As nearly 14,000 students prepare to receive their degrees — including thousands who will walk across the stage at Pauley Pavilion in the UCLA College’s first in-person ceremonies in two years — UCLA Newsroom celebrates the extraordinary achievements of the class of 2022.  

These graduating Bruins come from different backgrounds and circumstances and they have overcome unique challenges. Yet each has brought to UCLA special qualities that strengthened the university’s standing as one of the world’s great institutions of higher learning.   

Throughout the week, we’ll highlight some of these amazing students, their academic accomplishments, and their plans for creating a better, more just and more equitable world. 

This page will be updated regularly through June 10.  

Master’s graduate connects music performance with lived experience

Courtesy of Kim Mendez
Kim Mendez

Kim Mendez had been given the role of Baba the Turk, the bearded lady in Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera “The Rake’s Progress.” It just didn’t feel right. The character seemed like a mashup of bad gay stereotypes.

For Mendez, who identifies as a queer Latine fat liberationist, this was a problem.

So Mendez went to see the opera director. Together, they reinterpreted the character. Baba’s pronouns would be changed to they and them — which are also Mendez’s pronouns. Mendez would wear a glitter beard to portray Baba as a beloved character whose gender fluid nature confuses everyone.

Says Mendez: “It gave me gender euphoria to sing this fabulous role on stage.”

On June 10, Mendez will receive a master’s degree from the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music — and they have been selected to serve as the graduate student commencement speaker.

Read more about Kim Mendez at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music website. 

Valeria Coronado has her sights set on improving conditions for garment workers

Javier Jáuregui
Valeria Coronado

Valeria Coronado is thinking about connections.

Set to receive her degree in labor studies and selected as the student speaker for her department’s graduation ceremony, she’s also thinking about the ways in which vulnerable workers are often disconnected from the wealth that their work generates.

And, with her sights set on law school, she’s thinking about how she might be able to create connections among those workers, the goods they produce and the policies that might better protect them.

She came to her academic purpose after years of working in the garment industry, a job she began after high school, in part to help support her family.

“I witnessed a lot of labor exploitation and a lot of unfair practices that occurred in the workplace,” she said. “At one point, I really had a conversation with myself about whether this was something that I wanted to be a part of.”

Read more about Valeria Coronado on UCLA Newsroom.

Virtuous circle: Patrosinio Cruz lifts up fellow transfer students

David Esquivel/UCLA
Patrisinio Cruz

Patrosinio Cruz says he “hates school but loves education.” 

After dropping out of high school, the San Fernando Valley native took jobs in pest control and at Home Depot, went on a Christian mission in the Cape Verde islands in Africa, and learned Portuguese and Creole.

After two years abroad, Cruz returned to school at age 23 to earn his GED, became a school ambassador after enrolling at Los Angeles Valley College, and then transferred to UCLA to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education and social transformation. 

“I’ve learned to cherish every experience as knowledge that no one else has,” said the now-29-year-old Cruz, who is set to graduate this week and who will be attending the Raza Graduation celebration.

Read more about Patrosinio Cruz on UCLA Newsroom.

‘There’s so much left to do,’ says Marshall Scholarship recipient

Courtesy of Herman Luis Chavez
Herman Luis Chavez

It was 2019, and Herman Luis Chavez was visiting family in Tarija, Bolivia.

Chavez, who uses he, they and él pronouns, was a music student at Colorado State University at the time. They spent their days in Bolivia noodling around on their aunt’s piano and going through her sheet music. It was mostly standard repertoire — Beethoven, Mozart, Bach — until they came across a violin sonata by Atiliano Auza León, a Bolivian composer.

It was a bit of a shock.

Chavez didn’t know it at the time, but they had found the research topic that would eventually become the subject of their UCLA honors thesis. And after graduating from UCLA on June 10 with a degree in ethnomusicology and comparative literature, Chavez will continue studying the subject as a Marshall Scholar at King’s College in London.

