One by one, UC Merced’s newest group of graduates made their way across the stage as they accepted their diplomas.
The university held commencement ceremonies on Friday and Saturday, with a third ceremony scheduled for Sunday morning. Nearly 1,500 graduates were expected to participate in UC Merced’s 2023 spring commencement.
The graduates celebrated as they took their turn in the spotlight on stage and their name was read aloud. Families, friends and classmates cheered from the crowd.
As they made their way down from the stage, some graduates held their hands up high, some couldn’t hide their smile, and other raised their diplomas in the air.
“Today is a day to focus on your success,” UC Merced Chancellor Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz said during his speech on Friday night. “Today we celebrate you and we look ahead to your bright future. Today you graduate from one of the great campuses of the greatest system in the world.”
Friday’s ceremony celebrated 102 graduate students, including 61 Ph. D recipients and 41 students receiving their master’s degrees.
Saturday’s ceremony celebrated the graduates from the School of Engineering and the School of Natural Sciences with a combined 612 undergraduates. Sunday’s ceremony will recognize 727 more graduates from the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts.
Sánchez Muñoz highlighted some of the challenges this group of graduates had to face, including navigating their way through classes on Zoom and learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You have persevered through challenges and overcome obstacles, never more so than during the pandemic,” Sánchez Muñoz said. “You leave UC Merced more prepared than ever to succeed in your careers and as importantly to succeed in your lives.”
“You’re boldly setting out to contribute to a world that desperately needs your ideas, it needs your problem solving, it needs your passion, it needs your willingness to explore, to create and to innovate,” Sánchez Muñoz added.
NASA astronaut Joseph M. Acaba was the keynote speaker during the Saturday and Sunday ceremonies. Acaba has traveled into space three times — logging more than 300 days — including a mission that took him on the shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station.
Acaba encouraged the graduates to become leaders.
“As I look out at all of you today I see the next generation of leaders, innovators and problem solvers,” Acaba said. “You are the ones who will tackle the most pressing issues facing our world from climate change to inequality and technological advancements that will change the very nature of what it means to be human.”
Acaba implored the graduates to embrace failure as they set out on their next journey. Failures give people an opportunity to learn and grow.
Acaba stressed the importance of being nice to others. He talked about living for six months on the space station.
“You no doubt you want a competent astronaut with you but you also want somebody who is kind and nice to spend that time with, it’s small,” he said.
“The world has a lot of smart people but smart alone won’t open doors,” Acaba added. “It’s only one tool in the kit. You must also be kind, be compassionate, be passionate, be real, bring others along with you.”