Maverick spirit shines in Class of 2020

Close up of UTA diploma folders

Spring Commencement 2020 at The University of Texas at Arlington is unlike any in the University’s history.

Pivoting to online classes required students to be nimble, flexible and adaptable. They excelled.

UTA is honoring them on Sunday, May 17, with an online celebration, Cheers! To the Class of 2020. The virtual celebration will feature students’ favorite memories and moments and recorded remarks from campus leaders—all in celebration of the class of 2020.

UTA plans to invite its spring 2020 graduates for an in-person celebration when circumstances and health guidelines make it possible.

There were more than 6,000 graduation applications for spring 2020, with the newest graduates joining more than 230,000 UTA alumni. Included in that count is approximately 2,000 graduates of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, 365 of whom are prelicensure nurses who will enter the workforce and help Texas’ efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the newest graduation candidates are stories of resiliency, perseverance and academic excellence.

  • Steve Kennedy, now 75, left what was then Arlington State College in the 1960s to serve in the Vietnam War. He served two tours in Vietnam, flying the UH-1 “Huey” helicopter for troop transport. When College of Liberal Arts officials recently studied Kennedy’s transcripts, they realized he had enough credit hours to graduate with a bachelor’s in history. Now, Kennedy will earn his degree alongside his son-in-law.
  • Sudip Ghale is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics. When a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, his home country, in 2015, he started the Bring Change Foundation to provide aid to underprivileged students.
  • Kenya Loudd, who is legally blind, will graduate with honors and a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and minors in disability studies, African American studies and leadership studies. A Navy veteran with five children, she is currently enrolled in the doctoral program in educational leadership at UTA. She will be starting at Yale University in the fall on a full scholarship to seek dual doctorate degrees in the history of science and medicine and in African American studies. She also won a Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship to support her Yale education.
  • Rachel Kroener is an exercise science graduate with a minor in disability studies. She is a Lady Movin’ Mavs player, helping them win two national championships. Kroener, who has cerebral palsy, is also the current president and one of the founding members of the Adapted Athletics Sports Club. This summer, she will start working on her master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics at California State – Dominguez Hills. Kroener and kinesiology graduate Emilee Hilbish created a tool to measure wheelchair users’ skills and efficiency in propulsion. Once published, this tool will allow PE teachers, doctors and physical therapists to evaluate wheelchair users’ skills in ways similar to the developmental motor skills assessments long available for use with able-bodied subjects.
  • Tatiana Mayfield will be the first woman and African American to graduate from UTA’s Master of Music in jazz composition program. Mayfield also is an educator, teaching commercial voice at Cedar Valley College Lancaster.
  • Miles O’Neill is graduating with a master’s degree in social work, completing his last 17 hours of study online this semester. As program director in Helping Hands Ministry of Belton, O’Neill has been pivotal in providing food and clothing to people in need in Bell County. When the pandemic hit, he and his co-workers recognized their clients no longer could visit their Bell County facility, so they organized home delivery routes and trained volunteers to safely deliver food.
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