Eclectic group of graduate students celebrates achievement at East Field

An eclectic group of UCSC graduate students – including nearly 400 master’s degree candidates, and 231 doctoral candidates -- were awarded advanced degrees last week in a ceremony that honored determination and hard work.

Among the group were 100 students scheduled to complete the UCSC education master’s program by late summer.

The students wore the customary robes, but they also accessorized; some wore leis assembled from fresh flower petals, one degree candidate walked barefoot, and two parents – both on the verge of graduating from the History of Consciousness program – carried their baby with them. Some degree candidates wore battered sneakers for comfort. Others teetered on high heels, or walked across the field in thick boots.

Students from various disciplines, and many fields of interest, stood together and mingled. Outside the East Field House, biologists, robotics experts, budding teachers and philosophers shared the same space.

Kaija Mortensen stood in the shade as she waited for the procession to begin. Mortensen took seven years to earn her Ph.D. in philosophy. During that time, she became interested in contemporary debates about the role of intuition in philosophical arguments.

“I didn’t know I was interested in this subject until I took a seminar with (philosophy professor Paul Roth,” Mortensen said. “He’s my advisor. He’ll be hooding me today.”

She is referring to a traditional ceremony in which an advisor places a “doctoral hood” on the head of a successful Ph.D. candidate.

Soon she will head to North Carolina, where she will be an assistant professor of philosophy at Davidson College, a small liberal arts college.

Nearby, Anna Zivian waited to receive her Ph.D. in environmental studies. It took her 7 ½ years to earn the degree. The subject of her dissertation is “Subnational Government Regulation of Genetically Modified Organisms in the United States and the European Union.”

Before entering UCSC as a grad student, she held two important leadership positions in Colorado. Zivian served on the town council in Telluride, and also served as a commissioner in San Miguel County. Her public service influenced her choice of topic at UCSC.

“I was interested in the role of local government in making policy,” said Zivian, who is now working for the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.

I am also food-obsessed, and concerned about genetically modified organisms.”  Her doctoral work was a way to tie these fields of interest together.

Her time at UCSC helped shape her goals for the Ph.D. program. “What kind of information do you need to make the best decisions about environmental issues, especially when emerging technologies are coming into play and you don’t know all of the risks?” she said.

Alexander Gonzalez, president of Sacramento State University, and a UCSC alumnus, reflected on the graduate students’ long-term commitment during his keynote address at the ceremony. Such a long-termed sustained focus on complex problems is especially important “in an age when communication and attention spans come and go at electron speeds.”

Gonzalez said this made their achievement all the more impressive.

“Graduates, today you join the less than 8 percent of adults in the United States who have master’s degrees, and the less than 3 percent who have doctorates. More than ever before, people are going to look to you for answers to the world’s most complex problems.”

“Because you have succeeded in the education process,” he continued, “you are equipped to handle choices and challenges you may not yet be able to imagine. And trust me when I say that life is certain to give you that chance.”