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Faces of 2019 Spring Graduates: Self-Discovery and Overcoming Barriers

Six graduating students share their stories

May 1, 2019

Meet six of the 1,132 undergraduate students graduating on Saturday, May 4. Learn how they overcame a variety of challenges and discovered their desired career paths as well as a better understanding of who they are and where they want to go in the future.

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Langston Mayo
Alondra Carranza Arroyo
Josue Ivan Prieto-Miranda
Larry Ward Jr.
Abigail Hutchings
Nayeli Anahi Contreras-Rocha

Langston Mayo

  • Hometown: Denver
  • Majors: Double major in Philosophy and Communication Studies, emphasis in Human Communication
  • Most memorable experience while attending UNC: Being able to help start the Multicultural Outreach and Recruitment Ambassador Program (M.O.R.A.), traveling around the country to help recruit students and speaking at different conferences about what makes UNC unique.
  • Plans after graduation: Attend the University of Oregon’s School of Law to attain my master’s in Conflict and Dispute Resolution.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Don’t use college as a “finding yourself” time. Life is a journey of self-discovery. Be willing and be open. Whether UNC is the place for you or not, make sure you’re investing into a campus and community that is willing to make the same investment into you.

Listen to Mayo discuss why he chose to attend UNC:



Alondra Carranza Arroyo

  • Alondra Carranza ArroyoHometown: Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
  • Majors: Double major in Anthropology and Mexican-American Studies
  • Describe your experience at UNC: I found a community of people with whom I shared similar passions and experiences. The Hispanic Studies and Anthropology Departments welcomed me as part of their UNC family and have fully supported my academic growth, such as being awarded the Recognition of Excellence Honors Convocation Award in 2017 and 2018. I am blessed to be part of the Stryker Institute for Leadership Development that has taught me about identity and advocacy. Together, these experiences have oriented me towards a career in human rights and advocacy.

    As a first-generation and English-as-a-Second-Language student, I've had to learn about higher education and adapt on my own. I spent two years in remedial courses building a set of skills at Aims Community College before transferring to UNC.
  • Most memorable experience while attending UNC: The most memorable part of my college experience was my time in the Mexican-American Studies where I’ve learned so much about myself, my own traumas and wounds. I became a Chicana because of it!
  • Plans after graduation: I plan to attend graduate school and hope to be accepted into the Multilingual Education World Languages program at UNC. I want to work with underrepresented communities in the future.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Get involved in student activities! I didn't have the opportunities to do so, but it is something I wish I had done. Also, meditate.

Josue Ivan Prieto-Miranda

  • Josue Ivan Prieto-Miranda Hometown: Born in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico; raised in Aurora
  • Major: Theatre Arts and Dance, emphasis in Acting
  • Student-employment, organizations and volunteering experience at UNC:
    • Career Services
    • GOAL Program
  • Describe why you chose UNC: I got into theater in high school and the whole theater experience grabbed me. UNC is in the top 30 schools for theatre, so I knew I wanted to apply and audition to get into the school.

    As a DREAMer, and recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I had issues with some of the universities I applied to where it was complicated in getting financial aid. However, UNC’s Financial Aid office, as well as UNC Director of Campus Recreation Chris Cobb, was very attentive to me while I was applying to schools and asking for assistance. The Financial Aid team was very welcoming and, even after I got in, still received help and advice from them.

    I realized I had a specific problem as a DACA recipient where every two years, I have to pay $500, fill out a 30- to 40-page application form and get a background check to renew my legal documentation in the U.S. I could lose this in an instant if DACA was repealed. While at UNC, professors including Shelly Gaza, Ken Womble, David Grapes and many others supported and influenced me throughout the years. Because of this I gained more self-confidence in myself as a DREAMer and an actor, so UNC allowed me to express who I really am. I am very grateful to have worked with these wonderful professors and faculty. The grants and scholarships I received at UNC included Academic Achievement, On-Campus Housing Scholarship, Need Based Grant, DACA scholarship, and On-Campus Grant.
  • Most memorable experience while attending UNC: During my sophomore year, I took a movement class with Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies Andrea Moon, Ph.D., in the School of Theatre and Dance, and it was a very difficult, but fulfilling class. She was able to identify what I needed to work on, and I really had a lack of faith in myself at the time, but with her advice and motivation, I started gaining more self-esteem and improved in my movement and self-identity.
  • Plans after graduation: Over the summer, I’m working at The Creede Repertory Theatre in Creede, Colo. Afterwards, I’m highly considering moving to Los Angeles or other cities to pursue my acting career.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Remember that you’re paying all this money to learn and grow; if you’re doing the best you can every day, then you’ll never fail to do so.

