Student Commencement Speakers Blaze Paths as Campus Leaders

Students Jamie Sweet and Vanessa Estavillo have much more in common than a love of UC Merced, a legacy of leadership and being members of the Class of 2014.

These two women have been chosen to speak at their respective schools’ commencement ceremonies. Sweet, an environmental engineering major from Richmond, speaks May 17 at the schools of Engineering and Natural Sciences ceremony while Estavillo, a management major from Carson, speaks May 18 at the ceremony for the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts.

Both call it an honor to represent their schools — and both have a specific message for fellow graduates.

The title of Sweet’s speech is “Worthy and Deserving.” She embodies the idea of transformation by growing from a quiet freshman into a confident leader at UC Merced.

“Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we can do,” she said. “We really are worthy and we really do deserve these degrees.”

Sweet arrived at UC Merced as someone who would rather watch and observe than throw herself into the action. That quickly changed when, as a freshman, she was pushed into running for a leadership position with the campus chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.

Sweet’s involvement on campus only intensified after that. She served as the society’s chapter president for the past two years and branched out into other organizations such as the Vanguard Engineering Student Club, Distinguished Ladies and the Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos & Native Americans in Science.

Her involvement with clubs and organizations allowed her to network with professionals and fellow students at a variety of conferences.

In addition, Sweet seized upon research opportunities provided on campus. She spent last summer at Iowa State University, where she worked on projects related to wetlands and watersheds.

Sweet praised UC Merced for giving her those opportunities and a sense of community. She plans to attend graduate school and then likely pursue a career in research.

She said UC Merced has prepared her for that future and more.

“I feel like none of this would have happened if I had gone to another school,” Sweet said.

Estavillo has similar appreciation for her time at UC Merced. She visited many schools before choosing the UC’s 10th and newest campus.

“It was such a welcoming place,” she said. “I had the opportunity to start my own legacy here and to be a pioneer.”

Estavillo has done just that — serving as the first female president of the campus’s Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, working as a writing tutor and helping guide other students as a success mentor and then leadership programs intern.

She balanced everything with the help of a solid support system.

“All of my supervisors and the faculty I have ever worked with have been so supportive of both my personal and academic goals,” Estavillo said. “And I have found really great friends. This is such a small, close-knit community that you can keep the friends you make as a freshman.”

Estavillo said she’ll miss many things about UC Merced, such as the walk up the hill from the campus parking lot to the academic buildings. She always enjoyed the chance to greet friends along the way.

After commencement, Estavillo plans to work for Teach for America and then probably attend graduate school. Her ultimate goal is to become a business consultant.

During her May 18 speech, Estavillo will encourage students to appreciate the past while looking forward.

“These are really great years, but the best years are yet to come,” she said. “The foundation you build here will help you in the future.” 

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