By Robert C. Jones Jr.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 9, 2014) – Shadowing physicians at an AIDS clinic in Los Angeles as they made their daily patient rounds helped open Meera Nagarsheth’s eyes to community and social problems that plague marginalized groups. “I was able to put a face to an issue,” she said, recalling the college spring break she spent volunteering in California’s most populous city.
During her four years as a University of Miami student, Nagarsheth “put a face” on many other problems and tried to change them, conducting research on health disparities in underserved areas and tutoring youth at community centers in Overtown and South Miami.
On Friday, as she waited in a staging area to receive a bachelor of science degree in microbiology and immunology at UM’s commencement ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences, Nagarsheth reflected on her college career and the path that lies ahead. “UM was the perfect place to blend community service, academics, and social justice,” she said. “I looked at everything as a learning experience, and I never studied to pass a test but to gain a skill set.”
She was one of more than 2,100 students who accepted newly minted degrees at three undergraduate ceremonies that day. On Thursday nearly 800 students were awarded master’s or Ph.D.s at a graduate degree ceremony. The Miller School of Medicine and School of Law were set to hold exercises on Saturday.
As much as Nagarsheth, 22, was proud to receive her degree—her parents, she says, place great importance on higher education—she knew that her walk across the BankUnited Center stage was just the first step in her life’s mission to effect change. “I view education as a tool kit,” she explained.
A first generation Indian American, she will conduct research over the next year before starting classes at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, which has allowed her to defer her enrollment.
LaVette Richardson, who accepted her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at UM’s midday graduation ceremony, shares Nagarsheth’s desire to help others. She would eventually like to return to her hometown of Mobile, Alabama, to “make a difference.”
“It’s about helping others,” Richardson said simply.
Arianne Alcorta produced a documentary on the Venezuela uprising in hopes that it will shed more light on the protests, political demonstrations, and civil unrest occurring in her native country. She graduated Friday with a degree in journalism and theatre arts, and will enroll at Columbia University for graduate school, intent on continuing projects that raise awareness.
Nagarsheth’s, Richardson’s and Alcorta’s enthusiasm for making a difference was echoed by the day’s commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients, starting with political theorist Danielle S. Allen, the UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, who, at the morning ceremony, urged graduates to strive for the four core elements of participatory readiness: interpretative skills, expression, bonding, and bridging relationships with “people who are so different from you.”
Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence and ambassador for the world’s oceans, told students that “whatever you do, do not become one of those doom and gloom individuals who have given up.”
“There’s plenty of room for hope,” she said. “This is the sweet spot in time when we can turn things around.”