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UC celebrates Bicentennial graduates

The University of Cincinnati confers degrees to undergraduate students in a three-day celebration that coincides with UC’s 200th anniversary

The University of Cincinnati awarded degrees Saturday to undergraduate students on the final day of a record-breaking spring commencement that coincides this year with the university’s 200th anniversary.

UC President Neville Pinto’s commencement address at Fifth Third Arena echoed the Bicentennial theme – to be Boldly Bearcat.

“More than a motto, 'Boldly Bearcat' is an attitude – reaching for your success by seeking the highest, challenging the norms to achieve something better and living a life of legacy that creates a positive impact,” Pinto said.

This week’s celebration marks the biggest graduating class in the history of the University of Cincinnati. UC has set graduation records in three of the last four years. UC recognized an estimated 6,653 students for the spring 2019 commencement, topping last year’s 6,496 which was the old record.

A student waves and smiles in her cap and gown.

A student waves to family from the floor of Fifth Third Arena during UC's commencement. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

The spring class hails from 75 countries, 49 states and the District of Columbia. About 71 percent of the graduates are Ohioans who hail from 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Pinto reflected on UC’s humble beginnings.

“Looking back, our first class 200 years ago comprised of an enrollment of just 70 students. In contrast today, the University of Cincinnati enrolls more than 46,000 students and has grown to become a major Carnegie 1 research university with a local heart and a global mindset,” Pinto said.

Students celebrate during commencement.

UC undergraduate students sing the alma mater during commencement. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

Graduates filed into the newly renovated Fifth Third Arena to “Pomp and Circumstance” while family and friends waved from their seats in the packed arena.

UC Board of Trustees Chairman William C. Portman III urged graduates to be open to learning in their futures.

Neville Pinto stands at the dais in his cap and gown.

UC President Neville Pinto gives the commencement address. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

“This is the moment that celebrates the mission of the university and your own hard work,” Portman said. “And it is through you, our graduates, that we make our greatest and most transformative impact on the world.”

Portman highlighted some of the famous Bearcats in American history, a list that includes U.S. President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft, Golden Gate Bridge engineer Joseph Strauss, the first female mayor of Cincinnati, Dorothy Dolbey, and the first African American member of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Stephanie Summerow Dumas, who was sworn into office this year.

“The world is changing rapidly and one of our goals is to prepare you to be successful in a world that is not yet defined,” Portman said.

Thomas Cassady stands on stage in a ceremonial gown during commencement.

UC honored longtime Board of Trustees member and chairman Thomas Cassady with an honorary doctor of letters degree at Fifth Third Arena. Looking on is Board Chairman William Portman III. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

On Saturday, UC presented Thomas Cassady with an honorary doctor of letters.

Cassady is a UC graduate with a degree in history who served as member and chairman of the UC Board of Trustees between 2010 and 2019. He is president and CEO of Cincinnati’s USI Midwest,  a national insurance brokerage firm. Previously, he served as founder, president and CEO of Queen City Insurance Agency. 

“President Pinto, I have the honor to present Mr. Thomas D. Cassady with a degree of doctor of letters honoris causa in recognition of his deep love of the liberal arts, his breakthrough professional success and his unrivalled commitment to this community,” UC Executive Vice President Ryan Hays said in his presentation.

Pinto thanked Cassady for his service and credited him with helping the university reach milestones such as this year’s record-breaking graduating class.

“You embody the highest aspirations of a liberal arts education: a hungry mind, a painter’s eye, a poet’s ear, a humble spirit and, above all, a wise heart,” Pinto said. “A faithful son of the Queen City, you have devoted your life’s journey to making this community a better place to live, learn, grow, connect and care.

“Thomas D. Cassady, your alma mater is richer for your curiosity, your counsel, your optimism and, of course, your example,” Pinto said.

Doloris Learmonth is hooded.

UC Board of Trustees member Tom Mischell places the ceremonial hood over the shoulders of Doloris Learmonth, who received an honorary doctor of human letters. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

Doloris Learmonth puts her hands to her heart on stage.

UC graduate Doloris Learmonth gets emotional during the ceremony. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

On Friday, UC recognized UC alumni Doloris Learmonth and Robert Richardson Jr.

