Commencement sets students on remarkable career paths

graduates attend a commencement ceremony

When she walks across the stage at commencement, Paula Paez ’22 will realize a future that began thousands of miles away in Colombia. 

Paez will earn a degree in international relations with plans to attend law school for international or immigration law. The decision was shaped by her own experience moving to the United States as an immigrant.

“It was really hard, so when I got here and I experienced that, I decided that I want to help my community to make this process better, to make the law better when it comes to immigrants who want to come here and make better lives,” Paez said.

She will earn one of the nearly 2,000 degrees University of the Pacific will be awarding in ceremonies held in May and June at its three campuses.

Paez’s journey began in her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia where she worked at a call center to save money for her move to California. She attended San Joaquin Delta College for two years before transferring to Pacific, where she has excelled as a member of Pacific’s national champion speech and debate team.

“Being part of the speech and debate team has been the best experience, not only academically, but socially and emotionally,” Paez said. “I found my best friends there and I was able to obtain communication skills that will eventually help me with my goal of practicing law.”

Paez and her younger brother Diego Paez ’22, who also attends Pacific, will be the first in their family to graduate college.  

Music therapy major Cristina O’Brien ’22, who also graduates this month, took her own unique path to Pacific. Initially awarded a full scholarship for trumpet performance to University of Michigan, she soon realized her passion helping others and joined the Air Force to be part of a medical squadron.

“From there, I joined a music therapy program for some post-traumatic stress that I was experiencing,” O’Brien said. “I asked my music therapist, ‘Is this a job? Do you get paid to do this?’ And he told me ‘absolutely.’”

Her music therapist in Texas recommended Pacific and she enrolled in the Conservatory soon after. “I can't say enough great things about being here,” she said. “Since day one, the staff and everyone I've been in contact with have been so genuine and authentic. I think that's the difference with Pacific—it’s a close family environment.” 

After her own experience healing through music therapy, she looks forward to making a difference for others.

“I would love to start my own private practice serving veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related disorders,” she said.

Commencement events begin Friday, May 13 with the Faith Davies All-university Leadership Awards, Interfaith Baccalaureate Service and All-university commencement reception.

The traditional “Last Lecture” shared during the baccalaureate service in Morris Chapel will be given by Pacific’s longest tenured professor Gene Pearson, who is retiring after 51 years of teaching.

On Saturday, the campus community will gather on the idyllic Knoles Lawn for the all-university commencement with degree conferral by President Christopher Callahan and the Board of Regents. 

An honorary doctorate will be awarded to alumnus Pete Carroll ’73, ’78, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.  An exemplary role model for students, Carroll is known for his inclusive leadership style and is a leading voice on racial and social justice issues.

“I’m thrilled that the campus community will be celebrating together to honor our amazing students,” said President Christopher Callahan. “Pacific’s rigorous academics, experiential learning and vast social opportunities have positioned these graduating students for great success. I look forward to hearing all the ways they have made an impact in the world in the years to come.”

Schools and colleges on the Stockton Campus will have their diploma and hooding ceremonies after the all-university ceremony. Colleges based on the Sacramento and San Francisco campuses have ceremonies scheduled throughout May and June.

•    Saturday, May 21 at 10 a.m.: School of Health Sciences, A.G. Spanos Center, Stockton
•    Saturday, May 28 at 2 p.m.: McGeorge School of Law, Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento
•    Sunday, June 19 at 2 p.m.: Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco

This commencement will be the first for one of Pacific’s newest areas of study in the School of Health Sciences—Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition. The graduate program is the first in California to follow the Future Education Model, which integrates coursework with supervised experiential learning.

“Usually you do them separately, but with Pacific it was intertwined,” explained Abby Burnell ’22, a clinical nutrition graduate. “We went back and forth between classes and going out into practice. It allowed us to ask our professors a lot of questions and get more clarification.” 

Burnell was the first student in Pacific’s program to pass the registration exam and officially become a registered dietitian/nutritionist.

After completing the program in December, she quickly landed a job at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital “I'm almost at my three-month mark, and I feel like the Pacific program really prepared me well,” Burnell said.

After graduating, O’Brien is looking forward to making her mark in musical therapy.

“It is definitely bittersweet,” she said. “I’m fond of my time here, but I'm excited to get out in the world and pursue the thing I've been wanting to do.” 

The full schedule of commencement events can be found here