Miami, – More than 15,000 graduates from Miami Dade College’s (MDC) eight campuses earned degrees during the 2019-20 academic school year, demonstrating unwavering dedication and hard work as they completed their studies amid a global pandemic. A portion of those students will receive their diplomas at five Commencement Ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 12.
The ceremonies will be held outdoors at the Kendall and North Campuses with limited capacity and strict social distancing protocols in place, including temperature checks upon entering the campus, mandatory face masks at all times, and hand sanitizing stations throughout. Only graduates receiving their diplomas, College Trustees, and select faculty and administrators may attend. Families and friends of graduates may watch the ceremonies via live stream at www.mdc.edu/livestream.
The Class of 2020 represents 167 nations. They are game-changers, many already making significant impacts in 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.
“From class lectures to social and academic clubs, Miami Dade College has shown me a sense of unity and constructive support within its grounds. When one falls, there will always be someone there to extend a hand,” said biology major and Wolfson Campus graduate Elba Garcia. “Having adopted this new approach to community-impact ideas helped me academically succeed at MDC, but it will also become an essential trait as an aspiring surgeon and engaged global citizen.”
Meet some other outstanding 2020 graduates:
After completing tours in Afghanistan and Yemen, Marine Corps veteran and criminal justice major Charles Legido, was unsure what his next big step was going to be. Recovering from PTSD in the summer of 2018, he decided to sign up for classes at MDC, determined to get a diploma. Two years later, he’s graduating with a 4.0 GPA and the Academic Excellence Award for Social Sciences. While at MDC, he participated in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program, which brings traditional college students and incarcerated learners together in jails and prisons for semester-long learning. Legido is attending St. Thomas University, pursuing his dream of working for a federal agency in counter-terrorism operations or intelligence analysis.
For Dissiree Iglesias, MDC became a second home where she got her life back on track. She first obtained a GED after dropping out of high school in the 10th grade. With encouragement from professors, family, and friends, Iglesias, a pre-physical therapy major, completed her studies while working full-time and caring for her two small children, Devin, 9, and Katie, 2. This hard-working mom was also was part of her campus’ Phi Theta Kappa chapter and graduated with a 3.67 GPA. She continues to forge ahead with her goal to one day earn a doctorate in physical therapy. She says the secret to getting it all done is “don’t underestimate yourself.”
Blanca Rosas specialized in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements. She is the first in her family to earn a college degree. Her parents, both Mexican immigrants, could not attend school because they had to work to support the family. Her father has labored in the fields for more than 30 years. Graduating with a 3.9 GPA, Rosas excelled academically and became the recipient of the Florida Prepaid and the Braman Family Scholarships. She also gave back to her community, volunteering for programs and organizations, such as the Title I Migrant Program and the Mexican American Council. She was also a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She aspires to work for a professional soccer team as an athletic trainer.
At age 17, after speaking English for only four years, Daniela Alayon is graduating with both a high school diploma and MDC associate degree in biomedical engineering and plans to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. While taking classes at MDC through the School for Advanced Studies in Homestead Campus, Alayon was part of the Student Government Association, National Honor Society, and several clubs. Maintaining a 3.85 GPA, she found time to volunteer at a nursing home, tutor under-served migrant children, and help special-needs kids at a summer camp. She was a finalist for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and a semifinalist for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship.
Last season, Daliyah Brown made National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) history by tying a single-game record for most points scored at the tournament, with 41 points. But another milestone stands out even more. The Kendall Campus graduate and accomplished basketball player, originally from Chicago, is the first woman in her family among five generations to get a college degree. She credits her success to her father, who was always a positive role model and taught her never to give up. Brown plans to continue her studies in occupational therapy and help improve low-income communities.
When Karla Diez-Mejia, born in Honduras, decided to go back to school in her 30s, she carefully shopped around for the best program. She chose MDC’s Bachelor of Applied Science in supervision and management with a concentration in accounting for its quality education, flexible schedules, and affordability. She excelled at MDC, where she joined Phi Beta Lambda and was the recipient of the Maria Mari Scholarship and Florida Student Assist Grant. Mejia loves learning new things and understanding how they work. Next, she will work toward a master’s degree and pursue her dream of becoming a Certified Public Accountant.
After earning an associate degree at MDC, Kele Ferreira, 41, was ready to join the Navy when she got accepted into MDC’s nationally renowned Physician Assistant program. At MDC, she co-organized Project Seed Health and received a President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2019. She represented the Medical Campus Student Organization in several meetings with MDC leadership and ultimately was named president of the Physician Assistant Student Organization Class of 2020. The Brazilian native has applied at several schools to complete an Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant Residency. She plans to work as an Emergency Physician Assistant at a veteran’s hospital, participate in medical missions, and own her own business one day.
