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MDC’s 2019 graduates represent more than 190 countries and speak more than 90 languages. They are game-changers, many already making significant impacts on their communities and intent on addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues through scientific research, health care, international relations, technology, entrepreneurship, business development, and much more.
Meet some of this year’s outstanding graduates:
As a child, Kaitlin DeJesus, 20, dreamed of being a teacher. Using a blackboard and sometimes a mirror, she would scribble lessons for imaginary students. And what started as child’s play continued to take shape and evolved into this Miami native’s professional goal and main aspiration in life: to become a high school teacher. This English education major, who is also an amateur sculptor, is determined to inspire and positively shape her future students’ lives with a caring approach. Among other activities, she was president of the Hialeah Campus Student Government Association and a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society member. She is also a proud participant in the FIU Color Guard and graduates with flying colors, holding an impressive 3.9 GPA.
Political Science graduate Carolyn Pardilla, 20, has always been a people person and someone who believes in the power of one’s voice to make a positive impact. Born in Miami and raised in the Dominican Republic, she moved back to the United States at age 16 to live with her grandparents, who instilled in her a high regard for discipline. This future lawyer developed her fondness for legal studies and debate in the 7th grade, but it was not until she arrived at MDC that she realized her full potential and emerged as a student leader. A catalyst for her school involvement was the Parkland shooting, which motivated her to go as far as Washington D.C. to participate in the March for Our Lives. Later she joined the Student Government Association, which in March named her Student of the Month in recognition of the many activities she led or participated in to improve campus life as well as the community. Among them, Engage Miami where she interned to increase voter turnout among young people and as a mentor in MDC’s peer mentoring program, assisting incoming freshmen with tips to succeed in college. She will be attending law school and hopes to open her own firm in the future.
At just eight years old, biomedical engineering graduate Anaís Pérez, now 18, had an encounter with the world of medicine that impacted her forever. A family friend who was an orthopedic surgeon took her under his wing and allowed her to shadow him during doctor visits and consultations. Seeing what the real life of a medical practice looked like, inspired this Miami-born student to pursue her dream of being a pediatric surgeon and to become the first person in her family to graduate from college. Pérez came to the Homestead Campus as part of the nationally recognized School for Advanced Studies (SAS), a combined effort of Miami-Dade County Public Schools and MDC, that allows students to complete their last two years of high school while attending college. After MDC, Pérez, who graduates with a 3.9 GPA, will be attending the University of Florida.
Following in the footsteps of his parents, who emigrated from Cuba in 1990 looking for new opportunities, biology major Jonathan Dominguez-Saldivar, 20, came to MDC in search of a skillset that would propel his dream of becoming a dermatologist into reality. He found it at the Homestead campus, where he met inspiring professors such as Dr. Dalia Lafargue, coordinator of the Strategic Improvements for Students in STEM (SIS-STEM) project. Lafargue taught him time management, study, and assertiveness skills, which are talents necessary to succeed in today’s competitive professional environment. Dominguez-Saldivar departs MDC for Florida International University as an accomplished student, recipient of several academic excellence awards in math, organic chemistry and biology as well as scholarships and a solid 4.0 GPA.
Four years ago, Deborah Granado, a mother of two children, migrated from Cuba. She began attending MDC with a sixth grade English proficiency, but she didn’t let any obstacle stand in her way. She was awarded the MDC Braman Family Scholarship and maintained a 3.97 GPA. In April, she presented her work on genetic implants at FAU’s Life Science of South FL Undergraduate Research Symposium. The self-employed business owner will earn an associate degree in biology and will attend Florida International University where she has obtained the FIU Blue and Gold Scholarship. She plans to become a cardiac thoracic surgeon.
Kazue Orikasa uses her skills to demonstrate her strong commitment to the community. The daughter of a Mexican mother and Japanese father, Orikasa tutors students in Spanish and Japanese. She is a Shark student ambassador, a Yes Club member and a research assistant for 3D face reconstruction project. She maintained a 4.0 GPA and is the recipient of the Vimbly scholarship. The mechanical engineering major will continue her studies at Florida International University. Her goal is to become a material scientist and create her own startup.
Music performance major and singer/songwriter, Gabriel Garcia, wrote the songs on the first EP released by his musical group, Mahogany Purple, last June. He will soon attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music with a $30,000 scholarship. His parent’s divorce and difficult family life motivated him to work hard academically to improve his quality of life, taking honors and other advanced courses to get a head start on college. Garcia is also passionate about human and animal rights and likes to cook as a way to explore other cultures. His volunteer work includes the Miami Downtown Jazz Festival, Miami Book Fair, events supporting DACA students, and Happy Bellies, an organization that provides plant-based meals to individuals in underserved communities. He is co-president of Opus One Music Club, a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Member and Vocal Fusion Music Club Member.
Samantha Duran, an English major, didn’t let her health problems and family hardships stop her from pursuing an education and becoming first in her family to receive a college degree. She has a rare cancer syndrome and lost her mother at age 15. Her father works 16-hour days to provide for her and her brother, who has a severe mental illness. At MDC, she found the support and guidance she needed to hit her stride. She is part of the Kendall Book Club, a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and recipient of the Outstanding Student in English Award. Duran enjoys reading literary, political and feminist theories, as well as fiction and memoirs. She also likes to write poetry, short stories, and flash fiction and research/discuss disability, civil, and women’s rights. She wants to become a tenured English literature professor.
