them or those who’ve supported them as they’ve pursued a college degree, but to make sure they continue to give back to others.
“Some of you here are the first in your family to attend college. You remind me of my grandmother; you are the foundation for the next generation. Please hold open the door and help prepare them for success. It’s imperative that you don’t let the door shut behind you … As you go out into the world, don’t forget who you are and how you got to where you are. But always remember that there are people following in your footsteps and many times you might be the one blazing the trail. You yourself may also be following a path that someone else has put in front of you. In essence, we will not rise if we do not rise together.”
The 2014 UFMC C.L.A.S.S. Award winners:
- L. Reuben Mitchell Award for Campus Wide Impact: Josie Gomez, who has had a variety of roles throughout her four years working in the Women’s Center, has participated fully with University Ministry in ways such as taking part in the El Salvador immersion trip, being a participant and a student leader for the Tijuana Spring Breakthrough, the Search Retreat and was a resident assistant for two years.
- Dr. Evelyn Kirkley Award for Leadership (two winners): Two students, an undergraduate and a graduate, were selected. Kevin Pelaez, the undergraduate recipient, is co-chairperson for USD’s MEChA, a Student Support Services peer mentor, technology chair for the Linda Vista Dollars for Scholars program and the student Mathagami team. The graduate student recipient was Ruth Inacay (pictured, above left), whose activities have included leading the graduate student organization ASIA (Asian Students In Action), serving as a Rainbow Educator and as a counseling intern for the Southern California American Indian Resource Center.
- Dr. Joseph Colombo Award for Academics: First generation college student Denise Ambriz, who has a 3.82 grade-point average, earned this honor. Ambriz, a USD McNair Scholar, has done considerable research work with immigration reform issues, including migrant farm workers and young people who live in the U.S., yet are undocumented because they were born in another country but brought to the U.S. by undocumented family members. She also had the opportunity to co-instruct a course in SOLES where she was able to create lesson plans, facilitate discussion and assign grades. That experience fuels Ambriz’s desire going forward. The sociology major, will continue her education this fall at Indiana University in a PhD program. She plans to pursue her dream of becoming a college professor.
- Dr. Judith Liu Award for Service: Bianca Haro has been a volunteer with the San Diego Juvenile Detention Center for two years. She’s done research on the educational experience of students of color through the McNair Scholars program. She worked with SOLES Professor Lea Hubbard to develop a research project titled, “The Meaning of Privilege: Exploring the Effects of Socioeconomic Advantages in Education.” Haro’s research and service has been centered on understanding the factors that lead students of color to become disinterested in education and eventually drop out of high school. Haro will enter a PhD program in Urban Education at UCLA this fall.
- Dr. Judy Rauner Award for Social Justice: Ernesto Reyes Hernandez has done exemplary work in advocating for compassionate immigration reform in many capacities while attending USD. He advocated for the Dream Act during an internship with Senator Harry Reid’s office in Nevada; worked as a Catholic Relief Services Ambassador for Faith and Politics, educating students on political issues and immigration reform; was a consultant for Faith and Public Life and as a leader in the university’s effort for new immigration legislation; and he’s a member of the Council for the Advancement of Catholic Social Thought. He will be going to Boston College this fall to pursue a master’s degree in theological studies.
- UFMC Award for Inspiration (two winners): Undergraduates Shantell Steve and Cassandra Ansley Dela Rojo received this honor. Steve has been actively involved in many programs, including Student Outreach and Recruitment, Minority Association for Pre-Health Students, Center for Awareness, Service and Action, Center for Inclusion and Diversity and Student Support Services. She is heading to Brown University to begin a master’s degree in Public Health. Rojo has balanced academics (3.86 GPA), extracurricular activities (President of USD’s Filipino Ugnayan Student Organization) and more. She led FUSO’s efforts to raise funds and awareness following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan last fall. She will be starting a job with the Ernest and Young accounting firm after graduation.
– Ryan T. Blystone