Grads with Grit: Meet Oldest, Youngest Bachelor's Candidates
By Mike Emery
This weekend, more than 2,000 Gators will complete their academic journeys during the Fall 2019 Commencement Ceremonies. These graduates balanced careers and family obligations with coursework and projects. Now, they are set to Finish UHD Strong.
Among the final class of Gators for the year … and the decade … are two bachelor’s candidates proving that age knows no boundaries when it comes to higher education.
Juliette Walker is the youngest graduate this semester at age 17 and Albert “Al” Ruiz is the most senior bachelor’s candidate of the fall 2019 class. Both are earning their Bachelor of Science degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies from UHD’s University College.
Walker began taking dual credit courses in high school at Lone Star College – University Park (home of UHD Northwest). After completing her associate’s degree, she didn’t have to look far for a university that offered convenience and a higher education experience that was close to home.
“UHD’s Interdisciplinary Studies degree program was perfect for me,” she said. “If offered a lot of flexibility and worked out very well for me.”
Walker, a resident of Spring, is grateful for the UHD Northwest campus. Her commute to class was short, and her familiarity with the campus also was a benefit. She also benefitted from face to face advising from staff members at both Lone Star College and UHD Northwest.
She will graduate at an age when many of her peers are preparing for their freshman year at college. Her advice to students of all ages is “just do it.”
“Sometimes, students my age don’t know about dual credits and the opportunities they have to complete their degrees,” she said. “I encourage others to explore the opportunities that are out there at institutions like Lone Star College and UHD. My advice to anyone considering college is not to fear it, and just go for it. All of us are more capable than we can imagine. My experience as a college student helped build my confidence and allowed me to fall even more in love with school.”
Her fellow graduate Ruiz, 63, first stepped foot into UHD back in 1975. A career came calling, however, and Ruiz stepped out of the classroom and into the role of an engineer in Houston. Still, the elusive bachelor’s degree was always a goal for the lifelong Houstonian.
He returned to UHD and discovered Interdisciplinary Studies. Like Walker, he found the degree to be a perfect fit.
“I have a great interest in consciousness,” he said. “To understand consciousness, you need psychology, English, philosophy and other subjects. This program allowed me to explore these disciplines, and now, I hope to continue at UHD to earn a master’s degree … either a MBA or graduate certification.”
Ruiz credits UHD for reinvigorating his interest in academics after a lengthy hiatus from college. The campus energy, he said, was consistently positive. And being around faculty was very motivating.
“The instructors and professors are very helpful and ready to reach out when you need support,” he said. “They are willing to help you understand the subject matter and go out of their way to do so.”
Like Walker, he also has advice for peers considering college, particularly those in his age group.
“Don’t limit yourself,” he said. “If you haven’t earned your degree, consider getting one. And if you already have one … maybe it’s time to get another one. Getting a degree keeps you active and attuned. Learning to see things in new ways alongside like-minded students is important for people of all ages.”
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.