Some 15,000 Bruins will be receiving their degrees this commencement season and launching into the next chapter in their lives, carrying with them the unique blend of academic excellence, diverse experiences and a commitment to making the world a better place that only UCLA provides.

Each one of our students has traveled their own unique path to reach this milestone, and to honor them — the challenges they have overcome, the talents they have contributed and the inspiration they will continue to provide for all of us — we are privileged to spotlight just a few of their stories.

These undergraduate and graduate students, who come from across campus and represent a rich tapestry of backgrounds, cultures, perspectives and disciplines, have enhanced our community and reflect the qualities that continue to set UCLA apart as the No. 1–ranked public university in the nation.

Please join us in honoring UCLA’s class of 2024. This page will be updated regularly with new profiles through June 14.


She hopes to leave things better than she found them

Naomi Hammonds has accomplished more in her four years at UCLA than some people achieve in a decade but no matter what she’s done, one thing stands out: Her desire to bring resources and support to the students who need them the most.

Naomi Hammonds wearing graduation sash, stands next to bear statue
Idriss Njike/UCLA
Naomi Hammonds

During her four years of involvement in student government, she has helped pass many initiatives to preserve, renew or create programs that help students. As a USAC representative, for instance, she introduced a parking permit grant for commuter students that will continue until spring 2025.

Now, as USAC president, she helps oversee the allocation of funds that help student organizations and activities thrive. She recently helped secure $10,000 to support several student resource centers across campus — including the Black Bruin Resource Center, Bruin Resource Center, LGBTQ Campus Resource Center, Transfer Student Center and Veteran Resource Center — and restarted a program that allows students to receive free blue books and Scantrons at the UCLA store.

Read more about Naomi Hammonds on UCLA Newsroom.


Art as an emotional journey

Hadaway, who majored in art with a minor in African American studies, unveiled “A Seat at the Table” in 2021, an 18-by-7-foot mural depicting Black Bruins from past to present that she was commissioned to create for the new Black Bruin Resource Center. A piece of hers was also recently selected to be part of the Associated Students of UCLA’s permanent collection as part of its Art in the Union annual competition. And in this year’s Class Artist competition from the Chancellor’s Council on the Arts, Hadaway was acknowledged with an honorable mention.

Maia Faith Hadaway posing in front of her mural “A Seat at the Table” in the Black Bruin Resource Center 
Courtesy of Maia Faith Hadaway
Maia Faith Hadaway

“Sometimes I find it surreal walking back into the BBRC or seeing them post and my work is in the background,” she said. “And I love seeing people sitting in front of it because it really feels like they’re an extension of the mural — my original intent. Someone actually reached out to me recently and thanked me for making the mural because every time she goes in there, she’s encouraged to keep working harder so that she can make her own mark in history.”

Hadaway’s creative practice is rooted in themes of identity, human connection, faith and empathy. She paints layered portraiture through the concept of “recurring characters” throughout her work, allowing the viewer to see individuals in different contexts. Her subject matter is largely influenced by or specifically reflects people she knows and loves.

Read more about Maia Faith Hadaway at GoArts.ucla.edu.


A cinematic vision that embraces the intersection of grief and art

Kaith Karishma is an explorer. Their path to UCLA was nontraditional, with valuable time spent devoted to self-healing and exploring myriad academic interests in community college — before completing undergraduate work in film and media studies at UC Santa Barbara.

Kaith Karishma in hat, left, and L'lerrét Jazelle, both under umbrella
Ethan Major
Kaith Karishma, left, and L'lerrét Jazelle

Graduating with an MFA in production/directing from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television this year, Karishma was named the graduate-level winner of the second annual Class Artist competition sponsored by UCLA’s Chancellor’s Council on the Arts. They were honored for the short film “Poetica for the Living.” Written, produced and directed by the filmmaker, it is a ruminative and painful tale of a traveler who wanders a barren landscape, sharing time and stories with others they meet on the way as humanity faces imminent climate collapse.

