Demonstrating steely resolve and hard work, more than 14,000 Miami Dade College students earned degrees on April 23. Graduates made their momentous walk across the stage at three outdoor commencement ceremonies held at loanDepot park, home of the Miami Marlins.
MDC’s 2022 graduates represent 124 nationalities and speak more than 60 languages. Many are already making significant contributions in their communities and blazing trails in their respective fields, including computer science, business, healthcare, the arts, and more.
Meet some of this year’s outstanding graduates:
Pre nursing major Camilo Rivas, 20, helped care for his grandmother who has advanced dementia since he was in the seventh grade. Living through that experience fueled his interest in the field of nursing and prepared him with the experience and necessary social skills to help patients. At MDC, he found a mentor in philosophy professor Dr. Josh Sheptow and was involved in the philosophy club. Rivas, who was diagnosed with ADHD, has used this condition to challenge himself to excel. He has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA and hopes to be accepted into MDC’s prestigious nursing program next with the goal of eventually becoming a nurse practitioner.
Nelson Rubio, 29, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in applied science in supervision and management. Born and raised in Hialeah, Rubio, and his sister, who is enrolled in the physician assistant program at MDC Medical Campus, are first in their family to go to college. He was drawn to MDC’s flexible classes and found a supportive environment that encouraged him to live up to his and get involved in extra-curricular activities. He is Student Government Association President, Phi Theta Kappa Vice-President, member of the Philosophy Club and a Scholar’s Mentor. He was an Academic Excellence Award recipient and is on the Dean’s List. Rubio plans to attend the University of Miami to pursue a master’s degree in business and eventually become an entrepreneur in real-estate.
Jazmin Laughlin, 19, came to MDC as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and graduated high school at the top of her class. At MDC she majored in biology with the goal of one day becoming an anesthesiologist. She completed HIV research under the guidance of Dr. Nia Madison, Director of HIV Research and Assistant Professor of Microbiology at Homestead Campus, and helped spread awareness about blood disorders, mental health, and breast cancer. Born with Factor VII Deficiency, a rare bleeding disorder, she knows what is like to live with health challenges. Scratches, bruises or cuts could seriously endanger her life, but none of this was an obstacle for Laughlin, who also became a member of Phi Theta Kappa, TRIO Student Support Services and as President of the Student Government Association, among other organizations and clubs. She also works as a school nurse at MAST Academy and Homestead Middle School.
Business major Lisbet Hernandez, 19, is the daughter of Mexican migrant workers who were only able to obtain a fifth-grade education. Born in Miami and raised in Homestead, Hernandez was part of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). Shortly after the onset of the pandemic, she launched an online clothing boutique, which is still going strong and has become her main source of income. Running a full-time business while keeping her grades up full-time was a challenge, but fueled her desire to succeed. She was the recipient of the Florida Prepaid Scholarship and the MDC College Assistance Migrant Program Scholarship. In addition to her degree, she leaves MDC with a Business Specialist Certificate. She plans to continue growing as an entrepreneur owning various businesses and giving back to the farmworker community by helping, encouraging, and guiding students like her.
Economics major Edgar Rodriguez, 19, will graduate with a perfect 4.0 GPA and leaves behind an impressive legacy as the founder and co-president of Future Finance Leaders, the first dedicated finance club at MDC Kendall Campus, where he helped close the financial literacy gap among fellow students and collaborated with local wealth management firms to secure internship opportunities for club members. He also worked with MDC’s Miguel B. Fernandez Family School of Global Business, Trade & Transportation and the Business Innovation & Technology (BIT) Center on curriculum development for the College’s new financial technology program and joined the investment committee that helped shape MDC’s first Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF). Rodriguez also founded and was vice president of the Kendall Campus Chess Club and a Phi Theta Kappa member. He aspires to continue his education and spread his knowledge of wealth management and finance both as a professional and professor.
Janelly Ceopa, 20, from Lima, Peru, is a celebrated member of MDC’s famed Volleyball Lady Sharks. She will graduate with an associate degree in business administration and become first in her family to get a college degree. Ceopa had to balance courses to learn English with academics and athletics. Determined to succeed, she adapted quickly and even found on-campus employment in the International Student Services Department. With a cumulative GPA of 3.75, she has made it to the Dean’s List three times. As part of the Lady Sharks, in 2021 she won the FCSAA State Championship, was selected Most Outstanding Player in the Tournament and named to the All-Tournament Team. She is headed to the University of North Florida, where she has been offered a full athletic scholarship, and will pursue a bachelor’s degree in marketing. She dreams of becoming a business owner and owning a hotel.
Surgical technology major Wesley Santelises, 35, is also the first in his family to graduate from college. A father of three children, Santelises currently holds three part-time jobs to make ends meet. He came to MDC motivated by the flexible schedule the College offers for working adults and with the desire to obtain better opportunities to support his family through an education. Along the way, he also found inspiring professors who took a genuine interest in his success. He was a Black Student Opportunity Scholar, recipient of the Bank of America Upskill Scholarship and other grants. His next goal is to become an anesthesiologist.
At two-years-old, massage therapy major Andrew Schreiber, 23, was adopted by two blind parents, who a year later, adopted his biological brother so they could grow up together. Schreiber was inspired to become a massage therapist by his father, who runs the Schreiber Pain Relief Institute, a very successful practice that has treated numerous professional athletes from the world of hockey, basketball and football, including Shaquille O’Neal and Dan Marino. While attending MDC, he gained experience working at his dad’s clinic performing active isolated stretching on patients. His goal is to obtain his license and continue learning from his father. One day he hopes to continue his father’s work at the clinic with help from his close friend and classmate James Milton.
