Resilient, creative fall 2020 graduates are ready for the next chapter
Capping off a year of unprecedented challenges, ASU will hold its second-ever virtual commencement ceremony on Monday, Dec. 14, gathering digitally to honor and celebrate the university's newest crop of graduates.
ASU Now has collected the stories of many of these impressively resilient students, who overcame obstacles on top of the pandemic, excelled in their chosen fields of study and worked hard over their entire academic careers, finding a place to thrive at ASU.
As an active-duty military member and full-time student, Garcia often felt he should put his education on hold. This felt especially true for him while he was deployed in Afghanistan. But he didn’t let these obstacles stop him.
Matthew Hoober has always loved learning. His mother was a first grade teacher and his father was a museum director, so from a young age, he knew he wanted to pursue a college degree just like them.
Sarah Braunisch found her passion for planetary science when she joined the Christensen Research Group, led by Regents Professor Philip Christensen.
Hales is graduating with her master’s degree in history with a focus on North American history from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. She stumbled into the world of history unexpectedly about seven years ago and hasn’t turned back.
Iiae Hess always loved school and learning new things. This month, she will be graduating with a degree in sociology and a minor in organizational leadership.
Norma Owens is graduating with a bachelor's degree in Jewish studies, a certificate in Hebrew and a teaching certificate.
When first-generation college student Sofia Vine started out at ASU in 2017, she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to study or pursue as a career. But over the next three-and-a-half years, Vine said she truly discovered herself.
Accomplished students are frequently asked about their “aha moments,” when they discovered their path in life. But few of those students experience “aha moments” as life-altering as the one that film grad Michael Hasan faced.
Cristian Lopez Villegas has achieved rare success in martial arts and in academia. But his journey was far from easy.
Raised in Arizona, Dino Hadziahmetovic has balanced a lot while pursuing his undergraduate education. He enrolled at Arizona State University with the President’s Award after his acceptance to Barrett, The Honors College and decided to double major in philosophy and political science.
When most people think about analytics in sports, they consider stats like free throw percentages, fourth down conversions, or home run exit velocity. But W. P. Carey Outstanding Graduate Student Jeff Luczak saw a whole other side to analytics in sports.
ASU student Young Wha Lee has been a champion of friendly Korean-American relations for much of her adult life. Lee’s desire to encourage functional and open communication between cultures led her to study language and identity. This fall, Lee completed her PhD in linguistics and applied linguistics at ASU.
Kelly Jones grew up in a small town in western New York and has always been interested in pursuing a higher education. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from the Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in global and international studies from the University of Kansas, he wanted to return to school for an additional master’s degree.
Part-time jobs, which students often take while finishing school, aren’t usually known for their location at the Arizona State Capitol. Hannah Roehr won’t go full time in her position until she graduates from Arizona State University in December, but she’s already the public information officer, known as a PIO, for one of the state’s top elected officials.
Gary Schultz, who tended bar to support himself through college, has concocted a winning degree mix: one that reflects his love of the art-science dichotomy.
Logan Mitchell is graduating this semester with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, a minor in nonprofit leadership and management, a certificate in ethics and a nonprofit professional certification.
Katie Vosler wanted to follow in her father's Navy pilot footsteps, but her height came up short. “I still wanted to stay in aviation so I decided to go the civilian route, which led me to ASU!” she said.
Sabrina Mango successfully completed her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences. She also gained new perspectives.
Rachel Adam has always loved the outdoors, so when she decided to attend ASU, it was only natural that she would choose to pursue a degree in geological sciences.
When Christian Sherman transferred to ASU from a community college in southern California, she didn’t know what to expect. She had been treading water in her job at a small-town Starbucks. She loved her coffee, but she had bigger dreams: She wanted to work in film, and she wanted to experience everything.
Albert Molina is earning a BA in English via ASU Online this fall and he plans to teach when he finishes his master’s degree. “Both my mother and father teach and have inspired me to share the knowledge and passion I have for English,” said Molina.
Not only is graduate Kristofer Gonzalez a proud Mexican American child of an immigrant, but he is on active duty for the military, which became tough to juggle while maintaining a full-time schedule in school.
Joining the Sun Devil cross-country team is what first attracted Oregon-state native Adam Klein to ASU. A few short years later, he’s the Turken Family Outstanding Graduating Senior and graduating with dual bachelor’s degrees in computer information systems and business data analytics.
Graduate school was always on the agenda for Michele Piercey. As a senior adviser for peace, stability and transition at Chemonics International, she wanted to earn a degree that could help her with her work in international development and postconflict stabilization.
Nicole Waldmann said her journey to finding the right program to pursue was a long one that started in community college before she transferred to ASU to study global health at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
Born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, Jonah Ivy spent his first six semesters intentionally exploring different courses that Arizona State University had to offer. It wasn’t until he participated in a Global Intensive Experience in India that he declared a major in civic and economic thought and leadership.
After joining ASU’s Army ROTC and earning her Bachelor of Science in conservation biology and ecological sustainability, Hewitt wanted to continue her education and learn more about nature. That’s when she found the Master of Science in biomimicry online program at the School of Complex Adaptive Systems in the College of Global Futures.