Karishma was inspired by research that predicts how the earth will be re-formed by rising seawater and the work of South Korean born American filmmaker Konogada, particularly his 2021 melancholy science fiction drama “After Yang.” An experience seeing writer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon was also transformational, Karishma said.

“They said something that really impacted me, which is that in America, we’re not allowed to publicly grieve,” Karishma said. “I remember leaving that concert and just talking to my best friend in the car and having this rant about how in America, we’re not allowed to publicly grieve, and we’re never taught to grieve properly and with community. Sometimes it feels like this mountain of grief just piles on top of you until you can’t tell where you end and the grief begins.”

Read more about Kaith Karishma at GoArts.ucla.edu.


She’s on a journey ‘to bring science to everybody’

Geology can take you to some interesting places. Tibet, for one.

Home to the tallest mountains on Earth, it’s where Abijah Simon spent three field seasons mapping the region’s eastern border as a UCLA graduate student. Carrying only a rock hammer, compass, notebook and camera — using what she calls “old-school, bare-bones geologic techniques” — she studied the inner workings of the world’s highest plateau, which towers 15,000 feet above sea level. In fact, Simon has mapped more of the eastern Tibetan plateau than any other American geologist.

Abijah Simon with mountains in the background
Courtesy of Abijah Simon
Abijah Simon

“By measuring the rocks and compiling data, we can create a model for how these mountains formed and where the faults are that cause these really devastating earthquakes in the region. So my work has an impact on seismic risk assessment, which is pretty meaningful,” Simon said. “Our driver while we were there — he’d lost his 8-year-old son in the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, which killed tens of thousands of people and affected millions. It meant a lot to be able to work there and have an impact on that region.”

Simon, who will graduate this year with her Ph.D. in geology, has always asked big questions about the natural world. Her unique skillset makes her particularly suited to her field: a sculptor and graphic designer, Simon triple-majored in art along with geology and environmental studies as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

Read more about Abjiah Simon on UCLA Newsroom. 


‘It’s never too late to learn – even for me’ 

When Emily Wang came to California from China with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, she knew just one person in this country. Settling near Los Angeles, she worked as a restaurant cashier and contemplated options for her future. Learning English was key, so she enrolled in ESL classes at El Camino College in Torrance. A counselor told her about transferring to a four-year university. Wang was 34 at the time, with a first-grader in tow. “They told me, it’s never too late to learn,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, really? Even for me?’”

Wide shot of Emily Wang in front of ivy wearing blue UCLA Luskin T-shirt.
Mary Braswell/UCLA
Emily Wang

She successfully transferred to UCLA and will graduate this June with a bachelor’s degree from the Luskin School of Public Affairs. But the process of applying also stoked her desire to pursue policy work, as she discovered that she was technically an undocumented immigrant. The family had come to the U.S. legally and had work permits, but after eight years, they were still waiting for an interview and didn’t have green cards.

“I thought, since I’m stuck in this situation, I’m going to use my undocumented identity as my strength to advocate,” she said. “We need more support systems to help undocumented immigrants who are already here, like my daughter.”

She began lobbying on behalf of undocumented immigrants, starting with a state Senate bill that helped expand access to state-based financial aid for undocumented students.

Read more about Emily Wang on the University of California website.


Studying abroad brought him closer to his parents migration story

Jonathan Valenzuela Mejia hardly spoke French. Yet the first-generation college student — traveling alone for the first time — was able to secure a studio apartment in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, just steps away from the Arc de Triomphe.

Jonathan Valenzuela Mejia (right) in graduation regalia and his father, Edgar Valenzuela, give the thumbs-up during a recent trip to Guatemala.
Elmer Monroy Fotografía
Jonathan Valenzuela Mejia (right) and his father, Edgar.

It was a long way from UCLA, where the global studies and public affairs major would have been starting the fall quarter of his junior year. But it was exactly where he needed to be to expand his worldview, discover a deeply personal cultural phenomenon and visualize the plight of his parents, who had emigrated from Guatemala to the United States in the 1990s.

