Mortar Board Celebrates Graduating Seniors, Hears from Alumni Astronaut Jonny Kim

Mortar Board Celebrates Graduating Seniors, Hears from Alumni Astronaut Jonny Kim

The University of San Diego's Alcala Chapter of Mortar Board celebrated its 20th year by honoring its outstanding graduating seniors in an annual event that was hosted in a virtual setting on Sunday afternoon.

Mortar Board, a national honor society since 1918, had a chapter chartered at USD in 2000. The society recognizes the qualities of scholastic achievement, outstanding leadership and dedicated service to the university and in the community. Perla Myers, PhD, a mathematics professor at USD, is the first-year director after the retirement of founding director Judith Lewis Logue last year.

Sunday's program featured welcoming remarks from USD President James T. Harris, who is an honorary USD Mortar Board member, and a special keynote from USD and Mortar Board alumnus Jonny Kim '12.

Kim is a NASA astronaut as well as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves. Kim has also been a decorated Navy SEAL and a physician who graduated with a doctorate in medicine from Harvard Medical School. This past January he graduated from NASA's astronaut candidate training school. Kim was one of only 12 selected in 2017 from 18,300 applications by NASA — USD Engineering alumnus Matthew Dominick '05 was in Kim's cohort — and is currently awaiting a flight assignment with the Artemis program. Kim earned his undergraduate degree at USD in mathematics, graduating summa cum laude.

Kim, who spoke on Zoom while wearing his NASA astronaut uniform, related well to the current Mortar Board students, reminding them, fondly, "that only eight years ago I was right there where you are now."

His short speech was packed with nuggets of advice for the students to keep as they advance in their own journey. “Acting with humility, follow your passion, be accountable, be resilient, be a life-long learner, the importance of developing relationships,” and, above all, "be a good human, follow your heart and your passions."

Kim answered questions from the audience, which beyond current students featured USD faculty, staff, and administrators, Mortar Board alumni, honorary Mortar Board representatives and more.

Key takeaways included saying his appreciation for mathematics is its logic and that it's an important tool to have and to build on it; talking about failure and the importance of resiliency and persistence: "I think in order to become the best version of ourselves, we have to fail because we learn from our mistakes. Learn as much as you can from failure.”

Kim became an astronaut on his first application, but Kim admits, "I never thought I'd be an astronaut. Everyone says they want to be an astronaut when they are younger but I didn't really think people like me could do that. It’s something that, through opportunity, great mentors, if you put your best foot forward, have a great attitude and work hard, you can make your dream come true."

Kim relishes his role now to lift others. "It has changed my viewpoint in that it gives me a platform to inspire young kids just like me to show them it is possible."

Following Kim's talk, Mortar Board feted its seniors with a baby photo online match game and then a compilation video of special Mortar Board 2019-20 senior moments. Following the announcement of four graduating seniors who earned scholarships (see below), each senior had the chance to say a few parting words about their post-graduation plans, thank those who've helped them and give advice to their fellow classmates.

Four Scholarships Awarded

Four graduating seniors received special Mortar Board scholarships at the event.

Kelsey Morris, a biochemistry major and Anthropology minor from San Jose, Calif., received the Alice B. Hayes Mortar Board Scholarship. Morris, who will attend Western University's Osteopathic Medical School, carries a 3.93 GPA, has been an organic chemistry research student for three years and is a recipient of the Alice B. Hayes Research Fellowship Award. Other activities include volunteering at Sacred Heart Community Service and Sunday Friends to provide essential services and activities to families in need; working and volunteering as an EMT; she participated in the Uganda water quality study abroad team; and served as general manager of the USD club waterski team.

Elizabeth Dellamary, majoring in Liberal Studies with a concentration in mathematics, is the USD Mortar Board Alumni Scholarship recipient. Dellamary, from San Marcos, Calif., will stay on at USD after graduation, transitioning to the School of Leadership and Education Sciences' master's program in curriculum and instruction with a dual credential in multiple subjects and special education. She carries a 3.97 GPA and is president of the Liberal Studies Student Leadership Board. She's a member of the Association of Chicanx Activists, Movimiento Estudiantil de Aztlan; she volunteers at Richland Elementary School; and is the minister of hospitality at St. Mark's Catholic Church.

Nikta Shabaz, an interdisciplinary humanities major and philosophy minor from San Diego, earned the Joanne Tartre Herrin Scholarship. Shabaz, a 4.0 GPA student, is heading to Scotland's University of Edinburgh in the fall to enter its master of science program in intellectual history enroute to a career in law. She's been a research scholar through USD School of Law, the Office of Undergraduate Research and as a Keck Undergraduate Humanities Research Fellow. She's the founder and president of the Law, Ethics and Technology Club; serves as a member of the Academic Review Council and chair member of the Student Conduct Leadership team; She's a pre-law fraternity member and selected for the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society; Shabaz volunteers with the International Society for Children with Cancer as their young generation co-president.

Nadeen Allah Werdi, a behavioral neuroscience major and chemistry minor, is the Judith Lewis Logue Mortar Board Scholarship recipient. Werdi carries a 3.76 GPA, is originally from Baghdad, Iraq but lives in San Diego now, and plans to become a dentist. She is currently deciding which school program to attend, but has been accepted at five schools. Werdi volunteers with UC San Diego's student-run Free Dental Clinics; She tutors in the Linda Vista Youth Center and through USD's CASA program; She is a research assistant in the child development psychology lab at USD, was a research scholar at the Life Sciences Summer Institute and interned in a UCSD biochemistry lab; She's been a member of Student Support Services and has mentored a group of first-generation USD students.

— Ryan T. Blystone

The 2019-20 Alcala Chapter of Mortar Board gathered in this 2019 initiation event file photo. On Sunday, the organization honored its graduating seniors and had alum Jonny Kim as a guest speaker.The 2019-20 Alcala Chapter of Mortar Board gathered in this 2019 initiation event file photo. On Sunday, the organization honored its graduating seniors and had alum Jonny Kim as a guest speaker.

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