Read more about Herman Luis Chavez on UCLA Newsroom.

His efforts have helped make UCLA websites accessible to all

Reed Hutchinson/UCLA
Michael Ting

When Michael Ting graduates, he will leave campus as the person most responsible for making information and learning materials on UCLA’s most popular websites more accessible to people with disabilities. 

Since early 2019, Ting has worked for the UCLA Disabilities and Computing Program, a group of staff and students dedicated to helping units across campus ensure that their websites are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and digital accessibility laws.

“Michael has been a phenomenal member of the disabilities and computing program,” said Carolanne Link, project manager for the UCLA web accessibility initiative. “Sometimes I wonder how we’ll get on without him.” 

Read more about Michael Ting on UCLA Newsroom.

Undergraduate student speaker explores sexuality and gender through her art

Gavin Aleshire UCLA
Nina Diaz-Klein

The human form often appears in Nina Diaz-Klein’s paintings and sculptures, though it takes a moment to recognize it. The fourth-year art student’s minimalist paintings explore gender and sexuality — and the expectations that come with them — through silhouettes of humans and, occasionally, plants and animals.

There’s a subtle humor that connects her work, but also a searching for answers.

Diaz-Klein, who is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in art, will serve as the undergraduate student speaker at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture’s commencement ceremony on June 11.

Read more about Nina Diaz-Klein at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture website.

Master of engineering graduate aims to use data science to improve lives

Courtesy of Lea Alcantara
Lea Alcantara

Lea Alcantara knows how to take a punch. As a member of her college’s boxing club when she was an undergraduate, she learned how to throw a punch, too. But it’s not just boxing opponents that Alcantara has faced and overcome.

As part of the inaugural graduating class in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering’s one-year, on-campus master of engineering professional degree program, which launched last fall, Alcantara has overcome challenges both in and outside of the ring over the course of her academic journey, including coping with learning disabilities earlier in her career.

The first in her family to pursue a career in engineering, Alcantara is looking forward to earning her master’s degree this summer. 

Read more about Lea Alcantara on UCLA Newsroom.

Taking on the digital divide in health care

Mary Braswell/UCLA
Sophia Li, center, with her capstone project teammates, Stacy Songco, left, and Xinyuan Qi.

When Sophia Li decided to apply to graduate school to pursue her interest in health policy, she could not have known that the field would soon be upended by a protracted global health emergency.

Along with most of her peers in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ master of public policy program, Li began her studies in September 2020, when COVID-19 had already taken more than 1 million lives worldwide and the arrival of vaccines was still months away.

When the time came to embark on the public policy program’s exacting capstone project, Li chose to focus on an inequity brought into sharp focus by the pandemic: As they isolated in their homes, more people turned to telemedicine for their health care needs — but that option was not available to people who lacked computers, smart phones and internet service.

“The pandemic really did shine a light on the possibilities that telemedicine brings,” Li said, “but it also showed that, while the upper half are benefiting from this, what does this mean for the lower half that have these barriers to access?”

Read more about Sophia Li and this year’s UCLA Luskin applied policy projects on UCLA Newsroom.

This international development major pursued her loves of science and global studies

Peggy McInerny/UCLA
Stephanie Perez

Stephanie Perez’s first insight into global inequality came during an international science camp she attended between her junior and senior years of high school.

“Due to my background, I’ve always been aware of the disparities that existed around me,” says Perez, who grew up in Compton. “But it wasn’t until I went out of the country for the first time ever that I realized what they meant on an international scale.”

A first-generation college student of Mexican heritage, Perez graduates this June with a major in international development studies and minors in global health and global studies. All three academic programs are offered by the UCLA International Institute.

Read more about Stephanie Perez at the UCLA International Institute website.

Three outstanding graduates exemplify the success of UCLA’s many transfer students

Courtesy of the subjects
Chris Adams, Daniella Efrat and Darnel Grant

Nearly a quarter of UCLA’s undergraduates are transfer students; what they bring to campus in terms of their richly diverse life experience cannot be overstated. 

