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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Aggies of the past and present speak to graduates

Accompanying the traditional diploma dispersals are graduation guest speakers, who share their own experiences, offer words of wisdom, job advice and praise the students for a job well-done.

This year, students, families and friends will get to listen to a combination of current and past UC Davis students and guest speakers at the commencement ceremonies.


Abel Gonzalez, Veterinary Medicine

Graduating veterinary student Abel Gonzalez will speak for the School of Veterinary Medicine. While Gonzalez is “nervous” about speaking before his peers and their families, the excitement and honor of it overcomes his nerves.

“I am absolutely honored. It’s a great feeling to know that my classmates, even after four years of good and bad times, still have faith in me to represent the class to our loved ones, family, friends, professors, residents, clinicians, staff, etc.,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, who was nominated and voted by his fellow classmates to be a ceremony speaker, has been heavily involved in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

“I was elected co-class president all four years of vet school,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been awesome though, I’ve loved [being president] every year.”

Gonzalez is one of two student speakers for the School of Veterinary Medicine; Calaveras Cunningham will be the other speaker.

“Whether we wanted it or not, we’ve become a big family. … It’s awesome to gain a second family of 130 members, all of whom are going to become a part of one of the most respected and appreciated medical professions,” Gonzalez said.


Christian Commander, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Christian Commander, a graduating senior majoring in animal biology, will speak for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He has been dreaming of speaking at graduation since his first year at UC Davis.

“It’s going to be a challenge speaking in front of 5,000 people but that’s also what makes me so excited. I’m kind of weird in that regard, I love public speaking, speaking from the heart and connecting with people,” Commander said in an e-mail interview. “Being able to do that, share my passion and enthusiasm with 5,000 people, many of whom are my friends, family and peers – I can’t wait.”

Commander believes that if he reaches even one person through his speech that he has done his job.

“My peers are the focus of my speech. I will talk to them, not at them. I am really nervous about whether or not they’ll like my speech but I’m just hoping … that I can inspire them. Even if I help inspire or uplift one person then I will have fulfilled my purpose in this role,” Commander said.


Elizabeth Vianna, School of Graduate Studies

While some of the ceremony speakers will be speaking to their fellow classmates and will draw from shared experiences, others will be speaking of peers from the past at UC Davis. Elizabeth Vianna, a winemaker from Chimney Rock Winery and UCD graduate of 1999 will be a guest speaker for the School of Graduate Studies. Vianna, who majored in enology while at UCD, remembers one thing from her own graduation ceremony.

“Sweet relief,” Vianna said.

Vianna was invited to speak at graduation by the dean of Graduate Studies. Though Vianna is not worried about stage fright, she is nervous about her speech to the students.

“Fortunately I do a lot of public speaking for my work, so I have overcome the normal jitters. I feel some nervousness just in wanting to be able to say something of significance to the graduating class,” Vianna said.

Like Commander and Gonzalez, Vianna recalls the bond between students and will touch on that in her speech. Although Vianna did not wish to divulge what her speech would be about, she hinted as to the topics she would discuss.

“I will say something about the extraordinary value of personal relationships that develop in graduate school,” she said.


Dr. Condessa M. Curley, School of Medicine

The guest speaker for the UC Davis School of Medicine will be Dr. Condessa M. Curley. Curley is a physician specialist for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the co-founder and CEO/President of Project Africa Global, a nonprofit medical and humanitarian organization.

Curley, who graduated from the School of Medicine in 1996, had the honor of being one of five speakers at the Centennial Celebration and will further share her experiences with the graduating class of 2009.

“I am always a little nervous before any speech that I give,” Curley said. “I hope that my life experiences will encourage others to be passionate in their service to others while keeping true to why they became a physician. Am I excited? You bet.”

Words of advice

While the ceremony speakers may share their desire to inspire the students, they all have different advice to offer graduates.

“Do what you love and everything else will follow,” Curley said.

Other speakers also offered words of encouragement.

“Take time to celebrate your accomplishment and then dive into your career with passion and integrity,” Vianna said.

“I urge you to use your degree and your educated mind to better the world around you. Help others, your classmates, your colleagues, and pay it forward,” Gonzalez said.

Commander urges graduates to remember their days as Aggies.

“Have faith, hold on to hope and never let go of your passion. Have the faith to know that better days are always ahead; hold on to hope that we are creating a better future for ourselves and others through the foundations we have laid here at UC Davis. … Regardless of what the future holds, I am an Aggie for life,” Commander said.

Other 2009 commencement speakers include: School of Education – Carlos Garcia, College of Engineering – Steve Robinson, Graduate School of Management – Pam Marrone, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences – Mary Nichols, School of Veterinary Medicine – Chris Milligan, College of Biological Sciences – Gail Stroup, and College of Letters and Sciences.

MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at features@theaggie.org.



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