Mission Accomplished for More Than 2,500 UHD Grads
By Mike Emery
The cheers at NRG Stadium were not for a football team or rodeo event. On Dec. 18, friends and families were on hand to root for University of Houston-Downtown graduates who walked the stage during the 71st Commencement ceremonies.
These events marked UHD's return to regularly scheduled in-person graduation exercises in more than a year. It also concluded a year for UHD graduates that was at times tumultuous considering a historic winter freeze, a hurricane and the lingering pandemic,
"No matter your degree … no matter your career path, you are shining examples of the graduates produced by the University of Houston-Downtown … and all of us are proud of you," said UHD President Loren J. Blanchard in his remarks to graduates.
Morning and afternoon ceremonies spotlighted grads from UHD's five colleges, and at both ceremonies distinguished community speakers imparted advice to the audience.
"We don't grow when we do things that are easy, we grow when we do things that are challenging," said afternoon speaker Texas Senator Carol Alvarado. "You know we are living through some extraordinary times: A once in-a-lifetime pandemic, a once-in-a lifetime winter storm and a global economic recession. In these times it is more important than ever that you are engaged. It is your civic duty to do so."
The day's morning speaker Precinct 1 Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis also offered his insights to grads.
Quoting iconic Civil Rights leader David Abernathy, Ellis encouaged graduates to take stock of their impact on the future of their communities.
"David Abernathy said, 'I don't know what the future may hold, but I do know who holds the future.' Those of you who are graduating today hold the future in your hands," he said.
While 2,100 Gator Grads turned out at NRG Stadium, this year's grad count totaled more than 2,500. Those celebrating their academic achievements included Yumn Khan, who at only age 18, earned her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts degree. She hopes to apply her talents to bringing awareness to social issues. Another grad Titi Awoniyi completed her second degree from UHD on this day, a Master of Business Administration. A quadriplegic since infancy, she never slowed down during her quest for knowledge. Next stop … law school. Additionally, twins Jasmin and Jaquelin Amaya walked the stage one right after the other to receive bachelor's degrees in Criminal Justice.
These are just some of the inspiring stories to take place on this day, and while classes have concluded, there were still lessons to be learned.
Chidozie Oguejiofor, who earned his bachelor's in Biology, admitted that UHD was not his first choice … but it was the right choice. He also admitted some challenges during his early years as a student. Those hurdles, he said, made him a stronger person.
"As you embark on this new chapter of your life, don't be discouraged by any challenges," he said. "There are times when you may fail ... it's inevitable and it happens to everyone. However, know that there is always a lesson to be learned. Surround yourself with positivity... and no matter the circumstances ... never give up."
During morning and afternoon events, President Blanchard awarded the University's Presidential Medallion to Sen. Alvarado and her colleague in the Texas Senate, Borris Miles, for their support of higher education in the state. Accepting on behalf of Sen. Miles was his wife Cydonni Miles.
"Commencement is a momentous achievement," Blanchard told graduates. "There are rare occasions we hold with us forever. Earning a college diploma certainly ranks highly among these never-to-be-forgotten moments."
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.