FIU graduates overcome odds, uplift our community

Tiffany Gomez, 27, and her twin sister Eileen begin their days in the kitchen of Vito’s Bakery in Virginia Gardens, preparing pastelitos, tostadas, and empanadas. Baking is in their blood; it is how they remember their father and continue his longstanding legacy.

The twins’ mother passed away when they were four years old, and they were raised by their single father, Vito. When he was diagnosed with a terminal illness and passed away in 2014, the college students became bakers and business owners. Balancing school and the business was a challenge, but Tiffany was determined to never give up her dream, or her promise to her father, to finish her degree.

28818647231_9a85415aaf_z-300x194On Monday, Dec. 12 at 10 a.m., Tiffany will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Eileen, who graduated from FIU in 2013, but couldn’t attend the ceremony because her father was too ill at the time, will walk across the stage with
her sister.

Tiffany is among more than 4,900 FIU graduates this semester. Their accomplishments will be celebrated in nine ceremonies on Dec. 11, 12, 13 and 14 at FIU Arena on FIU’s MMC Campus, 11200 SW 8th St. in West Miami-Dade.

“This class is full of change makers – some have overcome tremendous hardships and obstacles – and they now have the skills they need to compete in the job market and build a better future for South Florida and beyond,” said President Mark B. Rosenberg. “Every student who crosses the commencement stage represents the impact that we have on the future.”

During the ceremonies, a group of standout students will be recognized as Worlds Ahead graduates. In addition to Tiffany, other Worlds Ahead students include:

  • Joseph Sanchez, 34, suffers from cerebral palsy and Crohn’s disease and has undergone 18 surgeries on his eyes, legs and abdomen. One surgery forced him to stay home for a year to recover. After he took an introductory recreational therapy class, he discovered a new career path, where he could have a hands-on role in helping people like himself overcome disabilities. Sanchez will receive his bachelor’s in recreational therapy on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016 at 3 p.m.
  • Jorge Cisternas, 26, always knew he wanted to be an engineer, but he never dreamed he would end up working with airplanes. A natural leader, he served as president of the Aerospace Engineering Club and senator in the Student Government Association. Through an internship at Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace, defense and security company, he received an offer for a full-time job. In January, he’ll start with the company as a systems engineer. Cisternas will receive his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 10 a.m.
  • Serena Cruz spent 14 months researching the lives of female sex workers in the slums of Kampala, Uganda. During that time, she was robbed, hospitalized for a parasitic infection, and threatened by pimps, former female sex workers, and even the local police. Cruz persevered and completed groundbreaking research that has major implications for the fight against AIDS in Africa. She will receive her Ph.D. in international relations on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 10 a.m.

During the commencement ceremonies, the following community members will be honored:

  • Albert E. Dotson, Sr., will receive the first Albert E. Dotson, Sr. Blue & Gold Award at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11.
  • Dr. Cheryl Holder will receive the FIU Medallion Cal Kovens Distinguished Community Service Award at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14.
  • Diane Ramy Faulconer, ’74, ’74, FIU Medallion Outstanding Alumna at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Dr. Smith Joseph, the mayor of North Miami, also will serve as the commencement speaker on Monday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

For a full commencement schedule, please click here.

via FIU News

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