Larry Ward Jr.

  • Larry Ward Jr.Hometown: Aurora
  • Majors: Art and Design, emphasis in graphic design
  • Student-employment, organizations and volunteering experience at UNC:
    • Quidditch Team
    • Duel Monsters Club
    • Dining Services
  • Describe why you chose UNC: UNC helped me become who I am as an art student and as a person. I made fond memories and great, new friends. It's the perfect place for new people who want to apply for college and was a great college life and experience with a great community.
  • Describe any hurdles/conflicts you overcame: I’ve gone through rough patches with my personal life, family and relationships and felt as if I wanted to give up; however, I always remember that I can't give up, and I have great people at UNC supported and were there for me: my professors, friends and Quidditch team.
  • Most memorable experience while attending UNC: My fondest memory at UNC was when I performed at the UNC Open Mic Night during my senior year. I was excited to sign up, and performed the song, “7 Years” by Lukas Graham. I was nervous and excited at the same time, but when I got up on the stage in front of my friends and loved ones supporting and cheering me on, I felt invincible – like a superhero. I sang my heart out, and it was a great feeling that I wasn't alone on the stage; I was with this awesome, supportive community.
  • Plans after graduation: Move to Los Angeles later this year to pursue his dreams.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Lean into the people around you, never give up, and find out who you are while having fun along the way … but not too much fun of course!

Abigail Hutchings

  • Abigail HutchingsHometown: Castle Rock, Colo.
  • Major and minors: Political Science, double minors in Communications and Philosophy
  • Student-employment, organizations and other experiences at UNC:
    • President and co-founder of Students for Political Awareness, a non-partisan political club on campus, which works to educate students about navigating the modern political climate and encouraging engagement in local government. The club was also founded by two other students: Isabel Serafin and Fiona McNeal.
  • Describe your experience at UNC: My overall experience at UNC has been amazing. After one semester of taking political science classes, I knew it was where I belonged. The department may be smaller than some, but it makes up for that in quality. Each professor I have had the opportunity to learn from has challenged, encouraged and allowed me to discover my political views on my own, and each of those professors took the time to work with me as needed and always showed a great deal of compassion and understanding towards their students.
  • Describe any hurdles/conflicts you overcame: By far the heaviest hurdle I faced while working to attain my degree was during my sophomore year when I lost my father to suicide. He was a police officer for the Aurora Police Department for 13 years and was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian of the Year Award for his work with immigrant communities where he helped them assimilate to American culture, learn to trust police and set up neighborhood watch programs.

    While growing up, I watched him go above and beyond to help people he hardly knew, which was my inspiration in focusing my studies and future career towards bettering communities. My father, who was my best friend and biggest cheerleader, never finished his degree, which was always a regret of his. But, once he saw my dedication to achieving my degree, he was always there to remind me that I could achieve regardless of the obstacles that came my way. He battled with severe depression his entire life and, through the trauma he experienced as a police officer, developed PTSD.

    The university flooded me with useful resources to help me stay in school and in my dorm surrounded by supportive friends. The Counselling Center was an incredible resource I used through my schooling and helped me heal from the trauma of suddenly losing my father. I will forever be thankful to the university staff across multiple departments for taking the time to help me. I don’t know if I’d be walking across that stage without all of their help, and I know my father would be incredibly proud.
  • Most memorable experience while attending UNC: My most memorable experience was during the fall 2018 semester when one of my professors alerted me to an internship opportunity with the Rochelle Galindo for HD50 campaign. I was eager to get real-world experience, despite having no experience in the campaign world. I was promoted to a deputy field organizer and personally knocked on over 2,000 doors in the community.

