Determined, Dedicated Gator Grads Set to Earn Degrees This Week
By Mike Emery
The countdown is on for UHD’s graduating class of Fall 2021. This weekend, their hard work and perseverance will be celebrated during the University’s 71st Commencement taking place at NRG Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 18.
Ceremonies are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. with plenty of pomp and circumstance promised for those in attendance. With guest speakers such as Harris County Commissioner for Precinct 1 Rodney Ellis, Texas Sen. Carol Alvarado and others, there will be no shortage of star power.
The real stars, however, are the Gator Grads who will walk the stage to receive their diplomas. The following are just some of the examples of this weekend's graduates who are determined … dedicated … and completed their academic journeys in downtown Houston.
UHD’s Youngest Fall Grad: Yumn Khan will complete her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts at the age of 18. Khan is a Houston native and previously attended Spring Early College Academy. She always has had an affinity for art, expressing her ideas by drawing. She selected UHD to remain close to her mother, who suffers from a heart condition. It helped that both of her sisters attended UHD. Her advice to other students is “Never be afraid of asking questions.” That philosophy helped her discover scholarships and opportunities at UHD. “It's important that students become proactive in their educational journey,” she said.
Inspired by a King: Alivia Howard is another graduate completing her degree in her teens. At age 19, she will complete Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies. She said she was particularly inspired to begin her higher education journey at a young age by Martin Luther King Jr.’s story. “When I was six years old, upon reading a book about leaders of the civil rights movement and discovering that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended college at age 16, I toddled up to my adoptive parents and informed them that I would do the same,” she said. She began high school at 13 and began taking dual credit courses. She appreciates UHD’s flexibility and range of classes. She offers these words to other students considering college at a young age: “It is never too early or late to start your academic journey - it is a continuous, lifelong process!”
Overcoming Obstacles: Titi Awoniyi has been a quadriplegic since she was an infant and confined to a wheelchair. That has not slowed down Awoniyi from completing two degrees at UHD. This fall, she will earn her Master of Business Administration from the Marilyn Davies College of Business. Born in Nigeria, Awoniyi has become a fixture at UHD, greeting all who enter the Office of Student Affairs as the front desk receptionist and offering students friendly advice. Awoniyi has experienced additional hardships during past year as she was struck by a vehicle in her wheelchair and required surgery. Still, she soldiers on and will soon begin preparing for her Law School Admission Test. “Students should see every challenge as a steppingstone,” she said.
First-Generation Sensation: She was a prominent member of UHD’s Crime Scene Investi-Gators, the very first team to compete in regional CSI competitions, and now Jessica Castillo is posed to be the first in her family to earn a degree. Castillo, age 22, will earn her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. She was born in Houston and spent eight years in Mexico before returning to Texas. A graduate of Waltrip High School, Castillo selected UHD because of its Criminal Justice program and its affordability. He words of wisdom for UHD students is to :prioritize education, go the extra mile and plan ahead.” She plans to attend graduate school and ultimately become a forensic interviewer for Houston’s Children’s Assessment Center.
Never Give Up: Those are three words Chidozie Oguejiofor lives by, and they have served him well during his time at UHD. He will likely remind his fellow graduates of this motto during his address during the 8:30 a.m. Commencement ceremony on Dec. 18. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Oguejiofor was born in Philadelphia but grew up in Houston. As a child, he was always intrigued by math and science. He also had a keen interest in the medicine and the human anatomy, often researching these topics as a teen to satisfy his curiosities. After completing his Bachelor of Science in Biology this week, he will begin preparing for his Medical College Admission Test. “Things may get rough, and you may be faced with adversity,” he said. “You will always have the power within you and the will to push through anything as long as you have the mindset to do so.”
The Write Stuff: During her time at UHD, Jaida Doll was the consummate wordsmith. Doll will earn her Bachelor of Arts in English this Saturday and was a key figure in keeping students informed during he pandemic. She took the reins of the student newspaper, The Dateline, at the height of the pandemic and steered the publication during some turbulent times. In addition to her journalistic talents, Doll (who serves as the student speaker at the 2 p.m. ceremony) earned numerous writing awards at UHD. “Keep pursuing your dreams” is her message for her fellow graduates.
Esports Star: Ricky Rodriguez was a promising football star, but an injury forced him to the sidelines. At first, he was lost and needed to find a new arena for his competitive spirit. That’s where esports came in. Rodriguez discovered the world of esports and was instrumental in helping launching UHD’s program. Fellow gamers know Rodriguez from his appearances in the media and his presence at UHD’s Esports Lounge. He also is the manager of the University’s nationally-ranked FIFA esports team. “The University also provided me with opportunities to grow and find my place on campus,” he said. “Choosing UHD was the best decision I made for my career.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.