Two undergraduate student speakers will share their journeys and insights with UC Merced’s graduating class and their families and friends at two commencement ceremonies to be held this weekend.
Gehad Elhanafy, a bioengineering major from Merced, will speak at the May 13 ceremony for the schools of Natural Sciences and Engineering.
During her time on campus, she served two terms as the internal vice president of the Associated Students of UC Merced and as president of the Muslim Students Association. Additionally, she conducted research in the Victor Muñoz group as a Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Machines NSF-CREST Fellow. Additionally, she worked as an intellectual property intern for the Office of Research and Economic Development.
In 2021, Elhanafy received the Distinguished Volunteer Scholarship from the University Friends Circle for her community service work.
“Looking back to 2013, when I first arrived in the United States and didn't know a word of English, to now having the opportunity to be the commencement speaker is an achievement that represents my struggles and triumphs,” she said. “My journey and success are a testament to the continued support I felt from my parents, and the community I built in Merced, especially at UC Merced.
“It will be an absolute honor to share with my fellow graduates what being a Bobcat means to me and how it has left a lasting impression on my life,” she said.
Through the Community Engagement Center’s Projects with Purpose program, Elhanafy completed four summer internships.
“I worked with the community to encourage engagement in a time where social disconnection and limited resources were prevalent,” she said. “UC Merced’s efforts in serving the community are reflected in my work to ensure that my community and I carried this mentality for my remaining three years both internally and externally.”
After graduation, Elhanafy will apply to law school to pursue corporate law to help contribute to the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem at UC Merced and in the Central Valley.
Kimberly Farias, a first-generation Mexican American student from Madera who double majored in political science and psychology, will speak at the May 14 ceremony for School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts graduates.
While at UC Merced, Farias was a lead resident assistant of four residence halls, a member of the International Honors Society in Psychology Psi Chi, and a member of Phi Alpha Delta Professional Law Fraternity where she served as treasurer and community service chair. She also interned at the External Affairs Office of Governor Gavin Newsom.
She participated in research with Professor Courtenay Conrad’s Political Science Lab and Professor Linda Cameron’s Health Communication Interventions Lab. She also received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Center and she had two of her research papers published in UC Merced’s Undergraduate Research Journal.
“It is a tremendous privilege for me to be selected as the commencement speaker. I am deeply grateful for this chance to address my fellow classmates and the UC Merced community, and to share the incredible ways in which UC Merced has contributed to my personal, academic growth and achievements.” Farias said. “I want to thank my family, specifically my mother. ‘Gracias mami por todo tu apoyo incondicional, por tus sabios consejos y por estar siempre presente. No habría logrado esto sin ti. Te quiero mucho y esto es para ti.’
“I would also like to extend my gratitude to my UC Merced professors, Dr. Courtney Conrad and Dr. Linda Cameron; thank you for always believing in me and for all your endless support and mentorship.”
After graduation, Farias plans to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in political science and then pursue law school.
“I hope to use my education and experiences to serve and advocate for underrepresented minority communities and first-generation students,” she said.