While traveling, he was struck by how many Central American immigrants live in Europe and decided to study this phenomenon. His research identified a rise in European pro-immigrant policies in relation to growing anti-immigrant hostility in the U.S. He also studied cultural similarities between Central America and countries such as Spain and Italy. The overarching topic, which he would use for his senior thesis, combined his experience abroad and his family’s lives and legacy — and allowed him to tap into a readily available resource.

Read more about Jonathan Valenzuela Mejia on UCLA Newsroom.


Remember to stop and smell the data! 

When Justin C.M. Brown left a 15-year career in marketing, he was determined to pivot in a direction that would allow him to make more of a difference — even if he didn’t quite know what that would be. At Santa Monica College, he realized where his journey should begin when he enrolled in his first sociology course.

Close shot of Justin C.M. Brown with graphics of flowers and campus locations
Courtesy of Justin C. M. Brown
Justin C.M. Brown

When he transferred to UCLA, he found his footing and direction through the Research Revealed Undergraduate Research Preparation Program, which helps give newer UCLA students a more thorough grounding in conducting research. “The program,” he said, “gave me academic agency and autonomy, and it changed my perspective of myself, in that I was not only a student — I was also a researcher.”

Brown blends his passion for both research and art with interdisciplinary projects that combine sociology, digital humanities and creative expression. Underpinning it all is his belief that everyone possesses creative energy.

“Artists possess a kind of solidarity that crosses all other identities,” he said. “And I believe if more people nourished their artistic identities, it could help dial down the individualism, the partisan rhetoric and the atomization we're experiencing right now.” 

Read more about Justin C.M. Brown on UCLA Newsroom.


Creating a world of good through the power of AI

The adage “with great power comes great responsibility” may have been popularized through the Spider-Man franchise, but in the world of artificial intelligence ethics, it’s a watchword. For UCLA undergraduate student Mario Peng Lee, it is a guiding principle.

Peng was 9 years old when he began to recognize the power and pitfalls of AI. Already fluent in three languages — he was born in Chile to Taiwanese parents and raised in China, Taiwan and Argentina — he used his first laptop to experiment with the then-newly launched Google Translate.

Close shot of Mario Peng Lee with buildings and computer graphics in background.
Photo courtesy of Mario Peng Lee | Tina Hordzwick/UCLA
Mario Peng Lee

“I would play around, translating something from Spanish to Chinese to English, then back to Chinese and back to Spanish, and it would end up as a completely different sentence,” said Peng. “So why does that happen? Those are the kinds of questions that led me to pursue the path I’m on now.”

A UCLA, his work across three research labs has focused on applying AI and machine learning to natural language processing and understanding.

His scholarly impact has been immediate: Multiple universities utilize the Diverse Names Generator, a project he co-created that provides randomly selected proper names for example sentences in classroom settings; the resource is the first of its kind to help users overcome unconscious bias that may lead them to default to using Anglophone, male-gendered names. And a paper he coc-wrote on the project’s findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America, earned him the linguistics department’s Undergraduate Research and Travel Award.

Read more about Mario Peng Lee on UCLA Newsroom.


‘The responsibility of helping people’

Eva Danesh, who found her calling, and her voice, in science and journalism at UCLA, is poised to begin medical school in the fall. It’s a dream she’s had her entire life, sparked in part by watching the talk show “The Doctors” as a kid: balancing the daily responsibilities of helping patients one-on-one with having a platform to share health information with the wider public.

Eva Danesh wearing graduation gown and holding cap in front of Royce Hall
Courtesy of Eva Danesh
Eva Danesh

That dual interest is one reason Danesh got involved with journalism at UCLA, where she has worked for the Daily Bruin and served on its editorial board. During her time on the paper, Danesh has covered topics ranging from record-breaking California heat waves and John Wooden to a bone marrow registry event spearheaded by UCLA football — often with her brothers, both of whom are also UCLA student journalists.

