Over 13,000 Students Representing 118 Nations and 23 Languages Celebrated GraduationMeet some of the stellar grads from the Class of 2024

graduates celebrating with streamers falling from the ceiling

Miami Dade College awarded degrees to nearly 13,000 students at three commencement ceremonies on Saturday, April 20, at loanDepot park, home of the Miami Marlins.

As in previous years, MDC’s Class of 2024 represents the country’s rich cultural population. Graduates represent 118 nations and speak 23 languages. They are emerging entrepreneurs, nurses, engineers and teachers, among many other fields, excited about making an impact in their communities and beyond.

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Meet some of this year’s stellar graduates:


Jonathan Lalla, a 21-year-old Computer Science major from Trinidad & Tobago, faced the tragic loss of his parents when he was 15 and 19. It propelled him to take charge of his life and care for a younger sibling. As a first-generation college student, Lalla was determined to make his parents proud. His journey at MDC is a testament to his resilience and dedication. He is graduating with a 4.0 GPA and a remarkable track record of success and service, including vice president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and president of his campus Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society chapter. He was recently selected to be campus president as part of Shark Switch, when students and College administrators change places for a day. Lalla aspires to launch a software business and impact the world in a positive way.

First-generation college student Ronaldo Sevilla Garcia, 21, is on a path to a career in technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI). He is a member of PTK and SGA, as well as served as a Civic Ambassador for the Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy (iCED), among other student organizations. His exceptional academic performance landed him on the dean’s list every semester, and earned him prestigious endowments, including Rebooting through EmTech (REP), Helios Education Foundation First-Generation Scholar, the Padrón Medal Scholar, the FPL Tech Scholarship and opportunities to participate in renowned tech events such as eMerge Americas. Garcia plans to continue his academic journey in AI.


Maya Alvarez, an 18-year-old mass communications major, didn’t allow Crohn’s Disease and bullying in high school to hold her back. She emerged stronger and more determined, maintaining a 4.0 GPA at MDC, serving as a member of PTK and an Honors College Ambassador, dedicating her time to volunteering for several organizations and causes such as Special Olympics and the Neva King Cooper Educational Center for youth with severe intellectual disabilities. Along with two classmates, she founded Special Smiles, a club advocating for people with disabilities through inclusion campaigns, volunteering events, partnerships and sports, which was recognized by Special Olympics with gold and silver medals. Her work earned her the President’s Volunteer Service Award at MDC. Her goal is to become a lawyer and to continue to help others.

Helen Tarrau Benavides, 20, is passionate about the environment. Since high school, she has volunteered with several projects, including researching the water quality of Biscayne Bay. She majored in environmental science at MDC, where she joined PTK, became the Homestead Gardening and Innovation Club president and established the Girls Who Code Club on her campus. She was also a member of TRIO Student Support Services, which helps students achieve their academic and personal goals through personalized guidance, and is a Civic Leadership Fellow working with This is the Dog!, a local nonprofit that organizes animal rescue and pet adoptions. Benavides is a semi-finalist for the prestigious 2024 Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship. She plans to pursue a doctorate in entomology and become a research professor studying plant-pollinator relationships in urban areas.


Biology major Emily Escobar, 19, came to MDC ready to take on the world. The daughter of Cuban immigrants will become the first in her family to earn a college degree. She was one of the most active students of the Class of 2024. She participated in PTK and the Tri-Beta Biology Honor Society, as well as the Global Citizenship Alliance Academic Seminar in Salzburg, Austria. Escobar co-founded the Pre-Dental Club and the Letter Exchange for Awareness and Progress (L.E.A.P.). She also provided free dental services to the community through Florida Baptist Convention Dental Mobile Dentistry and Florida Mission of Mercy. Escobar has earned numerous accolades, including the Best Honors in Action Project Award by PTK and the Gold and Bronze President’s Volunteer Service Awards. She plans to continue her studies in the history of science, medicine and public health.

MDC helped Jorge Hurtado Maturana, a 20-year-old Industrial Engineering major, find purpose and gave him a sense of global citizenship that “no other institution could have provided,” he said. His brother, an engineer, inspired him to follow in his footsteps. Maturana emigrated from Bolivia in 2015 and overcame the language barrier, learning to speak and write English fluently in just two years. He was a member of PTK, participated in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and was a Global Citizenship Alliance Fellow, among other activities. He received the 2022 Honors College Fellows Scholarship Award, was a 2021 semi-finalist for The Posse Foundation Scholarship and a 2022 Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar. Maturana is headed to the Georgia Institute of Technology. He hopes to one day introduce nuclear energy to Bolivia.


Giglia Almeida Mayer, 42, first came to MDC for intensive English courses. She already had earned several degrees in her native Brazil, including a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy and a postgraduate degree in acupuncture. Then she discovered MDC’s acclaimed Physical Therapy program and decided to enroll because she has always been passionate about providing comfort, empathy and healing to those in need. At MDC she became an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association and volunteers with Shake-A-Leg Miami. She was recognized with the Outstanding PTA Student Award. Mayer wants to continue growing in her profession and possibly specialize in women’s health or geriatrics.

