Graduate Degree Ceremony Features Hugs, Kisses and Tears

The graduate degree commencement ceremony was the first of six graduation exercises to be held at the BankUnited Center between Thursday and Saturday.

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 08, 2014) — Eric Todoroff fidgeted, walking in small circles as his mother, beaming with joy, aimed her digital camera at him.

“Can you believe this,” said Hope, telling her son it was the wrong time to be camera shy. “I’ve been taking pictures of him since he was a little boy, and now he doesn’t want to pose.”

With a little persistence, Hope managed to get the shot she wanted: Eric dressed in his commencement regalia with only an hour remaining until he would receive his master’s degree in sport administration.

Moments like that one, as well as plenty of handshakes, hugs, kisses, and tears, were the norm Thursday when hundreds of students received diplomas at the University of Miami’s graduate degree commencement, the first of six graduation exercises held at the BankUnited Center.

Earlier in the day, an Honors Day Convocation recognized outstanding undergraduates for academic excellence, while Senior Mwambo paid tribute to the University’s black graduates. Three undergraduate ceremonies take place at the BUC on Friday, with the medical and law schools holding ceremonies in the venue on Saturday—all of them featuring either distinguished speakers or honorary degree recipients.

But Thursday was a day to celebrate advanced degrees in just about every discipline imaginable—from microbiology and immunology to business and sport administration.

“It’s been a great accomplishment to see something all the way to the end,” said Gustavo Munguba, 31, who received his Ph.D. in neuroscience. A student in the Miller School’s M.D./Ph.D. Program, he will receive his doctor of medicine next year. “Everything I’ve learned as a Ph.D. student has taught me to look at the clinical side through a different lens.”

Ever since Munguba started in the program, his goal has been to become a physician-scientist involved in translational research that will speed discoveries made in the lab to the bedside. With grants from the National Eye Institute, Society of Neuroscience, and other funding sources, he studies whether stimulating retinal ganglion cells can help adult central nervous system axon growth, with a goal of perhaps preventing and reversing blinding eye diseases.

For Wyatt Krapf, it still hadn’t sunken in that he earned his master’s degree in civil engineering. Fascinated by tall buildings and construction since he was a little boy, he majored in civil engineering because he wanted to solve problems. “My field is more than putting reinforcement bars into concrete,” he said. “The past five years at UM have really opened my eyes to what engineers do.”

The graduate degree ceremony was special for a group of UM student-athletes. With competitions scheduled on Friday in their respective sports, members of the baseball team and women’s tennis team who would have marched in Friday’s undergraduate degree ceremonies accepted their diplomas on Thursday, posing for group shots onstage with UM President Donna E. Shalala.

It was also notable for featuring perhaps the first commencement speaker to dole out advice while playing the piano. Shelton G. “Shelly” Berg, the dean of the Frost School of Music, told the students that music is the “mortar of humanity” and that Burt Bacharach “is the key to life’' because he could subsume his prowess or chops for his inspiration and intent.

Playing chords and reciting verses from “Alfie,” Berg said the Bacharach song that was written for the eponymous movie about a man who was good only at seducing women got it right when it said, “Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie.” And so, too, did Bacharach, who Berg said sang "Alfie" 10,000 times with the same intent and inspiration as the first time.

“Ask yourself, ‘What is your Alfie?’ What are the things that mean enough to you that you’ll dedicate yourself to falling in love with them and rekindling them like the first time every day?” Berg asked.“Today is your day, graduates. You are taking your walk. Here’s what the lyrics to "Alfie" say: ‘When you walk, let your heart lead the way; you'll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie.’”

Undergraduate commencement ceremonies get underway on Friday with an 8:30 a.m. exercise for the College of Arts and Sciences. For the full schedule, click here.

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UM President Donna E. Shalala is joined by Brittany Dubins (left) and Monique Albuquerque, members of the Women's Tennis Team who received undergraduate degrees Thursday.

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