“What makes me proudest is knowing that I can put out information that people find well-written and important enough that it can, maybe in a very small way, enact change,” she said. “For example, I’ve written a few stories about blood donation and our blood center, and one day I overheard someone look up from the paper and say they were going to donate blood that day.”

In addition to her writing, Danesh has been able to make a difference in other significant ways. She has served as co-president of the American Medical Women’s Association UCLA undergraduate division, as a teaching assistant for a cell and molecular biology course, and as the instructor of a class she created herself through UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Initiated Education program. 

Read more about Eva Danesh on UCLA Newsroom.


‘A tremendous passion for teaching’: Designing a Mandopop course from scratch

When Harry Li begins teaching Chinese to high school students in Pasadena this fall, he’ll bring with him highly relevant instruction experience, having already led a college-level course.

Extreme close-up of face of student Harry Li
Courtesy of Harry Li
Harry Li

Li, who will earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees this month, designed and taught a course on Mandopop for fellow UCLA students during the 2022–23 academic year. The Mandopop genre falls under the umbrella of Chinese pop, or C-pop, with the distinction that lyrics are sung exclusively in Mandarin.

Sharing this passion with other students in a classroom format was a meaningful experience for Li, said Michael Berry, a professor of Chinese cultural studies in the department of Asian languages and cultures who served as Li’s mentor in UCLA’s Undergraduate Student-Initiated Education program.

“Harry Li is brimming with intellectual curiosity, a deep knowledge of the field and a passion for learning,” Berry said. “When he learned there was an opportunity for undergraduate students to teach their own one credit course on a topic of their choice, he immediately applied. Harry is the kind of student who seeks out opportunities and takes them, making the most out of his college experience.”

Read more about Harry Li on the UCLA Division of Humanities website.


From ankle injury to solutions champion for visible and invisible disabilities

When UCLA’s disability studies major — the first at a California public university — launched in fall 2023, Catarina Gerges was quick to enroll. Already minoring in the subject and majoring in neuroscience, she had just enough room in her schedule to fulfill all the credit requirements and still graduate with two majors a year ahead of schedule.

This month, she’ll be one of the first three students to graduate from UCLA with a major in disability studies.

Catarina Gerges standing next to Bruin statue on campus
Courtesy of Catarina Gerges
Catarina Gerges

Gerges’ interest in disability studies was sparked after a roller-skating excursion during the winter quarter of her freshman year ended in a trip to the emergency room. With multiple torn ankle ligaments, Gerges’ mobility was severely limited. Even with crutches and support from the BruinAccess paratransit service, she experienced challenges navigating UCLA’s sprawling campus, including getting from her dorm on the Hill to her classes.

“That was the first time I realized how physically inaccessible our campus was,” Gerges recalled. 

She became inspired by disabilities studies and how the interdisciplinary field seeks to challenge traditional perceptions and promote accessibility and equity.

Read more about Catarina Gerges on UCLA Newsroom.


Spirit of resilience defines Bruin translating research into care

For Youstina Labib, cardiology hits close to home. She was just 5 when her father, Raouf, underwent his first major cardiac surgery. It was to have a lasting effect on her. She became a vital part of her dad’s care team for serious and ongoing health issues while still in elementary school.

“Maybe some days, instead of playing sports or going to some after-school activity, I would go to the hospital to see my dad,” she remembers. “I spoke Arabic at home and got into a preschool that was primarily for Latinx communities. Many of those students were Spanish speakers, and I was able to learn English right along with them.”

Youstina Labib in graduation cap and gown
Rita Labib
Youstina Labib

Her dual-language skills made Labib a translator while still in elementary school. She began to understand medical terms and prescription names far earlier than most kids.

UCLA offered both a pre-med track and the research environment she was looking for, and her research has focused on sympathetic innervation in pulmonary fibrosis, which helps her understand how the nervous system responds to lung injury.

With one hand in research and the other in patient care, Labib, who plans to attend medical school and pursue career as a physician-scientist, sees opportunities to add a much-needed female presence to the field of cardiology.

