When student speaker Victoria Arias gave her remarks to the UC Merced graduating Class of 2019 during Saturday’s morning commencement ceremony for the School of Engineering and Natural Science, she started off the celebration “with a quiz.”
Like Arias said, it was more like a survey asking her fellow graduates and next generation of scientist and engineers for a show of hands to two of her questions – one related to hard work and the second one related to wanting to quite but never giving up even if it got tough to manage their college career with everything else in life.
“Look around. That’s quite a lot of you. What does that tell you? Well, since you’re all here, that says a lot about your character,” said Arias who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the school of Natural Science in applied mathematics. “Whatever obstacles, doubts, and barriers we had to overcome, we pulled through and accomplished so much. If you bring this momentum and perseverance into your future, you will be unstoppable.”
According to UC Merced the list of Arias’ achievements during her college career on campus includes an internship at the NASA Langley Research Center through UC Merced’s MACES program — which stands for Merced nAnomaterials Center for Energy and Sensing.
Arias also worked as an undergraduate researcher in two different campus labs and helped found the Society of Physics Students.
Arias, who is from the Fresno metropolitan area, reminded students that some of them heard jokes or negative comments about their decision to attend UC Merced, which this year is celebrating its 10-year anniversary since the first graduating class of 2009 received their college degree and listened to Michelle Obama who was the commencements speaker that year.
“Well, I think it’s time we change the rhetoric around here for two reasons: one, we’re not so new anymore, not so small anymore, and not so unheard of anymore,” said Arias who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“The New York Times said about our school: ‘The future of the state depends on whether the University of California can grow to be more like Merced, and the future of Merced depends on whether it can grow to be more like other campuses,’” said Arias, who wants to become a successful Hispanic female engineer and help other reach their potential. “The second, more important reason is this: at the end of the day, it is your character, your work ethic, and your confidence that shines through, not the name of your school. You give this school a good name, not the other way around.”
“In general, there is a name for people who think that the prestige of a university, a company title, or family name will compensate for their shortcomings: fools. You, my friends, are no fools,” said Arias who plans to research hypersonics — traveling roughly five times faster than the speed of sound — for her doctorate. “I’ve seen you come together to solve problems and initiate change, build apps and drones, lead and volunteer; thanks to all our hard work, we’re leaving UC Merced a better place than we found it just four/five years go.”
“Today, we leave equipped to pursue our dreams. And I challenge you to pursue a dream that includes fighting for a more sustainable, educated, and welcoming planet,” said Arias, whose goals also include becoming a pilot, an astronaut, a research engineer, a musician/DJ and a leader in education reform and STEM outreach. “But no matter what you do, I urge you to invest in and look for the talent that you know is here in the Central Valley, because this is where you started.”
“I’ll never forget where I started because it reminds me of how far I’ve come. Today I stand before you, understanding my worth and purpose, but having no idea just how far I’m going to go,” said Arias. “And I want you all to feel that same confidence, and excitement about your future because you earned it, and frankly, because our world desperately needs it.”