    The types of people I encountered varied: some politely said they weren’t interested, others ignored me and didn’t answer the door, while a few yelled and insulted me. However, there were many who surprised me with, not only kindness, but the desire to listen to what I had to say. It was these face-to-face conversations that gave me a sense of pride and made me feel like a true resident of Greeley for the first time in the four years since living here.

    I am not exaggerating when I say this experience was one of the most influential ones I’ve had and am incredibly grateful to be part of it. I will always remember the day we received the final results of the election with Rochelle winning by 1,400 votes.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Take every opportunity that comes your way even if you are worried of failure or something you never imagined yourself doing. Take those extra moments and listen to what people have to say when they pass out fliers on campus, ask your advisor about internship opportunities even if your degree doesn’t require one, and find a club on campus that advocates for something you believe in. It’s amazing how much more enriched my life became when I became open to new possibilities and stopped limiting my potential by doubting myself. Believe in your abilities and take any opportunity you can to grow as that is what college is truly for.
  • Plans after graduation: I’d love to use my enthusiasm at a non-profit that works to better local communities through public policy, outreach and education.

Nayeli Anahi Contreras-Rocha

  • Nayeli Anahi Contreras-RochaHometown: Grand Junction
  • Major and minor: Political Science, minor in Legal Studies/Pre-Law
  • Student-employment, organizations and other experiences at UNC:
    • University College Student Senator with Student Senate
    • Student Assistant for the Dean's Office of Humanities and Social Sciences
    • Stryker Institute for Leadership Development Scholarship recipient
    • Upper Division Honors Program: Thesis on the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz
    • Center for Human Enrichment, First Generation Program
    • Campus Connections mentorship program
  • Describe your experience at UNC: I doubt a story like mine would be possible at any other university in the country. I have grown a lot as a UNC Bear, and being a student at this school has not only made me a more knowledgeable and insightful person, but it has also made me more compassionate and passionate.

    I'm leaving UNC with a passion to help people and make an impact on the community. My work with Stryker has inspired me to follow a career in the legal system and help fight and represent those who may feel as if they don't have a voice. I’ll never forget the people who I met here, and it is their contributions to my life that I will carry with me.
  • Describe any hurdles/conflicts you overcame: As a first-generation graduate, woman of color and a kid who grew up under the poverty line, making it to college was similar to going through an obstacle course on American Ninja Warrior. Being the first in my family to go to college, I had no idea where to even start. Luckily, my support system at CHE helped me start off on the right foot and made my transition into college less frightening.

    Paying my way through college was a constant struggle, and though my parents were very willing to help, finances weren't readily available. Thankfully, I was accepted into Stryker, and I can never thank the people and organization enough because if it weren't for Stryker, I would not have been able to finish college or realized my passion for social justice. I owe a lot of my accomplishments to these organizations as well as to my friends and family because it was as much of their struggle as it was mine; it will also be as much their accomplishment.
  • Most memorable experience while attending UNC: My most memorable experience involved sitting in my Constitutional Law class. While in class, I heard law being talked about in a way that I never had before, and it’s also where I realized the path I wanted to pursue after college.

    I will also fondly remember my philosophy classes, but more specifically, my philosophy professor: Professor Blair taught me more than just philosophy, he taught me the importance of being passionate for what you choose to pursue, and the importance of being kind to people.

    All of my political science professors have had a great impact on me, as well, and I'm honored for the opportunity to sit in each of their classrooms. A huge thank you to Professors Lugar, Williams, Bownas, Blair, DeCarlo, Romero and Morell.
  • Plans after graduation: I plan to head to law school and study immigration law and get involved with local government and eventually run for office — Maybe mayor, maybe senator, maybe president, and being a Supreme Court Justice would be pretty cool, too! I also want to have at least four dogs at some point.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Go into your classrooms with an open mind. You will grow so much during your time here, and this will happen faster if you're willing to expose yourself to new things. You have, and will, accomplish so much, but don't forget to remember and thank those who have helped you along the way.

    UNC has been the perfect place for me to grow as a person. I can't thank this place enough. I hope to stay affiliated with the school to help students like me.

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