Record number of UC graduates celebrate commencement
UC recognizes record 7,080 students at four ceremonies
The University of Cincinnati celebrated a record-setting spring commencement Saturday at Fifth Third Arena.
UC recognized a record 7,080 graduates at its two-day celebration, which began Friday with a Doctoral Hooding and Master’s Recognition Ceremony. The university will continue its commencement with its final undergraduate ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday.
President Neville Pinto highlighted the unique challenges faced by the graduating class of 2022.
“Each and every one of you has overcome significant challenges — not the least of which is being educated at the height of a global pandemic,” he said. “Thank you for finishing strong.”
Importance of selfless service
UC Board of Trustees Chairwoman Kim Heiman congratulated the graduates and welcomed them to the ranks of UC's more than 330,000 alumni around the world.
“Today, we honor you and your academic journey. And we have confidence that the knowledge, life experiences and relationships you established here at UC will equip you with limitless potential.”
In his undergraduate address, Pinto invoked Cincinnatus, Cincinnati's and the university’s namesake, a statesman-turned-Roman farmer who answered the call to lead the empire when it was threatened with invasion from the Aequi.
“But that isn’t why he is remembered and revered. Cincinnatus was best known for what he did not do. He did not cling to power,” Pinto said.
After addressing the crisis, Cincinnatus ceded his authority as dictator and returned to his farm, setting an example for public service, Pinto said.
This is an example many UC students follow, he said. UC students have logged more than 130,000 hours of community service this past year alone, according to UC’s Center for Community Engagement.
“You live like Cincinnatus when you tutor underprivileged kids from Cincinnati Public Schools through Bearcat Buddies,” Pinto said. “In the face of hardship and suffering, our world needs more people who live like Cincinnatus.”
Pinto also recognized Ukraine native and UC alumnus Alex Yastrebenetsky, CEO of Infotrust, who set up a scholarship fund for UC students from Russia and Ukraine who have been affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“As you leave here today, I challenge you to take Cincinnatus with you. Take Cincinnati with you. And live up to the name,” Pinto said.
Pinto also paid tribute to UC College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services professor emeritus Francis Cullen, who in 1991 advised his first doctoral candidate, a sociology student named Velmer Burton Jr.
Burton had a storied academic career after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice at UC. He served as provost at the University of Arkansas, among his other academic accomplishments.
Today, Cullen will hood his last graduate student, Alex Burton, Velmer’s son.
“Appropriately, Alex gifted Dr. Cullen bookends inscribed with each of their names,” Pinto said.
“After years of diligence and hard work, you have summited an impressive academic mountain,” Pinto said.
A graduating class to remember
UC College of Arts and Sciences graduate Hattie Martin delivered the student address, noting that her class celebrated UC’s 200th anniversary, cheered on UC’s historic 2021 football season and welcomed new campus buildings such as the Carl H. Lindner College of Business.
“I stand in front of you humbled and in awe of our individual accomplishments and the resilience that we have shown every day as Bold Bearcats,” Martin said. “Whether you realize it or not, we have made a difference. We are mentors. We are leaders. We are catalysts for change.”
UC College-Conservatory of Music student Victoria Popritkin led graduates in singing the Alma Mater while UC conductor Kevin Holzman led the CCM Commencement Band played “Pomp and Circumstance” for the procession.
UC conferred an honorary degree to UC Foundation Board of Trustees member Lori A. Beer, global chief information officer for JPMorgan Chase & Co.
UC’s Board of Trustees nominated Beer for the honor in February for her leadership in the fields of technology systems and infrastructure. According to JPMorgan Chase, Beer manages a budget of more than $12 billion and more than 53,000 technology workers in the company’s retail, wholesale and asset and wealth management businesses.
Pinto presented Beer with a Doctor of Commercial Science, honoris causa on Saturday during the second of three undergraduate ceremonies at Fifth Third Arena.
She is a member of UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business Advisory Council. She also created the Beer Family Endowed Scholarship Fund at Lindner.
Beer was appointed last year to the advisory council for the Cincinnati Innovation District for which UC serves as a cornerstone of research and entrepreneurship.
Beer and her husband, Bill, have three children who are UC grads.
UC President Neville Pinto called Beer a trailblazer in technology. At JPMorgan Chase, Beer was co-sponsor of its Access Ability Business Resource Group, dedicated to advancing careers and an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities.
“As a longtime technology executive, you have broken the glass ceiling. More importantly, you have lifted others while you climbed, bringing women and minorities into a field that lacks representation,” Pinto said.
“Lori A. Beer, you have spent your career championing others and creating a legacy of goodwill. For this, we owe you a debt of gratitude.”
About the spring 2022 class
UC conferred 7,188 degrees to 7,080 graduates, based on preliminary applications. (Some grads have earned multiple degrees.) UC presented 541 associate degrees; 4,600 bachelor’s degrees; 1,477 master’s degrees; 270 doctoral degrees and 300 professional degrees.