Christel Paradowski’s journey is a remarkable story of perseverance and dedication. As a young mother, she began her studies, but the challenge of balancing family and work forced her to put her college education on hold. Year later, with unwavering support of her husband, who was a student in MDC’s AI program, the 35-year-old found the courage to return to school. She was accepted into the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program right before the pandemic and later gave birth to a second child, but she remained committed to school. She even made time to participate in PTK, iCED and SGA. She was also involved with MDC Student Parents, a program that helps students who are parents, and mentored peers at the Medical Campus.


Captivated by the story of her great-grandmother’s accidental immigration to Haiti in the 1950s, Serena Chaudry, 19, majored in history. Her journey at MDC started when she was a toddler attending Exploration Station, the preschool located at MDC’s North Campus. She speaks English, Hindi, French and Haitian Creole. At MDC, she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Haitian folklore group NSL Danse Ensemble Florida, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, among several other organizations. She was PTK president and an Aspen Institute Fellow. Chaudry hopes to earn a doctorate in history. She aspires to one day return to MDC as a professor.

Nayyab Pervaiz, 19, was born in Kashmir, India. On graduation day, she will become the first person in her family to graduate from college. While attending MDC, Pervaiz volunteered at Memorial Hospital West and the Women Breast and Heart initiative, engaged in voter outreach and helped during the holy month of Ramadan. She founded the first Muslim Club at MDC during her first semester. She also participated in STEM Summer Bridge and ACCESS, which offers students services that address disabilities. Inspired by her family’s struggle with heart disease, she is working toward a career as a physician assistant to help other families, particularly in her home country, where she hopes to return to work in the future.


Moving to Miami from Venezuela in 2020, Fabiana Casique, 20, experienced many challenges, including isolation and depression. She didn’t speak the language and schools were closed or online only, so she decided to enroll GED classes during the day and study English every night. She was finally able to attend school and earned a high school diploma with honors before being accepted into The Honors College at MDC’s Padrón Campus, where she studied journalism and mass communications. She also joined PTK, was a Peer Mentorship Program Leader and co-founded PTK A.R.I.S.E. She plans to transfer to the University of Southern California to pursue a bachelor’s in public relations with a minor in marketing. Her ultimate goal is to specialize in reputation management and crisis communications and work at the White House.

Amanda Marrero Mayon, 20, was born with syndactyly, a condition that fused the digits of her right hand. She never saw herself as limited though, thanks to her family’s steadfast encouragement and support. At MDC, the chemistry major found a supportive ecosystem that valued empathy, determination and collaboration. She was part of a team that won first place at the prestigious IREX Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge. She also participated in The Global Citizenship Alliance Academic Seminar in Salzburg, Austria, and The Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative, among many events. She was awarded the 2024 Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholars and the 2023 PTK Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise scholarship.  She plans to research the intricate molecular mechanisms of cortical circuits that confer vulnerability to illness and age-related cognitive disorders.


Computer Arts Animation major Halimah Olabisi, 20, was headed to a state university, but had a semester to spare before beginning classes, so she decided to enroll at MDC to get a head start. After a couple of weeks, Olabisi, who was born in Nigeria, was convinced MDC was the right place for her. She founded and led the American Dream Scholars Club, developed and implemented the Afro Food and Dance Festival at West Campus, and developed the first Poetry Café on campus. She interned at MDC’s The Idea Center and earned an American Dream Scholarship. She hopes to become a leading computer animator and tell the story of a young girl from Nigeria who overcame obstacles and exemplified academic excellence.

Romina Micaela Santoro Behn-Eschenburg attended MDC’s acclaimed Dual Enrollment program.  The 19-year-old, who was homeschooled since 2016, chose MDC because of the welcoming atmosphere at West Campus. Behn-Eschenburg was born in Mexico and raised in a multicultural home by Mexican-Swiss and Argentine-Italian parents. At MDC she participated in extracurricular activities and service-learning projects, which she had never done before. She was a Changemaker with almost 250 hours of dedicated service, a member of PTK and president of Psi Beta National Honor Society in Psychology, as well as the Psychology Club and the Literature Club, and tutored Ukrainian students in English. She will continue her academic journey at Florida International University, where she hopes to become a literature professor and a writer.


Born and raised in Miami, economics major, Arquimedes Rivero, 19, has a keen interest in diplomacy, leadership and service. He is passionate about using his life to advocate for human rights domestically and abroad. During his dynamic tenure at MDC, he was SGA president, engaging in nonpartisan voter education and voter engagement work through the Civic Influencer program. He amassed more than 300 hours of community service, which earned him the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Rivero was awarded the Hites Transfer Scholarship, PTK’s most prestigious and largest scholarship. He is also a semi-finalist for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship and was chosen as MDC’s 2024-25 Newman Civic Fellow, the highest honor for student engagement leadership. He aspires to become a diplomat and a lawyer with a focus on international development.

Biology major Fabian Gonzalez Rugama, 19, comes from a distinguished family of medical, legal and engineering professionals in his native Nicaragua. Rugama attributes his success to The Honors College at MDC, which equipped him with the necessary tools to navigate the complexities of college life and provided him with opportunities for personal and professional growth. At MDC, he was an active member of several organizations, including PTK, the Pre-Health Club and STEM Legacy and STEM Research Institute, where he participated in biofuel lipid extraction research. His goal is to become a doctor and dedicate his career to research projects that benefit society, inspired by and following in the footsteps of his family.