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Graduation caps academic year


UCLA Today

For four days this month, some 70,000 students, families, faculty, staff and other members of the UCLA community gathered to celebrate a joyous milestone at more than 50 ceremonies, graduations and commencement activities held in venues as vast as Pauley Pavilion and as intimate as the Palm Court in Bunche Hall.

An estimated 10,000 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees were awarded. Helping to make the occasion memorable were keynote speakers from academia, business, politics and government who offered encouragement, poignant reminiscences, role-model wisdom and humor that elicited smiles.

Among these luminaries were Terry S. Semel, chief executive officer of Yahoo! Inc., for the School of Theater, Film and Television; Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaro-slavsky for the College of Letters and Science; and Julie Louise Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the School of Public Health.

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) received the university’s highest honor, the UCLA Medal, during the School of Nursing ceremony June 14.

Here, then, are glimpses of some of the happy faces and sights from Commencement 2003.

Ph.D. recipients (top) gather in Royce Hall for the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony June 12. Above, Professor Katherine Hayles hoods her husband, Nicholas Gessler.








For several of the students at this year’s Doctoral Hooding Ceremony, the event was most definitely a family affair.

There was Nicholas Gessler, recipient of a Ph.D. in anthropology, who was hooded by his wife, Professor of English Katherine Hayles.

Receiving his doctorate in history was Troy Rondinone, who was hooded along with his father, Joseph Rondinone, who received his Ph.D. in physics in 1978, a decade before UCLA established its official ceremony.

And Paul Sellin, a professor emeritus of English, hooded his daughter, Christine, who received her Ph.D. in art history.

These were but a few among the 258 students who participated in the ceremony at Royce Hall on June 12. Entering the auditorium in their caps and gowns with metallic gold tassels

signifying their accomplishment, each student was called to the stage to have the hood of the commencement regalia ceremoniously placed.

Members of the students’ dissertation committees stood as their graduate was officially welcomed into the community of scholars.

Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, vice chancellor of graduate studies, heralded the accomplishments of this year’s student marshals, Karina Eileraas, women’s studies, and Leah FitzGerald, nursing.

Eileraas, the first doctoral recipient from the women’s studies program, received the Chan-cellor’s Dissertation Year Fellowship and the George Eliot Dissertation Award. FitzGerald received the Chancellor’s Fellowship and the Chancellor’s Dissertation Fellowship and won grants from Sigma Theta Tau, the nursing honor society, and from UCLA’s Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology.

All told, 594 students received academic doctorates from UCLA this year, their degrees including Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Education, Doctor of Environmental Science and Engineering, Doctor of Musical Arts, and Doctor of Public Health.

As a freshman, Heather Lueck found herself in a situation that would be the envy of any graduate student, let alone an undergrad: conducting original research along-side two prominent scholars in her field. In taking advantage of this opportunity, Lueck has managed to open up “a whole new area of research” in autism, accord-ing to UCLA psychologist O. Ivar Lovaas, a pioneer in behavior intervention for autistic children.

A psychology major with a neuroscience minor, Lueck has been examining language acquisition among autistic children under Lovaas.

She also has been conducting research under the direction of neuroscientist Michael S. Fanselow, a leading authority in fear conditioning, learning and memory. Lueck is exploring the role in memory loss of damage to the hippocampus, a region of the brain.

Lueck was one of three undergraduates to receive the Undergraduate Student Award, the highest honor bestowed by the College of Letters and Science. She was also chosen to give the student address at commencement for the College. Lueck dreams of helping to illuminate neurobiology’s role in the language disorders to which autistic children are prone.

“At UCLA, I’ve found a love for these children and a mission in trying to help them,” she said.

Classics professors first became aware of Dante Apollo Atkins when he started asking probing questions of speakers at department lectures given for the general public. Assuming he was a precocious graduate student from another department, they were shocked to learn that he was only 15 years old. Home-schooled by his father, who gave him a liberal arts education that emphasized classical lan-guages, Atkins not only graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Greek and Latin, but he concurrently received his Master’s of Arts in the classics. In one Latin graduate class, he had the highest grade point average among 11 graduate students. Ranking second in the class was his equally accomplished brother, David.

Having already taken graduate courses in Old Irish, Celtic, Gothic, Old High German and Sanskrit, there’s a good chance Atkins will claim his Ph.D. before he reaches 25. But this classics scholar, one of three winners of the UCLA Alumni Association’s Outstanding Senior Award, does not spend all his hours buried in books. As outreach director for the Regents Scholar Society, he encourages the country’s top high school graduates who have been accepted by UCLA to attend here; his efforts have resulted in a record yield of Regents Scholars selecting UCLA. He’s also a clarinetist with a band that entertains retirees.

Maddalena Bearzi is right at home on the water in Santa Monica Bay. For four years, this marine ecologist, who received her Ph.D. from the Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology and Evolution (OBEE), has taken weekly photos of almost every dolphin in the bay. Spending several days a week at sea, she has developed a comprehensive data set on their family histories to better understand behavioral and ecological mechanisms of coexistence among the dolphins and other marine mammals in the bay. By studying the distribution of dolphins, who travel in small pods that are extremely mobile, Bearzi can identify the location of forage species, such as anchovies, sardines and squid, which, in turn, are indicators of the general health of portions of the bay. Her passion for her subject permeates the se-minars she gives at international meetings, the field trips she or-ganizes for middle and high school students and her guest lectures at UCLA, where she is a teaching assistant.

One of two winners of the Alumni Association’s Outstanding Graduate Student Award, she has also founded three conservation-oriented research organizations, one in Italy and two in Los Angeles. “Maddalena Bearzi is a force of nature,” said William M. Hamner, director of the UCLA Marine Science Center and an OBEE professor. “She is the most focused, determined and committed graduate student I have encountered in 28 years of graduate education.”

After putting aside his cap and gown, ChiChi Nnadi will be launching a career in television journalism under the aegis of MTV, one of the most watched networks in the world. A Regents Scholar for four years, Nnadi has been hired as a VJ for MTV’s college television network set to be launched this fall. Before he came to UCLA, his parents, two civil engineers from Orlando, Fla., were adamantly against his coming to California to study, of all things, acting.

But the risk has paid off handsomely for Nnadi, a theater major who also took courses in film editing, directing, writing and television production in the School of Theater, Film and Television. “You get that taste of being a professional and what your future is going to be like,” Nnadi said of the experience.

His work on a student-produced nationwide cable TV show, “ucla: next,” led to his discovery by an MTV executive who served as a judge for the student Emmy competition. After undergoing a series of rigorous auditions and interviews, Nnadi was selected to travel around the country reporting on hot Gen-Y topics.

“I’m excited about what I’m jumping into,” he said.

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