Amid a sea of academic regalia, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral Owls concluded the latest chapter of their respective life stories and embarked on the next at the 2023 Rice University December commencement ceremony in Tudor Fieldhouse Dec. 5.
While smaller than the May commencement, there was no shortage of enthusiasm for the newly minted Rice alums as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. Rice Provost Amy Dittmar took the podium to welcome them and their families, and commend the graduates on their accomplishments that brought them to this day.
“We thank you for lending us these outstanding graduates, who have contributed so richly to our community,” she said.
Seiichi Matsuda, dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies, and Bridget Gorman, dean of undergraduates, provided additional remarks congratulating members of the class of 2023 before deans from the different colleges and schools took the stage to announce members of the graduating class.
Among the brand-new Rice alumni was Pablo Menendez, a born and bred Houstonian who received his master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering.
“Growing up, especially here in Houston, you always hear about the very high accolades that Rice has always achieved,” he said. “Growing up in Houston, I had friends and family of mine go to Rice. (Today) meant a lot to me, and it meant a lot for my parents as well.”
While he found Rice academically rigorous, he said the challenging moments helped him push through, and the time passed quickly.
“I did it in three semesters, about a year and a half - time flies,” he said. After graduation, he has an internship lined up with a startup company, and hopes that will turn into a full-time position.
Across Tudor Hall, Xinyuan Cai, a graduate student from China receiving his master’s degree in computer science, will be taking a position as a software engineer in San Francisco. He said he is thankful for the sense of community at Rice, especially the experiences made available through the Office of International Students and Scholars for students like himself to practice English and interact with other students from outside the U.S.
“I'm really grateful for all the people I’ve met at Rice,” he said, describing his classmates as his “brothers” who have been in the trenches with him when it comes to studying, group projects and more, while making lifelong memories.
Camila Sosa Aleman, who received her master of liberal studies from the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, was accompanied by her service dog, Flash, when she received her degree. Her furry friend received a shoutout from Dean Robert Bruce for “successfully auditing all of the classes,” prompting laughter and cheers from the audience.
“It's really special,” she said of her graduation. “And I feel so happy that he can be here with me and because he also went to class.”
Thelo Lewis, a Baker College senior graduating with a degree in classical studies, was one of the undergraduates finishing her four-year degree early - thanks to AP classes and learning Latin before she set foot on campus.
She has accepted a position as an antique coin cataloguer at an auction house. She said she’s extremely excited to get a job in her field and to be able to use everything she learned at Rice. And she could not say enough good things about her professors in the School of Humanities.
“Rice has a pretty small classics department, but all the professors are extremely supportive, caring people who did their best to support me in a pretty esoteric field,” she said. “We have an incredible staff of humanities professors who are just incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their field. And they're always trying to push students forward, get papers published in undergraduate journals, anything they can do to help you they're going to do.”
And as a child of Rice graduates who met as students – and cheerleaders -- she said Rice has been a lifelong legacy.
“I've kind of been looking forward to this my whole life,” she said. “I came here as a kid to homecoming games, and my parents always told me about how much fun they had here and all their great memories. I'm really honored to have been able to go to the same place that really started my life."