Read more about Youstina Labib on UCLA Newsroom.


Labor studies graduates reflect on their experiences and hopes for the future

Matthew Royer, Katelynn Garmendia and Breanna Ivette Maldonado were all nominated to speak at the labor studies commencement ceremony on June 15. Ahead of the ceremony, they shared how the their studies in this field have affected their activism and future prospects.

Royer: I will be attending the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School to receive an M.S. in Journalism, where I will focus on labor and business reporting. I hope to use the skills I learned at UCLA to further the world’s knowledge of workers’ struggles.

Triptych photo featuring (from left) From left: Breanna Ivette Maldonado, Katelynn Garmendia and Matthew Royer.
UCLA IRLE
From left: Breanna Ivette Maldonado, Katelynn Garmendia and Matthew Royer.

Garmendia: As a first-generation college student and Latina, our very presence breaks barriers. Recently, I got accepted to UCLA’s master’s of legal studies program, with multiple scholarships, and I am more than excited to attend in the fall and continue breaking these barriers with my presence.

Maldonado: I am committed to continuing my journey as a relentless advocate for workers’ rights and educating forward. I aspire to leverage my experiences and education to effect systemic change, whether through policy advocacy, grassroots organizing or community outreach. My ultimate goal is to contribute to a more just and equitable society for all, as I fight alongside trabajadores like my pops.

Read more about these students on the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment website.


Wonder women: From the margins to the majority in dentistry

Jordan Carfino, once a pre-med major, could have gone in a different direction than her mother and grandfather, both dentists in private practice. She never felt pressured, she said. Ultimately, it was their love for their profession and her mother’s ability to deftly balance family and work that set her on the same path.

Carfino will earn her D.D.S. at UCLA this June before joining Columbia University’s year-long Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency program.

From left: Diane Milberg (class of 1973) Anh Le (class of 1992) and Jordan Carfino (class of 2024) Denrepresent three distinct eras of the School of Dentistry's gender evolution.
UCLA School of Dentistry
From left: Diane Milberg (class of 1973) Anh Le (class of 1992) and Jordan Carfino (class of 2024) Denrepresent three distinct eras of the School of Dentistry's gender evolution.

Forty years before Jordan entered dental school, her mother, Dr. Toni Oliver-Carfino, had enrolled at the UCLA School of Dentistry; women comprised just a third of her 1984 class. The school’s 24-member inaugural class of 1968 included a single woman.

In contrast, Jordan Carfino’s class is majority female, and 61% of the recently entering 2023 are women. Carfino feels that one benefit of having so many female classmates is what they offer each other.

“In certain stressful situations and for problem-solving, it’s great. Faculty-wise, I’ve had a number of women among my pre-clinical instructors. They always made it seem —not easy — but very manageable to do what they do, to have a family, and be able to excel in this profession.”

Read more about Jordan Carfino and other women in dentistry on the UCLA School of Dentistry website.


‘I was always thinking like a musicologist – I just didn’t have a word for it’

Ashley Dao, who graduates in June with a bachelor’s in musicology, has a habit of making the news at UCLA. This year she won a campuswide award for leadership from the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the Dean’s Prize for Excellence in Reseearch and Creativity, and the UCLA Music Library Prize for Best Project on Music after 1900.

Wide shot of Ashley Dao outdoors wearing white dress and graduation sash
UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music
Ashley Dao

To cap it off, she was the first undergraduate student ever selected as an honorable mention for the Ingolf Dahl Award, given by the Pacific Southwest Chapter of the American Musicology Society.

Dao’s academic papers have been accepted at scholarly conferences around the country, and for three years she has served as the editor-in-chief of MUSE: An Undergraduate Music Studies Journal.

But she never intended to study musicology until, as a high school student, she attended a musicology department lecture at UCLA.  

“It actually woke me up to the fact that I had always been a musicologist. Even as a child, I was analyzing the structure of music and the theory behind it, and I was always curious about music’s historical and social context and how it was shaped by politics and notions of identity. I was always thinking like a musicologist — I just didn’t have a word for it.

