Joy, relief and a profound sense of achievement—that’s what most graduates experience as they near the end of their last term and look ahead to the momentous occasion of their commencement ceremony. Now, the anticipation is over and that day is finally here. Nearly 14,000 students from Miami Dade College’s eight campuses will attend five commencement ceremonies on Saturday, April 30.
The ceremonies will be live-streamed for friends and families who can’t make it in person. Locations and details for all the ceremonies can be found on the College’s Commencement webpage. Grads and supporters are encouraged to use the hashtag #MDCGrad to join the conversation on social media. Tweets, photos and posts will be projected on a Live Social Wall during each graduation ceremony.
A group of distinguished speakers will offer inspiration to the graduates. This year’s speakers include U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, MDC alumnus and Chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission Jean Monestime, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Javier Palomarez, MDC alumnus, entrepreneur and e-Merge founder Manny Medina and Medical Campus President Dr. Mark Everett.
MDC graduates represent more than 190 countries and speak more than 90 languages. Many of them are already on their way to being changemakers, impacting their communities and thinking about innovative solutions to some of the problems facing us today. Here’s a look at some of 2016’s outstanding grads:
Carolina C. Castillo, 20, chose a career in occupational therapy because she enjoys helping others. She graduates with Associate in Arts and is headed to the University of Florida to continue her education and become a successful and compassionate occupational therapist. Castillo followed in her mother’s footsteps by attending MDC, and became a member of Phi Theta Kappa, where she was on the All-Florida Academic Team and received several awards. “What I take from MDC is an enriching experience to further make a difference in the community,” Castillo said. Born in Miami to Cuban parents, staying close to home was important to her because it allowed her to continue her volunteer work at the South Miami Hospital Child Development Center, among other charities. She hopes her volunteer work, combined with her education, will lay the foundation to build her clinical practice.
Julie De Leon remembers her early years surrounded by medical equipment, nurses and elderly residents at the assisted living facility her parents owned and operated. Through these experiences, she found a personal and professional dedication to helping others. De Leon graduates with an Associate degree in pre-nursing. Her passion to serve has led her to receive several awards, and volunteer for numerous organizations including the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Epworth Retirement Home and the Child Development Center at South Miami Hospital, to name a few. She is the current president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Hialeah chapter. “Attending MDC was the best choice for me, it has helped me to grow as a student, a leader, and caring citizen in my community”, she said. De Leon plans to pursue a bachelor’s in nursing.
One of the most important decisions Noe Gonzalez ever made was moving in with his grandmother to continue his education in the U.S. when his parents decided to return to Mexico. He now graduates with an Associate degree and plans to pursue an accounting degree as he aspires to one day own his own import/export company. He would also like to create an organization that promotes entrepreneurship in Mexico’s rural communities. “MDC gave me the opportunity to go to Brazil and teach English to high school students while learning about a new culture and expanding my perspective. It gave me the opportunity to prove my business school through Phi Beta Lambda where I competed in Orlando and then in Chicago where I placed fifth in the country. Opportunities indeed changed everything for me and that’s why I appreciate MDC,” Gonzalez said.
Born in Bangladesh, Atqiya Khan’s parents brought her and her siblings to America to give them a better education, especially because opportunities are limited for girls in their native country. Khan is making the most it. She completed her associate degree in political science at MDC in just one year and has applied to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Duke and Cornell, among other Ivy League universities to pursue a law degree. At MDC, Khan was Student Government Association (SGA) Senator; co-founder and co-editor of Holistic Daily, an artistic blog; co-founder and treasurer of CreatED, a non-profit to give grade school children a foundation in computer science; and volunteered with Asante Sana for Education, a grassroots foundation in Tanzania dedicated to providing children from preschool to college with school and health care expenses.
Gabriela Barrera has made great strides in accomplishing her goals since arriving two years ago from Cuba. While maintaining a 4.0 GPA, the biology major founded the first chapter of the Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honors Society at a two-year institution. She assisted in tutoring 35 fellow students weekly in mathematics and chemistry. Barrera aspires to attend medical school and become a neurosurgeon. She is off to a great start through her work at the West Kendall Baptist Hospital where she delivers lab specimens, organizes patient charts and handles departmental requests. She also organized an awareness campaign with the Women’s Breast Health Initiative to detect at-risk women and provide free mammograms and heart screenings.
Yocelyn Tolosa credits her MDC professors at the InterAmerican Campus for always being there for her while completing her coursework in early childhood education. Tolosa continued to pay it forward by working as a teacher’s assistant and then being promoted to a VPK teacher at the Sagrada Familia Head Start Program while pursuing her studies. She also volunteered with the Special Olympics and is a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society in the field of education. She currently works as a kindergarten teacher at Biscayne Elementary School and plans to pursue a baccalaureate degree to become a psychologist or an occupational therapist for young children.
