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UC Merced’s Class Of 2023 Walks Boldly Into The Future


Among the nearly 1,500 UC Merced graduates who participated in three separate commencement ceremonies last weekend, there were two standout student speakers and an inspirational NASA astronaut.

Kimberly Farias, a first-generation Mexican American college student, walked up to the speaker’s podium on Sunday morning and gave it her all for family members in attendance and fellow Bobcats in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts.

“Today, we not only leave UC Merced with our degrees, but we also leave knowing our ‘whys’ — the ‘whys’ that kept pushing us to do better,” the 24-year-old Farias said. “My why is my family — my mother and my siblings … I ask that you take a second and ask yourself who or what your ‘why’ is. And always remember your ‘why,’ and always let your ‘why’ guide you into creating your story, and pushing you to accomplish every single one of your goals.”

Sunday was also Mother’s Day, and Farias added a touching tribute to her mother, a native of Jalisco, Mexico.

“As my mother would say: ‘Your education is the single thing that no one can take from you.’ And today, I can say my ‘why’ has helped me accomplish this.”

After graduation, Farias plans to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in political science and then pursue law school. Her goal is to become an immigration lawyer and a professor.

The day before, on Saturday morning, it was Gehad Elhanafy’s turn to speak to her fellow students in the schools of Natural Sciences and Engineering.

The bioengineering major from Merced said the opportunity to be a commencement speaker was an achievement that represented her own struggles and triumphs. She first arrived in the United States in 2013 and didn’t know a word of English. However, she excelled in the local community and at UC Merced. During her time on campus, she served two terms as the internal vice president of the Associated Students and as president of the Muslim Students Association. She also received the Distinguished Volunteer Scholarship from the University Friends Circle for her community service work.

“Build Opportunities, Break Challenges, Achieve Triumphs,” Elhanafy commanded. “The first letters of these words spell out Bobcat. This is what being a Bobcat means to me. … And the ‘S’ in Bobcats stands for Solidarity. Meaning together, no matter where you are, build opportunities together, break challenges together, and achieve triumphs together. And this graduation is one heck of a triumph.”

After graduation, Elhanafy will apply to law school and pursue corporate law to help contribute to the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem at UC Merced and in the Central Valley.

NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba addressed both ceremonies for undergraduates over the weekend. Acaba has logged 306 days in space on three missions.

“Lives and careers are not linear,” he told the graduates. “As I look out on all of you today, I see the next generation of leaders, innovators, and problem solvers. You are the ones who will tackle our most pressing issues that are facing the world — from climate change to inequality and technological advancements that will change the very nature of what it means to be human.

“Make yourself proud every day. Class of 2023 I offer my heartfelt congratulations. You have accomplished so much already and I have no doubt that you will go on to do more in the years ahead … Remember to always see the good in yourself and others, to always stay true to who you are, and that failure can lead to learning and growth.”

On Friday, May 12, commencement proceedings were held for more than 100 graduate students, including 61 Ph.D recipients and 41 students receiving their master’s degrees.

“Today is a day to focus on your success,” said UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sanchez Munoz. “Today we celebrate you, and we look ahead to your bright future. Today you graduate from one of the great campuses of the greatest system in the world.”

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