Julissa Williams completed the intensive Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at MDC with a 3.5 GPA while raising three children ages 5 to 12. She also volunteered to help the Feeding North Miami food pantry and participated in the Immokalee Immersion Trip, learning about and assisting migrant farmworker communities. This year, Williams was named a 2020 Student Changemaker and made the dean’s list. She currently works with United Healthcare and plans to pursue a doctorate in nursing.
Nursing major Thamara Georges chose MDC because of its renowned faculty and the many opportunities it offers students from all walks of life. Georges was awarded an American Dream Scholarship, which covers the first two years of college for high-achieving Miami-Dade County high school graduates. She was also the recipient of the Black Student Opportunity Scholarship and Civic Action Award. Born and raised in Haiti for most of her life, she overcame many obstacles to achieve an education, including Haiti’s earthquake in 2010. Georges has volunteered with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, the Women’s Breast, and Heart Initiative, and Doctors Without Borders. She is studying to become a nurse practitioner.
Katherine Duarte is graduating from MDC with a 3.8 GPA and applied to Harvard, Stanford, and Georgetown, among other top universities. It’s probably not the future doctors predicted for her when she was diagnosed with regressive autism at 14 months old. As an Honors College student at MDC, she joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness and discovered a passion for mental health advocacy. As vice president of the Political Science Club, she helped raise awareness and engagement among students. Born and raised in Miami, the psychology major plans to pursue a career in child development, mental health advocacy, and research on Autism Spectrum Disorders. For now, she’s learning to play the ukulele.
Nicaraguan born DACA student Anielka Figueroa, who is graduating with a degree in business administration, has not allowed her uncertain immigration status to deter her from continuing to work hard towards her academic and professional dreams. She was named a Jack Kent Cooke semifinalist and recognized with the Student Leadership and the Rocky Balboa awards. She was also the co-founder of the Creative Arts Club at Padrón Campus. She also worked part-time to financially help her family. She applied to Georgetown University, the University of Florida, and the University of Miami, among other top institutions, and wants to one day own a business in the beauty industry.
In addition to being a dedicated student at MDC, veterinary medicine major Daniel Dolfi interned at the Miami-Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption & Protection Center. He also helped fellow students as a peer leader in the PLTL program. His academic success was recognized with the Padrón Campus Scholarship and he made the dean’s list. Dolfi is attending the University of Florida, where he is working towards his goal of becoming a veterinarian and owning an animal shelter. He hopes to help decrease the stray animal population by spaying and neutering in a safe and caring environment and placing them in homes with a loving family.
Having a positive outlook has been vital for Pennsylvania-born psychology major Charity Gabrielle Minana, who took charge of her life early in her teens with the deep conviction that a good education was the key to achieving the goals she had set for herself. After arriving in Miami, her husband, an MDC alumnus, convinced her to enroll at the College. She excelled in her academic and extracurricular work as a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Psi Beta, NAMI, and the Psychology Club. She also earned accolades, including the Manuel Mendoza Memorial Scholarship, All-Florida Academic Team, Excellence in Psychology Award, and West Campus Student Life Exceptional Leader Award. She will continue her studies at the University of Miami to ultimately earn a doctorate in clinical psychology.
International business major Mariaesther Romero, had her mind set on attending MDC, even before arriving in the United States. The Venezuelan student, who moved to Miami alone when she was just 17, knew the College would provide the tools to build a better future. She was determined to succeed. Relying on her personal mantra “no te preocupes, ocúpate” (don’t worry, keep working), she had a fruitful experience at MDC, including serving as president of the Student Government Association, student representative for the College Board of Trustees and was part of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, among others. Romero also completed internships and volunteer work, sometimes contributing as much as 35 hours per week. Her goal is to one day own a talent agency in the entertainment industry.
Toussaint Rothchild’s life changed forever after the earthquake of 2010 in his native Haiti. A month later, he moved to Miami with half his family. MDC became a haven for him where he found support on an academic and personal level. An avid basketball fan, he is the recipient of many awards and accolades, including the President’s Volunteer Service Award, Dream.US Scholarship, Finalist in Future Business Executive at the National Leadership Conference, American Dream Scholar, and Tomas Fuste Scholarship. He has volunteered with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Engage Miami, Generation United Nation, Rotaract Club, and Youth and Democracy in The Americas as a Haitian delegate. His dream is to become an Economic, Social, and Development Officer for the United Nations.
Elba Garcia’s parents worked multiple jobs to provide for her and her sister after arriving in Miami from Nicaragua. She is the first in her family to obtain a college degree. A biology major, Garcia had the opportunity to hone her research skills at MDC. As a result, she participated in the 81st American Southeastern Biologist (ABS) 2020 Convention in Jacksonville, FL., and her Microalgae Research Project was awarded an SOS Stem Research Institute, Support Grant. She also received the Young Woman Achiever Award from the Miami-Dade County Commission for Women and Nat Moore Scholarship Endowment. She plans to continue her studies in cellular and molecular biology and embark on mission trips to remain civically and globally engaged.