The University of South Florida (USF) awarded more than 7,100 degrees during spring commencement May 5-7. The ceremonies included recipients of 5,430 bachelor’s, 1,492 master’s, 221 doctoral degrees and eight specialist degrees. The College of Arts and Sciences accounted for over 2,000 of the total degrees awarded.
Now, having recently walked the stage and moved their tassels, many students are reflecting on their experience and looking ahead to their future careers and goals.
Learn about some of the outstanding students who just graduated and what they hope to achieve in the coming years:
King O’Neal Scholar Delaney Roque, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a degree in history, comes from a long line of relatives who attended USF. Having grown up in the Tampa Bay area, they were very familiar with the campus and programs offered.
“I've made a lot of really personal connections with professors both on the St. Pete and Tampa campus,” Roque said. “They have been nothing but helpful and have served as amazing mentors toward my future career aspirations.”
Roque, who has loved history since high school, has worked in museums and libraries, where they always had access to books and documentation related to local and regional history. But where Roque fully immersed themselves in Florida history was during their work on a project related to unmarked graves at Lincoln Cemetery, a historical Black cemetery in St. Petersburg, Fla.
By examining historical death records from local funeral homes, Roque uncovered hundreds of individuals who are likely buried on the cemetery grounds in unmarked graves, but not listed in the official burial index. According to their research, these were likely people of lesser means who were omitted from record keeping.
Roque’s work in this area was recently awarded the Florida Historical Society’s prize for best undergraduate paper on Florida history.
To bring greater attention to Lincoln Cemetery and resources for historical Black cemeteries, Roque is spearheading conversations with local community members and anthropologists regarding the status of unmarked graves in the hope of designating a city-wide landmark for the cemetery.
Roque hopes to pursue a master's in library and information science and continue her work with libraries.
“I have a passion for programming, which is what public libraries usually emphasize,” Roque said. “But I also think I would like to go into an academic library or archival setting.”
Another recent graduate, Tasnim Rahman, completed her master’s in women’s and gender studies with a focus on international aid. She credits her childhood home of Dhaka, Bangladesh with influencing her decision to pursue a degree that would further social and cultural inclusion.
She shared that from a young age, she felt a strong pull toward social issues, particularly those centered around gender equality and social inclusion.
“These passions led me to a rewarding career in the international aid industry where I had the privilege of leading several important projects on gender, disability inclusion, and safeguarding,” Rahman said.
Describing her student experience at USF as “transformative and enriching,” Rahman knew she had found a home in the program.
“From collaborating with peers from different cultures to engaging with professors renowned in their fields, every moment was a step towards growth,” she said. “The program's comprehensive approach, coupled with a strong emphasis on social inclusion and gender, further fueled my passion for the field.”
She noted that her proudest achievement is graduating Summa Cum Laude.
“This achievement underscored my dedication to academia and its intersection with my passion for social justice,” Rahman said. “It's a testament to how this degree has shaped my worldview and enhanced my problem-solving skills in dealing with real-world issues.”
“Looking ahead, I envision myself continuing my journey in the international aid sector, employing my acquired skills and knowledge from USF to make tangible impacts.”
Rahman said she wants to lead significant initiatives aimed at ensuring gender mainstreaming and disability inclusivity in development projects.
“My goal is to use solid, research-based evidence to shape policies and promote social inclusion, not just in Bangladesh, but around the world.”
Neha Sohoni originally came to USF as a communications major, but her heart was always steering her elsewhere. During what she called “an educational crisis” and in the midst of COVID-19, Sohoni switched majors several times before landing in a political science class that reignited her love for history and intellectual dialogue.
“The courses weren't easy, but they were enriching, and they were all very Socratic,” Sohoni said. “So, the teachers would always want you to talk, or they would want you to ask questions, which is what I was looking for in those classes.”
Now, she is headed to the University of Pennsylvania on a Dean’s Scholarship, which will pay two-thirds of her tuition, to pursue a law degree.
“[The University of Pennsylvania] prides itself on a collegial environment,” Sohoni said of their decision to attend. “You'll hear that word a lot if you look at Penn Law, but they mean it because what they're trying to do is accept applicants that they think will be collaborative and contribute to discussions from varying viewpoints.”
Sohoni said she hopes to use her degree to pursue entertainment law.
“There's a huge field of intellectual property, copyright, and licensing in music, TV, and film,” she explained. “So that's my ten-year goal; to work in-house at one of these big media production companies.”
Sohoni also hopes to provide pro-bono services for those individuals who have been falsely accused or who are simply victims of circumstances out of their control.
For graduate Melanie Escue, it was a lifelong love of learning instilled by her grandmother that encouraged her to pursue her doctorate degree at USF. Now, having earned her PhD in sociology, she hopes to use her degree and experience to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged populations.
“USF has offered me countless opportunities to get involved in service— my true passion,” Escue shared. “Notably, my involvement with UndocUnited, the on-campus organization for immigrant students and allies, and UndocuALLY, a training program that raises awareness of undocumented student populations and how to be an ally, has further ignited my passion for working with and investing in immigrant communities.”
She added that her interactions with mentors and other faculty had a major impact on her time at USF.
“My student experience has been enriched by mentors who have invested in me and believed in my work, especially my doctoral advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Aranda,” Escue said. “These experiences at USF have provided me the space to become who I am today—a im/migrant scholar and social justice warrior.”
Escue also shared that her experience in the sociology PhD program allowed her plenty of opportunities for self-reflection and personal growth.
“My doctoral journey was filled with moments that challenged me, inspired me, and excited me,” Escue said. “Perhaps most eye-opening, were the moments I reflected on my own position as a student, a scholar, and as a member of society. The program allowed me room to reflect on my own identity and to grow into a service-oriented scholar aware of my own privilege. Through my self-discovery, I was led to a place where I felt able to engage in meaningful work that both advanced im/migration scholarship and also invested back into immigrant communities.”
Escue will begin her tenure track position at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in Fall 2023, where she plans to expand her research agenda by learning about the experiences and needs of migrant farmworkers and their families living in North Carolina.
“I [also] hope to develop a center that serves impoverished communities in North Carolina, with a specific focus on building a pathway to college for im/migrant young adults.”
Like some others, graduate Jailynn Youmas came to USF ready to be a leader and find ways to help others. Hailing from St. Augustine, Fla., Youmas majored in cell and molecular biology and double minored in public service and leadership, and sociology.
Youmas chose USF because she had the desire to be well-prepared for medical school, but when she arrived on campus, she also found other opportunities to serve her fellow students during the COVID-19 pandemic by fostering conversations about mental health.
“I have spent my collegiate career expanding my philanthropic platform—‘Unmasking the Silent Pandemic: Mental Health’—and serving as a health equity advocate in the Dominican Republic,” Youmas said.
She also represents USF as Miss University of South Florida and has worked to expand the role to include more philanthropic leadership.
“I took the initiative to develop the leadership role of Miss University of South Florida,” she continued. “I met with the leadership for the Center of Student Involvement and Engagement and developed strong connections within the community for my role to represent the university at the local and state level.”
She cites the COVID-19 pandemic as one factor in the increase in depression, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness, but is hopeful her philanthropic platform and opportunity to speak to audiences on- and off-campus will help people better navigate these struggles.
“I am on a mission to erase the negative stigma attached to mental health, increase the conversations of mental health, and provide life lessons on how to maintain mental wellness,” she said.
Youmas hopes to one day return to her family’s hometown of Hastings, Fla. to open a medical facility.
“It is a rural area that has a major underserved population,” she said. “My goal is to become a physician that provides quality health care for all people, no matter age or socioeconomic background.”