Pomp and Circumstance: Student Success Shines Bright Among 2016 Graduates

University of Houston Commencement set for Saturday, May 14

University of Houston students from 13 colleges and schools and 240 disciplines will participate in the formal, University-wide commencement ceremony at UH’s TDECU Stadium Saturday, May 14. The pomp and circumstance will begin at 7 p.m. and will feature astronaut Scott Kelly as this year’s keynote speaker. UH also will host 13 separate college and school convocations May 11-14. During the commencement ceremony, degrees will be officially conferred upon more than 9,500 graduating students, including a number of remarkable student success stories. Here are a few.

  • The student who has performed as UH Cougar mascot Shasta for the last five years is graduating. Keeping with UH tradition, the mascot’s true identity has been kept secret, even after graduation. This year, however, the person behind the costume will be revealed. The supply chain and logistics technology graduate who spent countless hours dressed as Shasta, will be sporting a Cougar tail on the outside of his gown at the commencement ceremony, revealing for the first time who Shasta really is. So, if the trademark Shasta swagger he so expertly learned doesn’t give him away, the extra accessory he dons with his regalia certainly will.
  • Vanessa Alejandro, who will be graduating from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics with a Bachelor of Science in geology, made national headlines thanks to her outstanding accomplishments. She was named one of the country’s “Top 10 College Women” by Glamour magazine, as well as being chosen as the first-ever UH Udall Scholarship winner. With a deep love of nature and a passion for animal and environmental conservation, she co-founded the nonprofit organization Warriors of the Wild, which educates Houston-area children on environmental and animal conservation through interactive presentations and outdoor field trips. She is also a cancer survivor.
  • Batoul Abuharb, who will be graduating with a degree from the College of Optometry, is making a difference at the global level. Born in a refugee camp in Gaza, she moved to Houston with her family as an infant, giving her an opportunity to pursue the ‘American Dream.’ Upon returning to her homeland and witnessing the shortfalls of health options in her native country, she took a stand for better practices and helped create Dunia Health, a text message service that eases the doctor-patient interaction and elevates the baseline of health care. Today, it aids more than 1 million people in the Middle East, and the United Nations is working to expand the company’s offerings even further. She was honored for her efforts by President Barack Obama at a special White House dinner.
  • Daniela Lozano, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former B-1 Weapon Systems Operator, will now add a Doctor of Optometry degree to her list of credentials. Once she fulfilled her duties in the Air Force, she decided to pursue a career in health care. She chose eye care due to its importance for aviators. Her experience in the Air Force taught her discipline, courage, character and perseverance, and she feels these traits will translate well to a career in optometry.
  • At 17, Angela Medvedeva is not only the youngest graduate, but also receiving two degrees – a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies and Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She speaks five languages, takes piano lessons at the UH Moores School of Music and will be moving to London next to begin graduate studies.
  • The first cohort of students with master’s degrees in athletic training is graduating. The Master’s in Athletic Training program, the first of its kind in Houston, was approved by the UH System Board of Regents in 2013 and began accepting students the following year. The program is newly accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Athletic Training Education.
  • The UH Conrad N. Hilton College – San Antonio will graduate its first two students. The partnership between the UH Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management and St. Philip’s College in San Antonio began in fall 2014 and offers a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management. The students will be starting jobs with the companies that provided their internships.
  • This will be the first spring commencement for the University of Houston School of Nursing. The nursing school moved to the main UH campus from UH Victoria in the fall of 2015. Founder of Twin Fountains Medical Clinics and a champion of nurse practitioners, John McNeil, D.O., will be the speaker at the pinning ceremony at UH Sugar Land prior to Saturday evening’s University-wide commencement at UH. He will be the school’s first physician guest speaker. Both spring and summer graduates will be participating in each ceremony. Of the spring graduates, nine will be receiving Master of Science in Nursing degrees, with seven family nurse practitioners and one each in nurse administration and nurse education. There will be a total of 22 Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees – 15 in the spring and 7 this summer.
  • Two engineering students who share the title of outstanding senior at the Cullen College of Engineering also have something else in common. Sarah Elizabeth Williamson and Nhan Peter Tri Vo were both inspired by their fathers to pursue degrees in engineering. Williamson returned to school for an engineering degree after working as an elementary school teacher. Seeing how much her father enjoyed his career prompted her to pursue her degree in petroleum engineering. Vo was inspired to pursue a degree in chemical engineering education by his father, who has a doctorate in chemistry. Throughout his years at UH, he found himself drawn to chemical reactions, catalysts and chemistry’s role in contributing to human development, discovering that ultimately everything in the world is governed by chemical reactions.

By the numbers:

  • 9,705 degrees will be conferred.
  • Graduates hail from 84 countries and 46 states.
  • Of the 585 Summa Cum Laude students graduating, 48 have a perfect 4.0 GPA, while 850 students are graduating with Magna Cum Laude honors, and 1,073 students are graduating with Cum Laude honors.


For more information about UH, visit the university’s newsroom at http://www.uh.edu/news-events/.