While many children grew up watching cartoons, a young Katherine Amari was obsessing over Animal Planet, National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and finding every opportunity to share fun biology facts with her friends and family. This fall, she will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences.
When it came time to choose a topic for his dissertation, PhD candidate Robert Hobbins had firsthand experience in what he wanted to research. His house flooded in 2014, even though it wasn't in a flood zone. "I became interested in how FEMA determines flood risk and gives that information to decision-makers and homeowners.”
Going into college, sustainability graduate Sukhmani Singh was passionate about saving the Earth, although she wasn’t planning on studying sustainability. Her main focus was politics. But all that changed when she joined ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government.
Monica Orillo will be putting her degrees in political science and German to good work after graduation as she participates in an internship with Phoenix Sister Cities before spending a year in Germany as part of the prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program.
Fall 2020 graduate Cindy Bonilla-Cirocco will be receiving her PhD in Latin American literature and culture in December. Earlier this year, she successfully defended her dissertation on the Caliwood movement of the 1970s in Colombian cinema.
Inspired by her aunt Nonita Adair, who was the first Navajo woman to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (1992), Stacee Tallman will graduate in December with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU.
Brendan Duffy, an accounting major graduating in December 2020, feels proud about his high level of academic achievement, being able to graduate early and promoting school spirit, especially during an uncertain year.
Wayne Unger, a fall 2020 JD candidate at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, credits the ASU community with helping him overcome life's challenges to forge a successful career.
As a single parent of two young boys, Briana Seward would wake up hours before her children to complete her coursework for the Online Master of Arts in Communication program in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at ASU.
Dakota Lovins is earning a Bachelor of Arts in English degree at ASU this fall and he’s well-prepared for life after graduation. Yes, he had fun as a student, but he also completed meaningful, skill-enhancing professional development experiences. And he did it all with his trademark sense of whimsy.
Like millions of other Americans, 2020 was a stressful year for Mary Mathis Burnett. But she learned to practice her own brand of human-centered kindness on herself and has a new philosophy on stress. She receives her EdD from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College this December.
Myra Francisco, who will be graduating from Arizona State University this fall with a BA in political science and minor in statistics, knows that policy is important — and she wants to play a role in shaping it.
In December, Anjali Mistry will graduate summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in women and gender studies, and political science with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Pooja Addla Hari found her calling her very first week at ASU. She was attending the opening of the Generator Labs in 2016 when one of the leaders present talked about the new Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program, which prepares students to launch technology-based ventures and tackle social and corporate issues. "Instantly, I felt so heard and understood," said Hari, who transferred to the new program within two weeks.
After undergoing a five-year legal education in Albania, Albi Cela chose ASU Law to learn more and continue to better himself as a person and as a future lawyer and human rights advocate.
Growing up in Phoenix, watching her older brother devour anatomy books made a big impact on Iman Bouanani. So did his diabetes diagnosis. Bouanani, who is graduating this December from ASU’s College of Health Solutions with a bachelor’s degree in medical studies, is determined to effect change in the U.S. health care system so that everyone has access to affordable, quality care.
During her time at Arizona State University, Rachel Hebert walked 500 miles across Colorado, climbed a 1,200 foot wall in Zion National Park and summited numerous 14,000-foot peaks. “I have spent much of my time here exploring the public lands that make this country great and seeking to convey their beauty in the gallery space,” said Hebert, who graduates this December with a BFA in printmaking.
After watching an episode of “60 Minutes” with his father one night, Dylan McKim knew exactly what he wanted to do. As an undergraduate in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, McKim completed internships at Arizona PBS, 12 News, and The Arizona Republic’s breaking news desk.
Once an 8-year-old child who promised his mother he would go to law school, Alexander Kong is now grateful for the knowledge he gained while pursuing his Master of Legal Studies degree.
Piyum Fernando, who received his bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering in Sri Lanka, said he had an "aha" moment after reading Don Norman’s “Design of Everyday Things” during his last year of engineering school. He joined the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and will graduate this December with a PhD in media arts and sciences.
Native Arizonan and graduate of Tempe Preparatory Academy Elinor Sauer is the fall 2020 School of Molecular Sciences Dean’s Medalist. In December, Sauer will graduate, remarkably with double majors and minors, taking just four and a half years.
Guilherme “Gui” Leite was always fascinated by mathematics and statistics, so finding a way to combine that with his biggest passion — sports — was a deciding moment in his pursuit of a career in sports business management.
Scientific research doesn’t come in layman’s terms. It’s up to science communicators to take that research and break it down into something that everyone can understand. Maddie Arnold sees the importance of that role. That’s why she got involved in science communication.
Balancing two jobs and two kids, Audrey Magee-Davey persevered through the turbulence of 2020 to finish her program and graduate summa cum laude.
Thomas Grimes may be the only law student in the country who can say he was a “roughneck.” While he always dreamed of pursuing a law career, Grimes decided to take an alternate route after earning his undergraduate degree from UCLA, accepting a job working on oil rigs in West Virginia. Now he's graduating from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU.
Inspired by the birth of her own daughter, May Benoliel is becoming the first woman in her family to graduate from college. Benoliel is graduating from ASU in December with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
As an employed single mother of two, Meghan Kammer saw the Master of Legal Studies program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University as a natural way to further her interest in the study of law while continuing to advance her career.