Consider, for example, Daniella Efrat, a political science major with minors in public affairs and labor studies. Efrat came to UCLA after completing an internship at the California Labor Commissioner’s office. Moved to action by the stories of people she helped there, she began an independent research project at UCLA, investigating immigration-related retaliation wage claims in California since 2013 — the first study of its type.

“I’m really passionate about research and public service, and my professional goal is to help immigrant workers by bolstering their legal protections as well as their awareness of these protections,” she says. “I’m going to do my Ph.D. at Stanford in sociology and then start Yale Law School right after — I would love to become a law professor to focus on these issues.”

Read more about Daniella Efrat and two other new graduates who entered UCLA as transfer students, Chris Adams and Darnel Grant, at the UCLA College website.

A medical school graduate realizes his family’s dream

Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health
Vikram Krishna

When Vikram Krishna was growing up, his grandmother was his main caretaker while his parents worked. “She really instilled in us values about education and hard work that have made me who I am today,” he says.

Krishna tried to embody those values while in medical school, including leading a student community-outreach organization called Anatomy Academy, which develops health education lessons for underserved children living in transitional housing — an experience that helped him realize how much he loves working young people. In March, he took a monthlong global health elective working at a safety net hospital in Mumbai, India, where he observed rare pediatric surgeries.

Now he plans to continue exploring global health care delivery in his goal to bring quality care to underserved populations. Realizing he’s going to become a doctor after all he and his family have overcome has him in a bit of shock.

“It’ll be an emotional experience for me, and for my whole family. It’s something they’ve been waiting for, for 27 years, so it’ll be an emotional day for all of us,” Krishna says.

Read more about Vikram Krishna at the UCLA Health Connect website.

From Missouri to Santa Monica to UCLA to Ghana to graduation – and, next, law school

Courtesy of Hayley Farrell
Hayley Farrell

Hayley Farrell has had an unusual undergraduate experience. The Missouri native transferred to UCLA from Santa Monica College in fall 2020, when pandemic precautions required Bruins to attend classes remotely throughout the academic year.

“As a transfer student, it [has felt] particularly bizarre, because I have never had a class on the UCLA campus. Sometimes it felt like I hadn’t really transferred,” she says.

And when the availability of vaccines and lower COVID-19 case rates made it possible for Bruins to return to campus in fall 2021, Farrell was already taking in-person classes as part of a UC study-abroad program at the University of Ghana.

Read more about Hayley Farrell at the UCLA International Institute website.

‘Meant to be here and more to give’

Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health
Tam Au

“I’m trying to stop and preserve this moment a little bit longer. It feels like a ball is rolling downhill,” says Tam Au, a graduating student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “There were times when I didn’t even know if I would get to this point.” 

Being among the first generation of her family to pursue higher education was one of the many challenges Au faced. But she addressed that, in part, by becoming one of the inaugural leaders of the First Generation at DGSOM at UCLA student organization.

“It started with asking, ‘How can we design something that really fills this niche experience and space that feels missing for a lot of us?’” Au says.

The group brought to life a program centered on mentorship, networking and advocacy. “A lot of the programming we created is still running four years later,” she says.

Read more about Tam Au at the UCLA Health Connect website.

Graduating architecture student designs with the community in mind

Gavin Aleshire/UCLA
Akana Jayewardene

“I’ve always really been fascinated by public space and what it’s like to live in a city, and what kinds of spaces are comfortable and what kinds are not, and how notions of comfort differ from person to person,” says Akana Jayewardene.

Those thoughts led Jayeardene to UCLA, where, while studying architecture and urban design, she has worked as a research fellow at cityLAB and as an editor for the student publication “POOL.” Jayewardene is set to graduate with a master of architecture degree, and she will serve as the graduate student speaker at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture’s commencement ceremony on June 11.

Read more about Akana Jayewardene on UCLA Newsroom.