UTEP Celebrates More Than 2,200 Graduates in 131st Commencement

Graduates dressed in caps and gowns cheered, cried and smiled as they crossed the stage of the Don Haskins Center on Saturday, Dec. 14 to participate in The University of Texas at El Paso’s 131st Commencement exercises. 

More than 2,200 students were eligible to participate in the day’s three celebratory ceremonies that took place at 9 a.m. for the College of Liberal Arts, 2 p.m. for the School of Nursing and colleges of Education and Business Administration, and 7 p.m. for the colleges of Science, Engineering and Health Sciences. 

Highlights of the day included the endowment of the first-ever Master of Science in biomedical engineering by the University and a projected 61 graduating doctoral candidates — a 20 percent increase from last year’s record of 51.

Throughout the day University President Diana Natalicio praised the candidates for their many and varied accomplishments and thanked them because they have helped the institution become a model of excellence in higher education other universities emulate.

“Our growing recognition affirms UTEP’s place at the national forefront where we have become the voice for the change that is imperative in higher education nationwide,” President Natalicio said during remarks that were interrupted several times by applause. “UTEP is setting the pace for public universities across the nation.”

The President made her comments on an elevated stage decorated with green plants and red and yellow poinsettias. She was backed by University dignitaries and a table filled with black and white diploma holders stacked more than a foot high.

As is the President’s custom, she took time to honor graduates with high grade point averages, those who worked while attending school, those who are parents and grandparents, and those in the military.

Among the latter was Army Capt. Sheiloh Carlos, who will become a battery commander within the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Fort Bliss. Carlos completed his online Master in Leadership Studies (MLS) degree while a student in the Army’s Captain Career Course (CCC) at Fort Sill, Okla. The native of Pacifica, Calif., admitted taking the two classes simultaneously was daunting, but possible with the help and support of his classmates. He said only four of the 10 CCC students who started the MLS finished.

“I have a sense of relief,” said Carlos, who woke up at 6 a.m. to press the black gown that he wore over his dress blue uniform. “We knew we could endure this.”

Thirty-three-year-old Mustafa Aldalinsi was one of the 38 candidates who earned a doctoral degree during the evening ceremony.

“I cannot even begin to describe how I’m feeling today,” he said. “It’s taken me a lot of hard research and three-and-a-half years to get here.”

Originally from Libya, Aldalinsi happened upon UTEP’s engineering program by chance when a close friend recommended it while he was living in Austin. Aldalinsi, his wife and family decided to take a leap and moved to El Paso after he was accepted into the doctoral civil engineering program.

“I’m very happy with the degree I’m earning today,” he said while donning his academic regalia. “I’ve built a lot of relationships here with faculty and staff, but now I need to go back to my home country.”

Earning a bachelor’s in biological sciences, Norma Cordova was also pleased that she was graduating. The 29-year-old had spent some of her last few months of courses at UTEP pregnant, leaving her tired and unmotivated. Luckily, she dug deep and found the energy to get through her heavy course load. 

“It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I’m finally doing it,” she said, brimming from ear-to-ear in her cap and gown.

Gently placing her hand on her belly, Cordova blushed and said that her goal is to go to medical school to become a pediatrician, but “it will have to wait a bit.” 

College of Education graduates Pedro Covarrubias and Diana Cortez were thrilled to have reached this stage together. The two encouraged one another during classes and as members of the campus’ Texas State Teachers Organization chapter. While their futures are uncertain, both were emphatic about using their new bachelor’s degrees to educate young students.

Proud new Ph.D. Belal Abdelfattah will also be giving back as a teacher. He received a doctorate in international business with a concentration in information systems (IS). Abdelfattah will remain at UTEP as an adjunct faculty member teaching IS classes. This is the third degree he has earned from UTEP, which served as a capstone for his Bachelor of Business Administration in 2004 and Master of Business Administration in 2006.

During the morning ceremony, Patricia Jean Scheirman Weller said her goals for the Commencement exercises were to not trip in her high heels and to not “lose it” when she heard “Pomp and Circumstance.”

The bachelor’s in English and American Literature degree candidate, a wife and mother of two young daughters, graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 grade point average and earned several awards, including outstanding student in her department and in the teacher preparation program.

At first, she felt like a little fish in a big pond when she arrived at UTEP in 2010. She was initially in awe of the talent and intellect around her, but she quickly realized she belonged. Draped around her neck were a rainbow of academic cords and a stole designating achievement and membership in campus organizations.

With about 25 family members and friends in the audience to celebrate with her, including some who came from Hawaii and Minnesota, she admitted the celebration was bittersweet with the absence of her mother who passed away two years ago.

“But she’ll be right here,” the misty-eyed Weller said with her left hand over her heart.

The graduate and her peers, some who recorded the event on their cell phones, paraded onto the floor of the darkened Don Haskins Center with spotlights aimed at them as they exited the tunnel to take their seats as “Pomp and Circumstance” was performed by the University’s Symphonic Winds conducted by Mark Schuppener, D.M.A., assistant professor of violin and viola.

Thousands of friends and family members boisterously greeted the graduates, especially when they recognized their loved one on the center’s jumbo video screens. The occasional brightly decorated mortarboards made it easy to find those students who showed their appreciation to parents and family, their love of music, the Air Force, and even “Mr. Salt” from the children’s television show “Blue’s Clues.”

Near the end of her remarks, President Natalicio reminded the graduates and candidates that they are the real proof of the University’s quality.

“Your future accomplishments will reflect this institution’s level of academic rigor and attainment. Please be aware of our hopes for you, and be assured of the joy we will feel when you succeed. We hope, too, that you will remember this University with pride and fondness — and with your continued involvement and support as alumni, helping future generations of UTEP students achieve their dreams, too.”