Read a Q&A with Ashley Dao on the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music website.


Medical school graduates celebrate the journey that made them doctors

Four students who recently graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA,  discussed how their personal and professional experiences influenced their decision to become doctors, and what they hope to accomplish in the future.

Gurjit Kaur became interested in medicine solidified after her father became gravely ill and she routinely witnessed the lack of appropriate medical care he received. Once she completes her residency, she would like to support underserved communities and sees herself working at a county hospital or rural clinic.   

Dean Steven Dubinett addresses the graduating class of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA at the commencement ceremony on May 31, 2024.
Reed Hutchinson/UCLA
Dean Steven Dubinett addresses the graduating class of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA at the commencement ceremony on May 31, 2024.

Emily Jones joined UCLA as a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program, earning her M.D., as well as a Ph.D. in medical anthropology. During her time in the program, she researched the intersection of violence intervention, trauma surgery and public safety at a county hospital in Los Angeles. Her next step is completing a residency in general surgery, where she aims to continue doing health equity research. 

Nonye Ikeanyi will be starting a residency in orthopaedic surgery, a specialty in which women and minorities are underrepresented. As a woman of color, Ikeanyi is looking forward to helping patients from underserved communities feel comfortable when they see an orthopaedic specialist — whether it’s in the emergency room or an outpatient setting. 

Marcos Munoz is looking forward to beginning his family medicine residency — a specialty facing a shortage of doctors — at Kaiser Fontana. He also wants to work on health policies affecting underresourced communities and is committed to helping high school and college students on the path to becoming a doctor. 

Read more about these tudents on the UCLA Health website.


How an introverted student built community – and an impressive body of research 

When she arrived at UCLA, Kaitlyn Coons knew there was a wealth of opportunity waiting for her. But she saw herself as an introvert and wasn’t sure if she would find chances to take on leadership roles or form lasting relationships with faculty. In the past four years, she has done both and will now wrap up her undergraduate experience having completed two majors (classics and history) and two minors (digital humanities and Latin).

Head-and-shoulders photo of graduating student Kaitlyn Coons
Courtesy of Kaitlyn Coons
Kaitlyn Coons

“I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to learn from such esteemed faculty and build such great relationships with my professors,” she said. “I think it’s a testament to UCLA and the faculty’s commitment to their students.”

She has won several honors for her work and research, including the Dean’s Prize for Excellence in Research and Creativity and the UCLA Library Prize for Undergraduate Research in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. She also serves as co-president of the Classical Society at UCLA and Eta Sigma Phi, the national classics honor society.

“Not only did I want to be a part of the community, I wanted to start building inclusive, accessible communities myself,” Kaitlyn said. “Coming in as such an introverted student, I think I’m most proud of seeing my progression from being just a participant to being a leader in my communities.”

Read more about Kaitlyn Coons on the UCLA Division of Humanities website.


At UCLA Extension, a filmmaker who honors Indigenous mythology

Lukas Valderrama has been drawn to mythology since he was a small boy. Growing up in Atlanta, he used a digital camcorder to make short films full of heroes, monsters, magic and mysticism.

Lukas Valderrama standing outside temple, holding movie camera
UCLA Extension
Lukas Valderrama

But as he grew older, and started to make movies for a living, Valderrama noticed that fantasy stories on the big screen were often hitting the same notes. Having learned about the diversity of mythology in the Americas and beyond, in part from his Chilean Jewish parents, Valderrama knew that something was missing.

As part of an effort to fill the gap, Valderrama and Perry Ground, a member of the Onondaga Nation and Valderrama's writing partner, started Petroglyph, a production company focused on highlighting Indigenous stories through film.

"It's about providing a space for storytelling and cultural knowledge from Indigenous communities and combining it with our filmmaking knowledge in a way that's very new," said Valderrama, who will graduate this June with a UCLA Extension certificate in screenwriting, which he completed in December of last year.

Read more about Lukas Valderrama on the UCLA Extension website.