Michael Reyes: Never gave up

Michael Reyes

Michael Reyes had an unconventional path to UCLA.

“During my early high school years, I just didn’t really apply myself,” Reyes said about his teen years in Covina, California. “I wasn’t focused on my studies, hanging with the wrong crowd, getting myself into trouble.”

So Reyes left the United States to finish high school in Mexico, where his family descends from. It changed his life.

“I was around students who wanted to go to college and were actively thinking about their post-graduation lives,” he said. “They made me appreciate the privileges I had as an American citizen and that I shouldn’t take those opportunities for granted.”

Reyes returned to Southern California to attend Citrus Community College in Glendora before being accepted to UCLA, his dream school.

Now 23, Reyes will graduate with a major in English and a minor in French and Francophone Studies from the UCLA College. He has been accepted into the graduate program at the University of Texas at Austin, where he will work toward his Ph.D. in comparative literature.

His experiences while at UCLA helped him make the decision to pursue an academic career. Reyes participated in an internship at a literary agency and also conducted undergraduate research as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow.

“I was able to learn about two different workplace environments: non-academic and academic,” he said. “Through undergraduate research and networking with graduate students, I understood what would await me if I went for the academic route.”

Even his decision to minor in French came about thanks to a UCLA experience. “My roommate would study Chinese in our room every day, and seeing him study like that made me wonder, ‘if I could learn another language, what would I do?’” 

Reyes hopes one day to become a professor of literature. But before that can happen, the University of Texas requires students to command three languages other than English.

“I may just shoot for a non-romance language,” he said.


► More Commencement 2014 stories and photos.


Jennifer Kadowaki: Reaching for the stars

Jennifer Kadowaki

The Hubble Space Telescope has found objects traveling through space that cannot be identified. And Jennifer Kadowaki is going to help figure out what they are.

Kadowaki, 22, will graduate from the UCLA College with a degree in physics and is now working at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope.

“I really enjoy understanding how the world works,” she said.

A native of Orange County, CA, Kadowaki has always been fascinated by astronomy: while still in high school she sought out professors at the University of California, Irvine, whom she could help with research.

At UCLA, she was awarded a Clare Boothe Luce scholarship, which supports women in math, science and engineering. Although still underrepresented, women are pursuing the sciences in increasing numbers at UCLA.

“It’s exciting to see that there are more women coming up in physical sciences,” she said. “Women are definitely not common in this field, but at the same time we do have a really good support group at UCLA.”

After taking a year off from school, Kadowaki hopes to pursue her doctoral degree in astrophysics. While most people in their early 20s still struggle with their future, Kadowaki’s goals are crystal clear.

“I’ve always loved extra-galactic astronomy,” she said. “I want to become a staff scientist, and study how stars are formed and how they influence the creation of galaxies.”

Ajwang Rading: Dedicated to social justice

Ajwang Rading

At just 22 years old, Ajwang Rading has accomplished more than most. He has met with congressmen and governors, shadowed a U.S. Secretary of State through Ireland as a youth advisor to the Clinton Peace Center, and provided commentary on the BBC about United States foreign policy during the G8 Summit. And then, in addition to mentoring Los Angeles-area high school students in his spare time, Rading created a global fellowship that empowers undergraduates to create public service projects across the globe.

Not surprisingly, Rading’s resume lists many prestigious UCLA honors, such as the Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award, “Senior of the Year” award, and the Chancellor’s Service Award. He can now add one more: UCLA graduate in political science, with a minor in film.

And Rading is just getting started. Thanks to a Humanity in Action fellowship, he will spend the summer in Paris studying humanitarian issues surrounding the Holocaust.

It’s easy to pick out a theme running through his resume: studying issues related to poverty and inequity. It’s a theme he wants to pursue in the future because of how it’s shaped his own life.

“Because of the poverty and adversity I have endured in my own life, I feel blessed to have the opportunity not only to understand other people’s struggles, but to answer them”, said Rading. “It is a precious responsibility — and it is because of that sense of responsibility that I do what I do.”

Rading grew up in Newport Beach, CA, raised by a single mother who emigrated from Kenya at a young age. She and Rading struggled in poverty in this wealthy enclave, just so he would have the opportunity to receive a good education.

He kept his poverty a secret from his classmates, and credits his mother for instilling his passion for service, which was also rooted in his desire to escape his “parochial life.” It was this drive that led him to be elected class president of his high school nearly every year, and he remains drawn to both policy and government to this day.

These experiences were at the root of his record at UCLA of helping those in need. He is most proud of his involvement as co-founder and chair of the UCLA Global Citizens Fellowship, a competitive summer grant that enables students to pursue self-directed public service projects in international communities.

After his summer in Paris, he hopes to return to the U.S. to focus on community development, inequality and socioeconomic security for the working class families, in particular women and children.  “UCLA has helped me fully understand my potential,” he said. “It has made my mother’s vision for me come true and given me the tools to achieve my dreams and serve others.”