Growing up in a little town outside Nashville, TN, Josue Villatoro had big dreams, but college seemed unattainable and literally was miles away. He learned about MDC from a sister living in Miami. His parents, who originally emigrated from Honduras, packed up their lives in Tennessee, leaving behind jobs and their house, to come to Miami and give their son a chance at a brighter future. “My dreams were now becoming a reality and every giant step we took along the way wasn’t easy, but it was all worth it,” Villatoro said. He made the most of his opportunities at MDC, where he maintained a 3.7 GPA throughout most of his college career. He wishes he had shown his good grades to his father, who passed away last year in a truck accident. Villatoro is graduating from the radiography program at the Medical Campus. He is a member of his campus’ Student Government Association and a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society member.
Melissa Garcia is graduating from MDC’s acclaimed physician assistant program. Her dream is to one day return as a professor and give back to the school that gave her the tools to become a compassionate healthcare professional. Born in New Jersey and raised in Miami, Garcia was inspired to get involved in community service by her mother, who is active with various organizations, including Shine and Parkinson Community, while running a successful real estate business for 23 years. Garcia has volunteered with Project C, Parkinson Support Group, assisted in healthcare screenings for low-income individuals, and was an FIU Peer Led Team Learning leader.
For Mercedes Ferreira-Dias, who graduates with a 4.0 GPA and an associate degree in psychology, it seems life is full of coincidences. On graduation day, she will also be graduating to adult life celebrating her 18th birthday. The school she will attend after MDC — the Harvard/Berklee Dual Degree Program with Harvard University’s Department of Music — is located in Boston, the same city where her parents met and received their master’s degrees. But, for this Boca Raton native of Venezuelan descent, her road to success has been anything but a coincidence, in fact, is the result of hard work, dedication and a life with purpose. In just 17 years Ferreira-Dias has perfected her craft as a singer and performer while doing volunteer work, participating in school activities such as the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) of which she is the co-founder, as well as the Women’s Empowerment Club. She also excelled academically, earning her national accolades and the title of valedictorian at her high school, Mater Lakes Academy Charter. Last year she jumped to the national spotlight as a contestant for NBC’s The Voice participating as a member of Team Blake, bringing years of training to a full circle. She will start at Harvard in August as part of a selected group of music students accepted to attend this highly coveted program.
Claudia Gourdet has made her life about giving back. She started her own non-profit organization that promotes interest in STEM careers among young girls of color. Gourdet has even developed STEM kits for children in Haiti. She is a recipient of the Clinton Global Initiative University, which supports and mentors innovative student commitment-makers by providing seed funding for new projects and initiatives. She has also participated in the Educate Tomorrow and Upstart programs. Gourdet will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Technology.
Krizia Pascuccio, 19, could well be the poster child for determination. Arriving in the United States just four years ago, not knowing English, and embedded into a new culture and city ten times as big as her hometown of Capri, Italy, this international relations graduate did not let any of those factors deter her from achieving success and becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. Learning to speak English in four months, she completed high school at Coral Park High in two years, taking 13 classes every semester. She did this while being involved in more than 12 student organizations, five of which she was an officer, and working 25 hours a week. At MDC, she has been a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, founder and president of the Speech Club, as well as founder and vice-president of Y.E.S. (Yes to Environmental Sustainability), among others. This young driven Italian who dreams of one day becoming executive director of UNICEF, will continue to pursue her career aspirations at a four-year university maintaining her desire to help others and to make the world a better place as her guiding light.
Economics major, Alberto Suarez, 20, the youngest of three siblings, is proud to follow in the footsteps of his brother and sister by earning a college degree. Born in Miami, Suarez found the best of inspiration in Carolina, his mother, a Venezuelan immigrant from Maracay, who raised the family as a single mom. Before attending MDC, Suarez, who is a musician and visual artist, went to Doral Performing Arts and Entertainment Academy Preparatory School. He started college as music major. However, at West Campus, he went further, expanding his knowledge of music as a business, becoming a stellar economics student, recipient of several scholarships and awards. In addition to his academic achievements, Suarez was also a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Phi Beta Lambda and the Philosophy Club. He was also active in various campus and community activities where he was either an organizer or a performer. He graduates MDC with a 4.0 GPA and will continue his studies at Florida International University’s Honors College starting this Fall. He aspires to become a lawyer specialized in the music industry.
Sol Maniera hasn’t let her parents’ battle with cancer stop her from achieving her dreams. The Argentinian immigrant will become the first college graduate in her family and she did so while maintaining a 3.95 GPA. She is a Scholarship America Dream Scholarship semifinalist and Florida Bright Futures recipient. She was also active in extracurricular activities and student organizations. She’s played double-bass in the Miami Arts Charter Full Orchestra, is a member of Phi Beta Lambda business organization, and was a volunteer for the Human Rights Alliance. The political science major will continue her studies at Barnard College. Maniera plans to attend law school to become a human rights attorney or become a leader at a non-profit organization. She would also like to work for the United Nations.
Growing up in Cuba, Manuel Marin learned that necessity was the mother of invention with 50s Cadillacs repaired with a British engine, a Ford van transmission, and a Mercedes Benz steering system. Due to this, he became obsessed with innovation and became a mechanical engineering major. He leads a collegiate team that drafted a freestanding vertical garden structure that sustains its energy consumption through PV systems. This idea was presented to the 2018 Public Space Competition and received full funding to activate a forest-like space that solved a need in a community. He is vice-president of the Maker Club and a member of the AmeriCorps Excellence in STEM and Urban Paradise Guild. He is also an AIAA Diversity Scholar and has been an intern for the city of Coral Gables. He plans to attend a top engineering school where he can create the groundbreaking technology of tomorrow by pursuing the essence of those 50’s Cadillacs.