Sometimes timing is everything. That was the case for Jason Fontana, whose two previous attempts at college didn’t work out. Now he is graduating among top of his class and with a slew of accomplishments and accolades, including editor-in-chief ofMiamibiance, Kendall Campus’ award-winning student literary magazine; captain of Kendall Campus’ Brain Bowl team (2016 South Regionals winners) and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society member. He is a recipient of a 2015 Circle Merit Award for Traditional Poetry from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and won First Place poetry contest at the 56th Annual Florida College System Publications Association Conference and Awards Banquet. His future goals include graduate school and publishing poems, books and screenplays. Ultimately, he wants to teach English and history and “be remembered as the best history teacher.”
Recently named Student of the Year by the Miami Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Crystal Torres discovered her passion for architecture during her first summer semester at MDC, when she traveled to Eastern Europe and the Middle East as part of MDC’s Architecture Study Abroad Program led by Professor Mario F. Ortega. She is an officer of MDC’s Architecture Student Society and for the past two years has organized a team to participate in the annual Sandblast Competition. Torres has also served as a host for the Taste of Historic Downtown tours offered by the Miami Chapter of the AIA. The American Dream Scholar and Honors Fellowship Award winner plans to continue her studies at the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
Cristian Garcia was inspired to study vision care by his family of health care professionals and a sister who is legally blind. His mother studied nursing in Cuba and her twin sister, his aunt, who still lives on the island, is an optometry nurse/assistant. After graduating, Garcia plans to pursue a bachelor’s in supervision and management at MDC. Garcia has worked at the Florida Optometric Physician’s Network (FOPN), where his father works. In addition, he has served as a tutor for MDC vision care students. His ultimate goal is to one day open his very own optical.
Denise Dossou, a widow and mother of two from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, found her calling in caring for others. She is graduating with an associate degree in nursing and plans to continue her studies at MDC to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She hopes to eventually attain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In addition to her studies and working for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Dossou has tutored other nursing students, and volunteered at the Salvation Army Community Care Ministries and Miami Edison Senior High. When she has free time, she enjoys playing ping pong, listening to music, traveling, and sightseeing.
NORTH AND WEST CAMPUSES
Looking back on how different his life was just a few years ago keeps Dmitre St. Surin motivated to excel. Born in Miami and raised “in the streets,” the 23-year-old will now graduate with a Bachelor of Science in biological science. He also enjoys helping and mentoring others. “In my community, I’m now a role model for overcoming so many odds,” St. Surin said. “I refuse to go back to the life I had before, so there is no better feeling for me than where I am today.” St. Surin is the recipient of several prestigious awards and scholarships that have paved the way for him to attend science seminars and conduct research in microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa. He hopes to attend the University of Florida to continue his studies in immunology research.
Carlos Andres Cuervo is drawn to stories that can make a change. The 33-year-old graduates with a Bachelor of Applied Sciences in film, TV, and digital production from the School of Entertainment and Design Technology (SEDT) at MDC North Campus. Born in Colombia, Cuervo knows that at the heart of any good film, is a great story. His short film Without Walls, which highlights Reforma XXI, a group of people who helps the homeless in Miami, earned him the Judge Award, $20,000, in the 2015 Faith Counts film competition. “I believe there is no story too small to tell, no story too big to touch one heart and change the world,” Cuervo said. He recently won a $30,000 contract to create Poetry Videos and is currently working on his next film about sex trafficking in Miami. He hopes to become a producer and continue his studies to become a college professor.
Guillermo Gallegos Binder, an American Dream Scholar, hopes to attend the University of Florida to complete a bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in statistics or mathematics. Though his major is economics, he is also passionate about the arts, plays several instruments and is the author of 12 sonnets. Gallego Binder’s parents moved the family from El Salvador to Miami four years ago due to high violence and few opportunities back home. “I chose MDC over other institutions to start my higher education because of its core values of academic excellence, diversity, integrity, and professional development,” Gallegos Binder said. “MDC has offered me many opportunities and resources to improve my leadership skills in both my education and the workforce. MDC strives to help all students become successful on their life and career goals.”
Maydee Martinez meticulously carves a path to achieve her dreams. At age 12, she became one of the youngest museum curators and worked five years developing an exhibition at HistoryMiami Museum called “Teen Miami.” The Honors College graduate, who recently won a prestigious Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow Award, is now on her way to fulfill other dreams, including becoming a political strategist, a campaign manager, or a higher education program director. Fluent in English, Spanish and French, Martinez has studied abroad in Austria, met the King and Queen of Spain and questioned presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the Democratic debate at MDC. She has volunteered more than 400 hours and been particularly involved in increasing voter registration and education among students.
At the age of 2-and-a-half, Alexandra Santurio lost one of her eyes after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma, which is a rare childhood cancer of the retina. As a cancer survivor, the Honors College student, is grateful to be alive and wishes to help others battling cancer. The biology major plans to become either an oncologist or ophthalmologist. She has volunteered at the WDNA Radio Station, Wolfson Campus biology and chemistry lab. She credits her biology professor, Franklyn Tan Te, for pushing his students to strive for excellence and inspiring her to pursue a doctoral degree.