Biology Major, Angelica McCalla, 20, was inspired to attend MDC’s prestigious The Honors College. She was convinced the program would equip her with the knowledge and experiences necessary to follow a career path toward medical school. While employed as a Registered Pharmacy Technician, the she was active as a STEM Research Intern and in several organizations including Global Medical Brigades of which she was president; Doctors without Borders, Phi Beta Lambda, Phi Theta Kappa and NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The daughter of Jamaican and Philippine immigrants, her academic effort was recognized with several accolades, including The Florida Pathways to Success S-STEM Scholarship; the BDO Seidman, LLP Scholarship and a nomination to the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship. She also remained on the Dean’s List. She will pursue her dream of becoming a physician in the future.
Meanwhile, Aleen Almesmar, 20, dreams of one day becoming a cardiologist and saving lives. Born in Miami, the biology major, whose parents immigrated from war-torn Lebanon, made the most of her time at MDC, also serving as Board of Trustees Student Representative and President of the Student Government Association. Through the latter, she hosted monthly food drives delivering over 1000 food packages to students and families in need. She also worked part-time while attending school and volunteered at the Earth Ethics Institute and with Relief for Haiti, collecting and donating medical and hygiene supplies after the 2021 earthquake. Almesmar was the recipient of the Civic Action Award, conferred by MDC’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy, and the American Dream Scholarship. She is also an accomplished violinist and hopes to one day play professionally.
Economics major, Susana Piedrahita, 20, has logged in more than 200 service hours for initiatives that include the H.E.A.L from Within Project in support of individuals with mental health disorders for which she helped raise over $20,000, earning her a proclamation from Commissioner Eileen Higgins, and the nonprofit Blue Missions Group to help create a potable water system to benefit a community of more than 30 families in the Dominican Republic. She was also active in school organizations, such as Phi Theta Kappa, which she presided; Hermione’s Army; Phi Beta Lambda and as director of the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge. Born in Manizales, Colombia, Piedrahita plans to pursue a degree in corporate law at the University of Miami to represent nonprofit organizations.
Born and raised in Santa Lucia, a small colonial town in Honduras, Daniela Cerrato’s parents moved the family to the U.S. when she was 13 to get away from violence and provide their children better educational opportunities. Now, at 19 years-old, Cerrato takes nothing for granted, pursuing her goals with determination while in the process of seeking political asylum. At the Honors College, she found guidance and support to reach her potential. Cerrato divided her time between the Honors College Dual Language Program and student organizations, such as Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda, of which she was Vice President; Phi Theta Kappa; The Mentorship Program; and as a senator of the Student Government Association while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. The business major hopes to develop sustainable business assistance programs to support small entrepreneurs.
Business administration major Maria Bracamonte, 19, arrived in the U.S. from Venezuela during her senior year in high school. She was lacking essential requirements for graduation and was told that fulfilling them would take two years. Undeterred, she went to work and did it all in one-year. She continued to excel at MDC, maintaining a 4.0 GPA and making the dean’s list on numerous occasions. She was Phi Theta Kappa president and participated in Future Business Leaders of America Phi Beta Lambda and Student Government Association. She was also a Dream Award Scholar, an English Composition I Scholar and a 2022 All Florida Academic Team Scholar. Bracamonte also completed more than 200 community service hours. Her long-term goal is to become a financial analyst and set up a company that allows her to give back to the community and offer growth opportunities to minorities.
Alejandro Espinosa, 30, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management. Arriving from Havana, Cuba at age 14 and with almost no parental support, he learned to rely on himself and worked hard to get where he is today. He wanted to succeed and also inspire his younger sister. At MDC he found just the program he was looking for and drew inspiration from mentors such as business professor Carlos Erban, with whom he built a strong friendship. Espinosa maintained a 3.91 GPA and participated in Sigma Beta Delta and The National Society of Leadership and Success while working full-time. After MDC, he plans to pursue a master’s degree at the University of South Florida where he will be one of only 25 students accepted into the Supply Chain Management Program. He aspires to apply his knowledge toward solving Miami’s public transportation issues.
Computer Science major, Sami Katta, 19, lived in his native Damascus, Syria until age 11 when his parents made the difficult decision to leave their country due to civil war. They emigrated to Haiti in 2013, where his father worked in finance for the United Nations, and in 2017, they moved to Miami. Katta joined MDC’s acclaimed Honors College and participated in volunteer activities with Planned Parenthood and the nonprofit Miami-Dade Area Health Education Center (AHEC), raising awareness about diabetes. In 2018, he overcame his own health challenge when he successfully shed 80 pounds with diet and exercise. He was the recipient of the Mark Richard Scholarship, conferred by the United Faculty of Miami Dade College (UFMDC); won third place in the Datathon hosted by MDC and earned a Bloomberg Terminal Certification. Fluent in Arabic, English and French, Katta’s career goal is to become a software developer and to launch a tech startup in the future.
When Nivia Lascaibar, 58, gets her bachelor’s degree in applied studies, she will be earning her third degree at MDC. In 2014 she received an associate in paralegal Studies and in 2015 an associate in pre-law. And she did it while balancing work, life and challenges along the way, including divorce, raising two sons as a single parent and working full-time in the legal field since 1987. Today, both her sons are college graduates, one of which received his associate at the same commencement ceremony. Lascaibar is not done with school just yet. She plans on seeking additional certifications in human resources and become a NALA-certified paralegal. She’s also considering an MBA.