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Commencement Speech by Jason Castillo, UC Merced Senior, Class of 2009

May 16, 2009

JASON CASTILLO: Welcome Graduates, Family and other Esteemed Guests.

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
 (PAUSE)

These words by Ralph Waldo Emerson best exemplify UC Merced and the founding class.  We started this university and as the founding class we have set forth a trail for coming generations. 

Each of us entered into UC Merced from a different background.  Like many others, I had options to attend other world-renowned universities and instead opted to create my own path as a founding student at UC Merced.  Some of you who are graduating today transferred from other institutions while others chose to attend UC Merced from its opening day.  We can all recall walking over the bridge as a united class in our white UC Merced polo shirts, unsure of what lay before us during our remaining years as a Bobcat.

Although we each had our own reasons for attending this campus, once we arrived we put forth our best effort to embrace the multiple opportunities at UC Merced and turn our dreams into reality.

The first day of college is intimidating for most freshmen at any university.  For UC Merced students, we also faced the challenges of attending a campus under construction.  Whether we were taking buses to the labs in Atwater during our first semester or dodging rabbits as we walked to class and the infamous CORE 1, we all dealt with these minor obstacles in order to pursue our common goal of receiving a top-notch education. 

We also came together to create the foundations of this campus.  Many students, both experienced and new leaders, pursued their dreams by establishing our student government, creating organizations, founding various clubs and athletic teams, starting campus-wide events like Asian Fest, the Dance Off for the Prized Goblet of Cadency, PAA’s Gauntlet Games, and the Business Society’s Haunted House…just to name a few.

We have left our mark on this newest UC campus and have literally become a part of this campus’ foundation.  When the Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center was being built, many of us signed one of the beams before it was placed, only to realize later that the ink washed away in the rain. Although our signatures became unrecognizable, it was obvious that the students of the Founding Class were dedicated to making an impact on the future of this campus. 

Although Merced was not a noted college town, the community has embraced the campus and its students.  While we do not have an ocean view like many of our sister campuses, this area does have a strong sense of family, community, character, ethnic diversity and support.  UC Merced represents the best of what the UC system has to offer.  Our education at UC Merced was not confined to the classroom, but instead was broadened to include the enhancement of our leadership and personal capabilities.  We have been the founders in many arenas and we have participated in levels of research rarely seen by undergraduates at other universities. 

We have amazing administrators, professors, and staff who welcomed us into their offices late at night and on weekends, available by email or phone, to ensure that our collegiate education has been superb.  We have been very fortunate to have received a private school experience - at a public institution.

My father always told me, “It is not where you start, but where you finish that matters.”  Although others considered attending a new campus to be a risk, our class proved them wrong by flourishing at this newest UC.  UC Merced offered us the opportunity to realize our dreams and pursue our future goals.  

From the day we first sat below the canopy until today, we have changed from the entering class to the graduating class.  We are the founding class.  There are only nine prior UC classes to have that designation and for that we should have tremendous pride.

We are 2009 UC Merced graduates.  We have been forever and positively altered by our attendance at UC Merced.  I am proud our distinction as being a class that helped build the foundation of this campus.  UC Merced students have had many successes.  Many of the Class of 2009 have been published, hired for various jobs around the state, coordinated political and renewable energy campaigns, established Greek life, the arts, athletics, volunteer and mentoring programs, and have been accepted to graduate and professional schools.  I leave UC Merced to start medical school at UC San Francisco in the fall and will continue to be one of the founding Bobcats of UC Merced.

We Bobcats have indeed ventured into a territory where there was no trail and we blazed our own.  As young adults, we are the best leaders I have ever known with the courage to forge our own path.  Inspired by our First Lady and President Obama, YES WE CAN use our experiences at UC Merced to bring change to our communities and to our futures. 

Emerson was right…We ARE the founding class of UC Merced and have set the foundation for this university.  My fellow graduates, the FUTURE IS NOW!  We have put effort and passion into our dreams and they are now reality.

Congratulations for all of our achievements as the Founding Class of 2009!