Learmonth received an honorary doctor of humane letters. She is a graduate of the UC College of Law who earned a master’s degree at UC. She is a trustee of the University of Cincinnati Foundation who also serves on the Board of Visitors for UC’s College of Law and is co-chairwoman of the college’s capital campaign.

Learmonth was managing partner of Peck Shaffer & Williams from 2001-08 and served as president of the Cincinnati Bar Association from 1991 to 1992.

“Your adopted city and your alma mater have advanced with the help of your intelligent guidance, your innate optimism and your respected integrity,” Pinto said. “Your loyalty, support and true affection for the University of CIncinnati are constants that have contributed immeasurably to our mission.”

A board member places a hood over the shoulders of Robert Richardson Jr.

UC Board of Trustees member Phil Collins performs the hooding Friday for UC alumnus Robert Richardson Jr. at Fifth Third Arena. Richardson received an honorary doctor of law. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

UC bestowed upon Richardson an honorary doctor of laws. Richardson previously earned degrees from UC’s College of Law and UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. He served as UC student body president and started the region’s first college campus chapter of the NAACP.

After graduation he worked as a labor attorney and ran a congressional campaign for Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.

“With fervor, you embraced the opportunity to think of the 'next' – the generations to follow you who need help overcoming inequities and financial disadvantage to complete a college education,” Pinto said. “With clear vision, you have reminded those with abundance that the well-being of our community is made stronger when we empower those with less to acquire the tools of success.”

Neville Pinto in a cap and gown applauds on stage with a sea of students in red gowns in front of him.

UC President Neville Pinto applauds students at commencement. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

John Drury stands next to Kristi A. Nelson on stage smiling in caps and gowns.

UC Provost Kristi A. Nelson, right, honors UC professor John Drury during the ceremony. Drury received UC's 2019 Excellence in Mentoring Doctoral Students Award. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

Also Friday, UC awarded the 2019 Excellence in Mentoring Doctoral Students Award to John Drury, a professor of English and comparative literature in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. Doctoral and master’s students Drury has mentored have gone on to teach at Harvard University and are winners of the Walt Whitman Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, among others.

Marshall “Chip” Montrose, dean of the UC Graduate School, congratulated the graduates and urged family members and friends to express their unreserved applause.

“Those who are about to walk before you are earning the highest degrees conferred by the University of CIncinnati,” he said. “I want to be clear: we have no prohibition against  you showing your enthusiasm as they walk across the stage. Please feel free.”

Decorated mortarboards at commencement.

Fifth Third Arena is packed during the second of three undergraduate commencement ceremonies. UC witnessed a record graduation in 2019. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

Among this year’s graduates are 72 student-athletes, including five who received their master’s degrees. This year’s graduates include 2017 NCAA Champion Annette Echikunwoke and two-time NCAA runner-up Loretta Blaut and Leah Heckaman.

Also graduating this week is DerMarr Johnson, a member of the 1999-2000 Bearcats team who was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year. He left UC after being selected sixth in the 2000 NBA Draft. He played for four teams in his eight NBA seasons. Johnson returned to UC in 2017 to finish his degree in interdisciplinary studies and was named a student assistant coach of the men’s basketball team.

In his commencement address, Pinto invoked UC’s founder, the late Dr. Daniel Drake who lobbied the Ohio General Assembly to approve charters for UC’s founding colleges in 1819. Drake was a Renaissance Man in Cincinnati, putting himself through medical school, creating museums and starting public libraries in the Queen City.

A beaming student shakes hands with the university president on stage at Fifth Third Arena.

UC President Neville Pinto congratulates a doctoral student during Thursday's hooding ceremony at Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

Pinto told graduates to follow the example Drake set in his extraordinary life. Drake pored over the dictionary to improve his vocabulary and employed his observational skills in studying nature as a boy to his medical practice, Pinto said.

“Education should not be limited to the classroom. Curiosity can also be a great teacher,” Pinto said. “In the years ahead I hope as scholars you will feed your own innate hunger for learning.”

A mortarboard reads: I didn't get there by wishing for it or by hoping for it but by working for it.

Students decorate their mortarboards with personal messages. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

Likewise, Pinto urged graduates to hold to their personal values when faced with adversity and not to try to please everyone. And he touted Drake’s influence and commitment to civic and community life.

“Graduates, always remember a life of legacy involves not just the pursuit of happiness but also the pursuit of joy,” Pinto said. “In all he did in his profession, Dr. Drake made sure to spend time with his family and to serve his community.

“No matter where you live, find a need that drives your passion and do something to help.”

“Class of 2019, congratulations on your doctoral and master’s degrees. It is now time for you to write the story of your own life and legacy. As you lean into the future, always remember this: Be Boldly Bearcat! Congratulations!”

A father and daughter hug.

A UC student gets a hug from her father during commencement at Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

Presidential Leadership Awards

While each graduate has a story of success to share, UC President Neville Pinto reserved special attention during the commencement ceremonies for those who exemplify the university’s ideals of scholarship, leadership, character and service as outlined in UC’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here.

Pinto honored eight graduates this year with a Presidential Leadership Medal for their accomplishments and contributions to society. 

A graduate waves to supporters.

A UC graduate waves to supporters. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

They include: Rahul Sandella, a medical sciences major in UC’s College of Medicine; Rickey Terrell, a chemical engineering student in UC’s Honors program; Kendall Cappel, a Marvin P. Kolodzik Business Scholar; Mariam Elgafy, who will graduate from UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services; Andrew “Scottie” Emmert in the UC College of Medicine and Laura Stegner, who will graduate from UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. Each received the 2019 Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence.

Sandella first came to UC for his high school science fair and felt right at home. He was accepted into a UC pre-med program for high ability, intellectually curious students, which provided mentorship from UC’s esteemed faculty. As a result, Sandell was able to work on research projects in a variety of disciplines. He served as president of UC’s South Asian American Student Association, where he helped organize campus events celebrating Indian culture. Last year, he was named king of UC’s Homecoming.

Emmert, a Barry Goldwater Scholar, volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative. He conducted gene-editing research to treat disease along with partners at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He co-founded the Medical Sciences Ambassadors Program to recruit undergraduates to the UC College of Medicine.

Terrell worked with UC’s Center of Community Engagement to develop a science fair for senior students studying engineering at Hughes STEM High School. He will continue his chemical engineering education at Stanford University later this year.

Cappel, a university honors student in UC’s Lindner College of Business, is graduating with two bachelor’s degrees in marketing and accounting. She studied abroad in England, Australia and France, despite a severe food allergy that can make travel tricky. She completed five co-ops and accepted a position this year at a Cincinnati professional 

A student in a cap and gown smiles during commencement.

A UC graduate smiles to supporters. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

Elgafy served as a senior class officer and senator in UC’s Undergraduate Student Government. She has been recognized for her efforts to advocate for underrepresented groups on campus. Besides her volunteer activities as an Arabic tutor at the Orient Learning Academy Tutoring Center, she is an ice hockey instructor and teaches figure skating.

Stegner organized a new astronomy club at UC and joined UC’s Taekwondo team, helping them raise money for new equipment. She traveled abroad to South Korea and China. She participated in UC’s Joint Engineering Co-op Institute, a partnership between UC and Chongqing University in China. Stegner helped create the Engineering Diplomats, a group dedicated to welcoming Chinese students to campus through social gatherings and events.

Likewise, Caitlin Doyle, a doctoral student in English literature and creative writing in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, and Courtney Giannini, who is earning both medical and doctoral degrees from the UC College of Medicine, were honored with UC’s 2019 Presidential Medal of Graduate Student Excellence.

Doyle was the recipient of several national literary awards and served as vice president of UC’s English Graduate Organization. Her work has been published in journals, anthologies and magazines. She is working on her debut poetry collection titled “The Blue Meridian,” which is the subject of her spring creative dissertation.

Giannini completed the medical scientist training program in UC’s College of Medicine. The program awards both a medical and a doctoral degree. She spent three years of graduate study in the Division of Epidemiology. Giannini contributed to a project to create a free health clinic to serve uninsured patients in Greater Cincinnati.