UC also recognized a record 1,201 first-generation college graduates. About 17% of this year’s class are the first in their families to graduate from college. Another 14% transferred from another university. UC also celebrates a record number of online degrees awarded at 894.
Graduates hail from 83 countries across six continents. The spring class features students from all 50 states. But 71% of UC’s 2022 graduates are from Ohio. The class represents 78 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
The youngest student grad, earning an associate degree, is 17. The oldest is 66.
The average age of a student earning a bachelor’s degree this year is 23. About 58% of spring graduates are women. And 195 students are U.S. military veterans or the dependents of veterans. The spring class includes 190 students who graduated from Cincinnati Public Schools.
Among graduates are 66 student athletes, including eight earning graduate degrees: Sam Martin (men’s basketball), Arame Niang (women’s basketball), Ioana Guna (tennis), Emma Miceli (tennis), Maria Santilli (tennis), Daniel Jones (men’s track and field), Sam Meece (men’s track and field) and Siro Piña Cardona (men’s track and field).
UC student-athletes collectively posted a 3.387 overall grade point average in the fall of 2021 with 78% earning spots on the Honor Roll.
Graduate Sydney Velazco earned a degree in UC Blue Ash College’s competitive dental hygiene program while managing cystic fibrosis, a rare, progressive disease that shortens expected lifespan as it affects the lungs and other organs.
Cystic fibrosis can block airways and cause lung damage. Velazco says her lung capacity has decreased over time, especially after her teenage years. She is still active and able to get around, but many patients eventually need a lung transplant.
“My everyday therapies are a lot,” she says. “It takes up a lot of time and sometimes I have to sacrifice studying or sacrifice not doing a treatment or something else that I need to do.”
I want to be able to inspire others like me. I think sometimes having a terminal illness, you think that you can't do normal things in life. I want to show that I am doing that. You have the opportunity to do that too.
Sydney Velazco, UC graduate
Velazco has been admitted to the hospital while in the UC program, but she still found ways to participate in class activities.
“What impresses me most about Sydney is her perseverance and resilience,” says UC Blue Ash Dental Hygiene Program Director Luke Burroughs. “I have never had a student with such a significant chronic illness, and all the while she has shown such determination and strength, caring for her patients while being a cystic fibrosis patient herself.”
Velazco already has a job offer as a dental hygienist and will begin her career after she passes the national licensing exam. She wants to save enough money to open her own dental practice.
Velazco said she wants to share her story to help others with serious health conditions realize they can still pursue their life’s goals.
“I want to be able to inspire others like me,” she says. “I think sometimes having a terminal illness, you think that you can't do normal things in life. I want to show that I am doing that. You have the opportunity to do that too.”
Getting a jump on college
Jenna McMullen, a student in UC’s Clermont College, is getting her associate degree in manufacturing engineering technology.
“I have been lucky to find a passion for computer-aided design through this program, so I plan to attend college for a double major in fashion design and graphic design,” McMullen said.
McMullen enrolled in UC’s College Credit Plus program while she was still in high school to earn credit toward her degree. College Credit Plus is Ohio’s dual enrollment program that provides students in grades 7-12 the opportunity to earn college and high school credits simultaneously by taking courses from Ohio colleges or universities.
“The College Credit Plus program has helped me both academically and financially because it challenged me, set me ahead and saved me money,” McMullen said. “Through College Credit Plus, I have been fortunate enough to receive my associate degree at no cost.”
McMullen took classes at the Grant Career Center, a technical school for high school juniors and seniors and adults in Bethel, Ohio. She credits UC adjunct instructor Tobin Huebner with helping her discover her passion for design.
“I would recommend UC for students who are thinking about going to college because there are so many opportunities,” she said. “The professors truly care about your success and they work hard to help you better yourself.
“UC has helped me figure out my next step in life and I’m grateful for that.”
Preparing for a new career
Jade Jacobs is getting a Bachelor of Science degree in public health in UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. Jacobs plans to study epidemiology in graduate school.
“My UC experience has been very positive. I have learned so much over the past four years,” she said.
“I really love the public health program at UC,” she said. “I’ve taken classes on every area of public health, including global health, women’s and minority health and program planning.”
Jacobs said the internship programs were most helpful in giving her real-world experience. She interned at TriHealth, a Cincinnati-area health care system.
“I have learned so much from my courses, but the internship requirement for our program has been the best part of my experience at UC,” she said. “The skills and knowledge I gained from that experience is something I will use forever and will be very important to my career in public health.”
Jacobs said she took advantage of UC programs designed to help students academically and professionally such as the Learning Commons, which provides academic support, and the Bearcat Promise Career Studio, which provides help with resumes, interviewing and networking.
“I would definitely encourage students to further their education at UC,” Jacobs said. “Going to UC has completely prepared me for my career and future.”
UC Blue Ash Director of Marketing Peter Gemmer contributed to this story.
Featured image at top: A UC student celebrates during spring commencement at Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand
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