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Davis, California

Monday, October 25, 2021

UC Davis commencement speakers stand out among peers

UC Davis may not have rock stars or former presidents speaking at graduation, but each graduation ceremony features outstanding student speakers – with accomplishments and personalities to rival any celebrity.

Jamie Fanner, a senior sociology major and speaker at the 2 p.m. Letters and Science graduation is a single mother who plans on surprising her mother with her speech at graduation.

Her inspiration for her speech, she said, came from her life history. Her father passed away from cancer when she was 10 and she is a single parent raising two children.

“[These factors] have combined to and have pushed me to do the best I can do,” Fanner said. “I’m proud to say that I’m graduating with over a 3.0, with all the things that have happened in my life. And that’s why the theme [of my speech] is the winner in me and is about pursuing my dream against all odds.”

“It’s about overcoming adversity and having an inner self that pushes you forward throughout obstacles to get your degree,” she said.

Fanner has done theater productions and acting before, but she says she is actually somewhat shy.

However, she sees the commencement speech as good practice for when she goes into politics.

During her years at Davis, Fanner has been involved in the Black Pre-law Association and Young Leaders of America, among other things.

Junia Chou, a senior communication and Chinese double major, is the speaker for the other Letters and Science ceremony at 9 a.m.

She has been involved at UC Davis as a naturalist intern at the arboretum, an employee at the Education Abroad Center, a Chinese tutor at Sproul Hall and a writing ambassador for Davis Senior High’s Chinese class and North Davis Elementary’s sixth grade English class.

Her accomplishments stretch outside of Davis, and even the United States. Chou studied abroad for a year in China. While there, she volunteered in post-earthquake disaster relief services, translated in a rural village for NGOs and placed third in the local Chinese department’s speech contest, after placing out of all the language classes offered for international students at Peking University.

Chou said that her inspiration for giving the commencement speech was to thank those who have helped her in her years at UC Davis. She said that her speech will discuss the past, present and future.

Chou said that she’s not nervous yet about the prospect of giving her speech in front of thousands.

“I’m just excited to see my family all in one place,” she said. “It still hasn’t hit me, but it will a few days before – I’ll be really nervous.”

After graduation Chou plans on going back to her former high school to teach an ESL class and is also thinking about pursuing a career in eastern medicine.

“My dream job is to travel the world and be a volunteer in the field of healing practice or education,” she said.

Shannon Harney, a senior ecology evolution and biodiversity major, is one of the speakers for the College of Biological Sciences.

Don’t be fooled by her major – she is also a veteran of poetry and public speaking. She’s been a member of the Sick Spits Poetry Collective for five years.

“It’s an awesome outlet of expression and communication as I’ve navigated my way through pre-med,” she said.

Harney’s speech is going to focus on merging her two very different interests.

“[The speech] is an excellent opportunity to share [the poetry] component of my college career juxtaposed to my biology degree,” she said. “They’re really different and I wanted the opportunity to bring them together.”

“A big part of studying science is coming to the realization that although it is based on hard data, quantifiable data and hard components, there is no bottom line and it’s a limitless study,” Harney said. “We’ve been equipped with a really amazing way of thinking about things” she added.

She said that she hopes graduation will be an opportunity for students to reflect on their education and encourage people to stay politically involved with education after graduating.

In addition to participating in Sick Spits, Harney has been an active resident of the Domes, plays keyboard in the band Medea, and is the outdoor education coordinator at the arboretum.

“I love Davis, its great – there’s so much to get involved in,” she said.

For now, Harney plans to “kick around” Davis for the summer before moving to San Francisco to work at UCSF to do clinical research.

Jerome Atputhasingam, a senior NPB major, is the second speaker for the College of Biological Sciences.

He was inspired to speak at graduation because of his past – he was born in Sri Lanka and was a refugee for part of his life before coming to the U.S. “Nine years ago I didn’t even speak English,” Atputhasingam said. “Telling my story is a way of telling people it’s possible to accomplish anything you want.”

Atputhasingam said that as a gay man, he feels that his graduation speech is especially significant.

“Even though this isn’t really about my story, having a gay person go up there and give a speech is very symbolic,” he said.

The theme of Atputhasingam’s speech is “acknowledging knowledge.” “It’s about what we leave UCD knowing – not so much what we learned from books but what we learned from people and being in this environment,” he said.

Atputhasingam is used to the limelight and giving speeches. He’s worked at the LGBTRC and has given speeches for the center in front of large audiences.

He also works at the Learning Skills Center, is a member of the Minority Association of Pre-med Students, and the student health insurance planning committee. After college he plans on taking a year off, then going to medical school.

Scott Himmelberger, a senior chemical engineering major, will be giving a commencement speech for the College of Engineering.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here at UC Davis and I’m proud to be an Aggie and I want to share that with other people,” Himmelberger said.

His speech will focus on a positive message for graduating seniors. “I’ll be trying to give people a sense of hope in these tough economic times, trying to encourage people to find what their passion is and go after it.” His speech will also give practical advice to students.

“Things don’t often fall into your lap,” Himmelberger said. You have to be aggressive and persistent. So find what excites you and go after it.”

Himmelberger said he’s a little nervous for his speech.

He said that the highlights of his time at UC Davis have been participating on the cross country and track and field teams as well as doing undergraduate research.

KELLY KRAG-ARNOLD can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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