The scene on stage during the presentation of the colors at Fifth Third Arena.

The University of Cincinnati Pershing Rifles color guard presents the American flag next to the Ivy Chain, a collection of outstanding undergraduate women selected by their peers to represent the graduating class. The tradition at UC dates back to 1903. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

About the Spring Class of 2019

  • Students applying for graduation: 6,653
  • Countries represented: 75
  • States represented: 49
  • Counties in Ohio: 80 of 88
  • Degrees conferred: 6,976
  • First-generation students: 1,159
  • Veterans or dependents: 286
  • Features 72 student-athletes, including a former NBA player and several NCAA champions.
A student smiles while being hooded by a professor while the dean looks on.

UC College of Pharmacy Dean Neil MacKinnon, left, watches as student Nicholas Michel is hooded by Assistant Professor Ana Hincapie. Michel, PharmD, earned a master's degree in pharmacy leadership.

College of Pharmacy celebrates

Earlier this week, UC’s James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy conducted its hooding and recognition ceremony at Music Hall. The college recognized 97 doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) graduates, 3 Ph.D. graduates and 35 master’s graduates.

Among the PharmD students, there were 54 women and 43 men. Thirty-four percent of the class is pursuing a post-graduate residency. At least 16 graduates have close relatives who are also pharmacists. Many of these pharmacy family members joined the graduates as they crossed the stage.

Graduate Samantha Stander, PharmD, had the record for the most pharmacy family members when five joined her on stage.

Included among the master’s students were the first three graduates of the college’s 1+1 Graduate Program in drug development, an international collaboration with Xiamen University, one of the top-10 universities in China. Students complete the first year of their studies at Xiamen University before coming to UC.

“I have visited Xiamen University twice, along with some of our faculty, and it is a fantastic international partner for our college,” College of Pharmacy Dean Neil MacKinnon said. “We anticipate four new students joining our college in August as part of this program.”

The UC College of Law will celebrate its commencement at 1 p.m. May 11 at Northern Kentucky Convention Center.

Five women surround their sister to pay tribute to her during commencement.

A group of sisters celebrate their newest UC graduate during commencement. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

A family photo shows more than a dozen family members posing with a graduate.

Families packed Fifth Third Arena to support their UC graduates. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

A doctoral student is hooded during UC's commencement.

UC conferred doctoral degrees during a hooding ceremony at Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

Three students in caps and gowns beam with pride during commencement.

Students smile during the master's and doctoral recognition ceremony, part of UC's three-day commencement celebration. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

A close portrait of a student smiling under the floor lights of UC's Fifth Third Arena.

A student smiles under the bright lights of UC's Fifth Third Arena during commencement. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

A group of students celebrates in their caps and gowns.

Students celebrate during the master's and doctoral recognition ceremonies at Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

A student in the crowd gives supporters a thumbs up while smiling in her cap and gown.

A UC student waves to supporters during undergraduate commencement at Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

A student in her cap and gown cheers during commencement at Fifth Third Arena.

A UC student cheers during commencement at Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

A student closes her eyes while a professor places a ceremonial hood onto her shoulders.

A UC doctoral student squints during the ceremonial hooding at Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

A portrait of a smiling student at commencement.

A UC student beams with pride during commencement. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

DerMarr Johnson shakes hands with Neville Pinto on stage at Fifth Third Arena.

UC President Neville Pinto congratulates DerMarr Johnson, a former member of the UC men's basketball team who spent eight years in the NBA before returning to get his degree in interdisciplinary studies. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

A crowd gathers outside the arena.

Family members gather outside Fifth Third Arena during commencement Friday. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

A UC student laughs during commencement.

An ecstatic UC graduate laughs during commencement. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

A sea of capped faces smile back at Fifth Third Arena.

UC graduates celebrate at Fifth Third Arena during the second of three undergraduate commencement exercises. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

Be the next accomplished Bearcat

Students graduating from the University of Cincinnati work in innovative and impactful ways. As part of the university's strategic direction Next Lives Here, UC grads achieve academic excellence, maintain an innovation agenda and make an impact in urban areas and around the globe. Apply to UC as an undergrad or graduate Bearcat and make a difference in the world.