A weekend in the sun for UCSC's Class of 2012

A proud graduate student strolls across the field, carrying his son in his arms. (Photo by Carolyn Lagatutta)
A crowd of graduating Slugs gets ready to accept their degrees. (Photo by Carolyn Lagatutta)
Jesus Diaz, 29, and Danyale Bell, 22, are headed for full-time teaching jobs after earning their teacher's credentials and master's degrees in education. (Photo by Carolyn Lagatutta)
UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal, Cowell College Provost Faye Crosby, and author Jonathan Franzen during Saturday's commencement festivities. (Photo by Lisa Nielsen)
A graduating Cowell College senior shows off his personal style. (Photo by Lisa Nielsen)

Nathan Habib, Class of 2012, had some sound advice for his fellow students during his Cowell College commencement speech on Saturday:

“Don’t look at your smart phones more than you look at other people’s faces,” said Habib, who is pursuing a career in stand-up comedy. “Also, remember, stop downloading updated versions of Angry Birds and take a friend bird-watching.”

Habib’s speech fit right into the weekend’s graduation ceremonies, with their emphasis on individuality and interpersonal relationships.

During this bustling weekend, when more than 2,500 undergraduates and about 300 graduate students received degrees and celebrated their achievements, Slugs were eager to show off their personal style and their quirky energy. View this slideshow for some of the highlights.

Cowell College’s commencement received an unusual amount of outside interest when word got out that celebrated author Jonathan Franzen would deliver the keynote address. Franzen, introduced as “a Fellow of Cowell College," spoke about individuality in the days of high technology.

Some students tricked out their commencement attire with slug antenna, and at least one student kicked off her shoes and danced the Watusi as a pre-recorded version of “Pomp and Circumstance” played over the loudspeaker. One undergraduate walked across the field while wearing a costume that looked like a space exploration suit.

Festivities kicked off Friday afternoon with the graduate division.  Some grads seemed eager to let loose. They certainly earned this feeling. Ph.D. candidates completed a dizzying variety of projects, from a detailed study of climate change in the Boreal Forest to an analysis of Midwestern bio-fuel production and a psychological study regarding the effects of action on perception and memory.

For some advanced-degree candidates,  Friday’s day in the sun was the end of a long and laborious process.

Shirley Truong, 33, who earned her Ph.D. in social psychology, said she spent seven years working toward this goal. Truong’s research focused on issues relating to poverty and homelessness in the United States.

Along the way, “I was motivated by all the injustice we have in the nation and in the world,” she said. “I wanted to be able to contribute to the solution.”

Social consciousness also motivated another graduate student, Danyale Bell, 22, who earned her teacher's credential and master’s degree in education. At first she found graduate school “a little overwhelming,” Bell said. But she became much more confident as the program progressed. Soon, