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Meet the Class of 2018

Here are just a few of the accomplished members of this year's graduating class. We can't wait to see how they will change the world.
photo: graduation cap with "oh the places you'll go" written on it

Could we possibly be prouder of this year's graduates? So many will have achieved so much even before they set foot in Yankee Stadium on Commencement Day, and we look forward to seeing how they carry their NYU education with them into a world we know they will change for the better. Members of the exceptional Class of 2018 have worked with the United Nations, advocated for immigrant and labor rights, started podcasts, built rockets, and reported for media organizations such as NPR and New York magazine, just to mention a few accomplishments—and we can't wait to see what they'll do next. A few of their stories appear below. Please join us in offering our warmest congratulations to the Class of 2018.



Christopher Hearn, Student Speaker (Steinhardt)

Image: Portrait of Christopher Hearn

While earning a baccalaureate in music business, Christopher Hearn served as the director of diversity for Student Government, vice president of the Gentleman of Quality group, and cochair of the NYU Diversity Committee.

Did you receive any scholarships?

The Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship is the reason I was able to attend NYU. It gave me purpose before I even came to campus. To be thought of in the same light as Martin Luther King Jr. and be part of his legacy is an honor that means so much to me. It’s in my mind and in my heart as I make decisions, and it helps me remember what legacy I’m trying to leave.

What was your favorite NYU moment?

It was in my first year when my friends and I attended the Violet 100 concert and got to see Chance the Rapper perform. It was one of the most entertaining and inspiring shows I have seen. It meant a lot to me as a music artist to be so young and see someone who would go on to become one of the biggest hip-hop artists today. It’s come full circle because now I’ll be the opening act for the Violet 100 performance this year.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

I’m most proud of getting into NYU and the person I’ve become throughout this experience. I never expected to get in. And when I first arrived, there were times I seriously considered whether NYU was too challenging or above my capabilities. I decided to stay and not only found a way to survive, but I thrived here. I took on leadership positions that are impactful for this university over the long term. I’m proud because I know what that means for people like me, who came from environments where people were never encouraged to strive for top-tier universities. My greatest accomplishment is showing that not only is a person like me beneficial in this space, but I’m providing a perspective and a presence that’s necessary here. I hope that functions as a beacon of light for people who might have been hesitant to jump into spaces like this.


Chen Mengzhu (NYU Shanghai)

Image: Portrait of Chen Mengzhu

A native of Daqing, Heilongjiang province, China, Chen Mengzhu embodies
a pioneering spirit by taking full advantage of her experiences both in and out of the classroom to ensure that she leaves NYU Shanghai stronger than when she started.

What was your major?

Interactive media arts (IMA). I had a feeling that I would probably want to major in something multidisciplinary, and I was looking for something that could nest or incorporate my interests in arts, technology, business, and humanities. In IMA, I was given the freedom to explore and implement, advocating for social causes or transforming existing fields using art and technology.

Did you participate in any clubs?

I served as class representative of this year’s Student Government, chair of the Student Commencement Committee, and a peer mentor for new students at NYU Shanghai. I also cofounded the Pre-Law Society at NYU Shanghai and was a British Parliament debater for the Collective Voice Debate Club.

What was your favorite course?

I spent my junior year studying at NYU’s New York campus and my favorite course was Strategic Analysis at Stern. And at NYU Shanghai, it was International Business and Investment Transactions with Developing Countries: The Impact of China.

What will you miss most about your time at NYU?

Sunday brunch at Palladium Hall, and visiting Bobst Library.

What’s your message to fellow graduates?

Let curiosity be the drive for a lifelong learning journey, for the more one learns, the better one understands, and the more one appreciates the world we live in.


Magdalena Sawicka (Tandon)

Image: Portrait of Magdalena Sawicka

Poland native Magdalena Sawicka serves as a role model to other young women in STEM through her leadership in entrepreneurial competitions and her work as a teaching assistant at Tandon’s new MakerSpace.

Did you participate in any extracurricular activities?

I captained Tandon’s Hyperloop Team, which takes part in the SpaceX Hyperloop competition, designing and racing high-speed pods in the world’s second-largest vacuum chamber. I am very proud that I was the first and only woman to represent NYU at the inaugural SpaceX competition. Additionally, I helped cofound Rogue Aerospace, which is a student-led initiative to build rockets, and FOLT, a start-up dedicated to sustainable, reusable drinkware.

What was your favorite NYU moment?

My favorite NYU moments have occurred as I’ve walked out of Bobst Library at midnight. Even if I’m tired from studying so late or worried about an upcoming assignment, I look up at the arch, take in the lights of the city, and think to myself: “My life is so much bigger and filled with potential than I could have ever imagined. I can amount to anything.”

What would your future dream job be?

My future dream job is to be the CEO of SpaceX. Sorry, Elon Musk!

What’s your message to fellow graduates?

I would urge my fellow graduates to practice kindness in everything they do. I believe that the kindness we contribute to the world can be just as valuable as our engineering innovations and technical skills, especially when we contribute kindness through that very medium. With that said, I am so proud to be graduating with the class of the smartest and most dedicated trailblazers I have ever met. If given the opportunity, I would thank each and every one of the classmates who encouraged me and helped me get to this point. Thank you for the memories. Now let’s go out and change the world.


Jesus Miguel Casado (School of Professional Studies)

Image: Portrait of Jesus Miguel Casado

Diagnosed with leukemia at age 21, Jesus Miguel Casado has coped with
its recurrence while pursuing a master’s in global affairs with a concentration in global gender studies and a specialization in peace building and conflict resolution.

What was your favorite NYU moment?

One of my professors took our class to an event at MoMA for the #HeforShe Campaign, which was initiated by UN Women to involve men in discussions about gender rights. There were a lot of high-profile people there, such as actress Emma Watson, and heads of state, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That gave me a perspective of what my career could evolve into.

What will you miss most about your time at NYU?

The profound discussions. The faculty members were able to provoke very deep discussions on important issues that I had not explored as an undergraduate. They gave me a clear understanding of the global issues at stake.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

A huge achievement was just being accepted to NYU. I thought there was no way I could be as successful as other students. But as I started taking courses, I realized that there was a lot I could offer. My experience here has made me believe in myself much more and has prepared me for a professional career.

What’s your message to fellow graduates?

I would tell them to take all the experience that they were exposed to at NYU and create something meaningful out there in the world. Now more than ever before, we have to be unapologetic about the issues we feel strongly about. I also want to let people know that I went through a chronic disease that would have stopped my plans, my life, my career—but I didn’t let that stop me. So I believe that if you truly work hard at something, you can achieve it no matter what.


Sheri Holt (Stern)

Image: Portrait Sheri Holt

While earning an MBA in finance and management, Los Angeles native Sheri Holt displayed a contagious optimism, an entrepreneurial spirit, and an ability to recognize the good in people and translate their stories to a global audience as cofounder and host of the Stern Chats podcast. She also served as vice president of professional development for Stern Women in Business and vice president of career development for the Stern Student Council. Plus, she landed an internship at the NFL.

What will you miss most about your time at NYU?

The feeling that anything and everything is possible at school, and learning for the sake of learning! I’ll also miss running into people on campus. You hear a lot these days about offices physically breaking down walls and creating open floor plans for people to interact. School is one giant floorplan in which students are constantly colliding, sharing ideas, laughing, asking one another to grab lunch, and learning—always.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

Launching the student-run podcast Stern Chats, which allowed me to explore an artistic venture and fulfill a personal entrepreneurial goal of starting something from the ground up. It’s now a self-sustaining organization, but along the way, I learned an enormous amount about myself—not only my strengths but also my blind spots. I hope that finding and hearing people’s stories is always a part of my life as well as my career in the future.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I’ll be returning to Citigroup, where I interned over the summer as a human resources management associate. I’m excited to participate in their two-year rotational program.

What’s your message to fellow graduates?

Let people surprise you, don’t be afraid to change your mind, and give your time generously.


Khalil Hall (College of Arts and Science)

Image: Portrait of Khalil Hall

A native of Detroit, Khalil Hall has balanced advocacy and academics while pursuing his educational interests and career aims. At NYU, he served on the executive board of the Black Student Union and took the initiative to create a new organization on campus called Men Against Rape and Sexual Misconduct.

What was your favorite course?

Concepts in Social and Cultural Analysis—I changed my major after taking that course. That was one of the first courses I took where I felt that all the kinds of academic questions I had were being asked in a constructive academic space, such as gentrification, responding to climate change, and urban education disparities.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

I feel as though I am leaving NYU a little better than I found it four years ago. I suppose the most specific example of this would be the creation of MARS (Men Against Rape and Sexual Misconduct). It’s not a light topic, but I think it’s opening the door for men to be engaged in a conversation that they have been absent from. And it’s long overdue.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I want to stay in New York. I will most likely continue working in real estate—and ideally, would like to work with and consult students who are looking for housing in the city. I plan on going to law school at some point and utilizing that education to make the law more accessible to those who don’t have it, specifically as it relates to tenants’ rights.

What’s your message to fellow graduates?

Don’t waste your gift—that’s one of the best pieces of advice I ever got, way back in middle school. Of course, everyone has something to offer. But being too preoccupied with what you should do as opposed to what you want to do is a disservice to everyone. I don’t think there is anything that could be more fulfilling than utilizing whatever your strengths are to try to make the world a little bit of a better place—big or small.


Griselda Bautista Ceja (Meyers)

Image: Portrait of Griselda Bautista Ceja

The first in her family to graduate from college, Griselda Bautista Ceja served as president of NYU’s Undergraduate Nursing Student Organization, where she oversaw 16 different groups, including the Women’s Health Student Nursing Association, Men in Nursing, and the LGBTQ Nursing Student Association.

What was the most thought-provoking subject you studied?

One of the electives I took was Science of Happiness. That was such an amazing course. It made me think about happiness in a “science” way. Mindfulness, self-care, and depletion were some of my favorite topics covered in class.

What will you miss most about your time at NYU?

I’ll miss the diversity here. The first question I often ask people at NYU is, “Where are you from?” Because I love hearing their stories and learning about different cultures and ways of living.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

Being the first one in my family to graduate from college. I’m first generation, the oldest of four. Every time I talk to my mom, she says, “I’m so proud of you, I’m so proud of you.” Hearing that from her motivates me.

What are your plans for after graduation?

After I graduate, I want to first study, study, study so that I can take the NCLEX [the National Council Licensure Exam]. That’s the first thing, getting the NCLEX out of the way! Then I want to get two years of experience working as a nurse, build up my foundation, and then go into a specialized area.

What would your future dream job be?

Pediatric oncology nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


Ilona Zbirun Nockles (College of Dentistry)

Image: Portrait of Ilona Zbirun Nockles

A Navy dentist, Ukrainian immigrant, and mother of two, Ilona Zbirun Nockles will bring her dental skills and passion for patient care to sailors and their families.

What will you miss most about your time at NYU?

My patients. I’ve built some amazing relationships here. I like that dentistry is one of the few fields where you can really take someone from sickness to health in one or two visits. We tend to have a longer-term relationship with our patients, and there’s a lot more medicine than people realize. We do a lot of screening for diabetes, hypertension, chronic kidney disease—in part because they have oral manifestations, but also because people go to their dentist more often than their physician. In just two years of clinical practice, I’ve already identified undiagnosed hypertension and gotten those patients on track and to their doctors—and that’s a really cool feeling!

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

Running the New York City Marathon last year. I think running the marathon while in dental school—with two kids—that’s a new level of juggling things for me! I couldn’t have done it without my amazing supportive husband. Running through every single borough of the city was a really amazing way to say goodbye to New York.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I’m in the Navy, so I will be going to officer school in Rhode Island for five weeks, and then I start residency in San Diego at the Naval Medical Center. I will be a Navy dentist, treating sailors and their families. I’m really looking forward to what I’ll be able to do—it’s a broader experience than what you’d necessarily get to do in civilian life.

What would your future dream job be?

I intend to pursue a global public health career. And I’d really love to work for the World Health Organization, which has been a dream of mine as far back as high school when I took part in Model UN and was on the WHO Committee.


Abda Kazemi (NYU Abu Dhabi)

Image: Portrait of Abda Kazemi

Born in Afghanistan and raised in the United Kingdom, Abda Kazemi is well known at NYU Abu Dhabi for being involved in the community. Kazemi dreams big and encourages others to do the same. Someday, she hopes to run her own business—or even become the president of Afghanistan.

What was your favorite course?

Creativity and Innovation. I carried out a project to dispel the myths of vulnerability through a multimedia exhibition that explores human connection at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Where did you travel while at NYU?

I studied with the Middlebury Arabic Language Program in Amman, Jordan. I spent my first January term in Washington, DC, for the Nation Building course, then studied in Shanghai for the Children and Childhood course. And I spent my third January term in Al-Ain learning the Arabic Emirati dialect.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

Writing and performing in the NYU Abu Dhabi Reality Show. We produced skits and songs that addressed issues of adjusting to college life in Abu Dhabi. The show was important in connecting with fellow students to convey the message that there is always help from the NYU community and mental health professionals.

What would your future dream job be?

I don’t want to work for someone else. I want to start my own businesses around the world focusing on providing social good, without compromising quality and aesthetics. In the distant future, I dream of being the first female president of Afghanistan.


Christie Cunningham (Silver)

Image: Portrait of Christie Cunningham

A member of the Student Leadership Council and Phi Alpha Honor Society, Christie Cunningham discovered her voice at NYU as a therapist assisting those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

What was your favorite NYU moment?

I gave a guest presentation in a Social Work Practice II class earlier this semester on working with individuals exposed to the criminal justice system. That was a great moment. At a personal level, I was doing something that a few years ago I never would have imagined I would be doing: public speaking in a class, more or less extemporaneous. Professionally, it was the level of engagement by the class that was also really exciting.

My fellow students have been incredibly supportive, which is really important. I came to Silver to develop the skills necessary for a career as a therapist, and being here helped me gain this important training. My first year, for example, I got a field placement, learning the important lesson that I could sit with a person and listen to them basically share some of the worst parts of their life. An important first lesson for social workers is to know that you can do that, and you can do something to support that individual.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

Being part of the Know Your Rights project at the law school. They train students to give presentations in various areas of individual rights, and my group focused on knowing your rights in encounters with law enforcement.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I’ve applied to the nonprofit Training Institute for Mental Health here
in New York City to get further education in psychodynamic therapy. That’s what I’m hoping to do long term—psychodynamic therapy, more specifically with people impacted by the criminal justice system. The institute offers low-cost therapy to individuals as part of training people to become therapists.


Deborah Onakomaiya (College of Global Public Health)

Image: Portrait of Deborah Onakomaiya

A dual citizen who was born in Arizona and raised in Nigeria, Deborah Onakomaiya is passionate about improving health outcomes for women and children in sub-Saharan Africa.

What was your favorite NYU moment?

My favorite experience was going to Ghana for my MPH capstone, where my group was in charge of our own public health research project. Our project was a rapid assessment of the health system in Northern Ghana to assess the reporting of adverse events after immunization. I was so proud of my heritage on this trip because Ghana and Nigeria have a lot of similarities. The trip provided an opportunity to introduce my colleagues to West African culture, which was very exciting for me.

I also studied abroad at NYU Florence, looking at health in the Mediterranean among migrant refugees. While there, we were able to meet with migrants who made the journey across the ocean from Libya. They were from all over the world. A lot of the migrants I met at the camps were Nigerian, and it was quite jarring to see my fellow countrymen. I asked myself what the difference was between me and them—I just happened to have an opportunity. My parents just happened to give birth to me here in the United States. I came to understand through this experience that everyone, including my parents, were just looking for a better life.

What was your favorite course?

Intermediate Epidemiology was an awesome course. Before class, the professor would make us Zumba! It was the most spectacular thing. It got us pumped to learn about intermediate epi. And the content alone was great. She always brought real-life examples to class, not just textbook examples.

What will you miss most about your time at NYU?

The community. Because the College of Global Public Health is growing, it’s a very tight-knit community. Another thing I’ll miss is the library—Bobst is like my second home. I’ll also miss getting tickets at NYU Skirball for Broadway shows.


Komal Lodaria (Graduate School of Arts and Science)

Image: Portrait of Komal Lodaria

Born in Mumbai, India, and raised in Muscat, Oman, Komal Lodaria is focused on change management and organizational development. Currently an intern at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, she is supporting the organization’s transition to one that is more technology-driven in healthcare delivery.

What was the most thought-provoking subject you studied?

Performance Measurements and Rewards. I think it taught me a lot about the challenges any organization faces in trying to measure the performance of employees; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. The course shaped how I think about any problem, which is to be more critical and skeptical about the status quo because there is always room for improvement.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

I think my biggest one was that I was able to participate in a lot of extracurricular activities and meet new people. For the GSAS Program Board, I was chosen to be the treasurer, which allowed me to get involved in student programming. Through my internships, I have had the opportunity to work at the United Nations in the Office of Human Resources Management.

On a more personal note, I’ve always shied away from public speaking opportunities—it has been a challenge that I have gradually been able to overcome through internships and courses I have taken [since] almost all of them have required this in some form. But I can see a visible difference in myself over the past two years, and every experience I have had has only led me to break out of my shell!

What would your future dream job be?

I would love to work, at some point, with the United Nations again. I had such a unique experience there, working on the Assessment Services Team that designed personnel selection tests for various departments of the UN. I also had the opportunity to connect with people from around the world— I don’t think I have seen such a diversity of people elsewhere.


Ignacio Calles (School of Medicine)

Image: Portrait of Ignacio Calles

A native of Houston, Ignacio Calles earned his MD while serving as co- president of both the Student Diversity Initiative and the Black and Latino Student Association at NYU.

What was your favorite NYU moment?

Opening the letter telling me I had matched to UCLA for residency surrounded by mentors, friends, and family. The energy in that room was so positive and triumphant. We work at this for years, sometimes even decades. That moment of success, relief, and happiness will stick with me forever.

What was the most thought-provoking subject you studied?

Anatomy. It’s the first time in medical school that you feel the weight and responsibility of the profession. It’s humbling to think that individuals and families would make such precious donations for the sake of our learning.

What will you miss most about your time at NYU?

My classmates. I moved here from Texas without really knowing anyone. I’m leaving with a network and a family that I’ll be in touch with for the rest of my life.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

Our minority medical student mentorship program. We’ve created an amazing and supportive community where participants can truly grow and learn together. You can’t get through medical school alone, and I hope I’ve helped make it a little easier for people traditionally marginalized to feel like this is their home, too.

What would your future dream job be?

Working with underserved patients and underrepresented minority students to improve diversity and inclusion in medicine.

What’s your message to fellow graduates?

Education is a privilege. We are fortunate to have been given the opportunity to learn and train here. Never forget the sacrifices families and friends made to give us the chance to make it so far. Be grateful and pay it forward.

Victoria Yee (School of Law)

Image: Portrait of Victoria Yee

Victoria Yee is an immigrant rights and labor rights advocate who won deportation relief and asylum for a single mother from El Salvador. The proud daughter of a Vietnam War boat refugee and a Taiwanese immigrant, Yee is a first-generation college student.

What is your proudest NYU accomplishment?

I think it would be the work I did in the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Last year my clinic partner and I won deportation relief in immigration court for one of our clients, a single mom from El Salvador with three children. She had a criminal conviction and had been in the United States for a very long time, so a lot of factors were stacked up against her. But we were able to get asylum for her, which is huge—especially given this time when there is a lot of anti- immigrant sentiment.

One of the biggest moments for me was when I was able to give her the piece of paper from court that said she was able to remain in the United States with her family. She then told me about how, for the first time in years, things were looking up—that because of the asylum she won, she was able to find a steady job; that her daughter was doing a lot better in school because she knew her mom was able to stay here. The family had gone through so much anguish, and hearing her, I just felt so privileged to be able to use the legal tools I learned at NYU to help keep families together. It made me feel like this is what I came to law school for.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I’ll be moving back to California after graduation. I won a Skadden Fellowship and my host organization is the Wage Justice Center, a nonprofit in Los Angeles. My project will be to help low-wage immigrant Chinese workers in the San Gabriel Valley—which has a large population of Chinese immigrants—recover their stolen wages.


Tsering Bista (Gallatin)

Image: Portrat of Tsering Bista

Born in Nepal and raised in New Jersey, Tsering Bista today becomes the first in her family to graduate from college. A school scholarship made it all possible, and she rolled two of her passions—visual journalism and ethnography—into a concentration. In turn, the Dean’s Award for Summer Research enabled Bista to document and record her family history across continents.

Did you participate in any internships?

Yes, and I attribute a lot of my personal growth to the experiences I’ve
had and the people I’ve met through those internships. I worked on video teams at NPR, CNN, and New York magazine. I also interned for nonprofits like Students for a Free Tibet and Charity: Water, which brings clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries.

What was your favorite NYU moment?

Every year, Kimmel hosts a celebration to commemorate the publication
of Gallatin’s Literacy Review, a journal of writing from adults in literacy programs throughout New York City. Many of the writers that are published are immigrants learning English as a second or third language. As a member of the editorial team, I spent a lot of time with the pieces and not the people behind them. So meeting the writers and listening to them read their works at the annual celebrations has been an absolute joy.

What will you miss most about your time at NYU?

I’ll miss having the opportunity to dabble in as many things as I wanted—the freedom, the time, and the experimentation.

Last summer, for example, I did an auto-ethnographic project where
I traced my family’s linguistic migration through oral history and video documentation. I traveled to multiple continents in the process, starting in Nepal, then to Japan, then Switzerland, and back to New York.

What’s your message to fellow graduates?

My dad never had the chance to go to high school, and my mom never went to school a day in her life. So I am constantly thinking about how fortunate I am to be graduating from NYU having studied something I love. So to all my fellow students, my advice is to acknowledge the luck and the privilege that brought you here and pay that forward when you leave this university. Keep your curiosity alive—stay a student of life for as long as you can.


Anabel Perez (Wagner)

Image: Portrait of Anabel Perez

During her time at NYU, Dominican Republic native Anabel Perez provided an impassioned voice for other first-generation students, coupling her story with her interest in policymaking, politics, and racial inclusion. While pursuing her master’s in public and nonprofit management and policy, she served as chair of the Wagner Food Policy Alliance and interned with the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity.

What was your favorite NYU moment?

I participated in a panel discussion at Wagner with a couple of other first- generation students of color. I was able to share my story as a first-generation undocumented woman. I always push to get a seat at the table because it is crucial to put a face on issues affecting communities of color. Students of color battle against white-dominated spaces, so I told all of the people in the room that it is important for us to insert ourselves in policy discussions, build a village of support, and own it.

What was your favorite course?

Race and Class in American Cities. It allowed me to dive into the issue of food policy and immigrants—that is, food and security and how it affects immigrants in New York City. I picked an issue area and wrote op-eds and policy memos over the semester.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Of course, graduating from Wagner and, more broadly, the sacrifices and choices that I’ve made. I’m a formerly undocumented immigrant—I was a DREAMer for 12 years. I gained legal immigrant status just recently and am now a green card holder.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I want to work within New York City government on racial equity and inclusion, with a focus on assisting marginalized communities and other issues that disproportionately affect people of color. I also want to run for office.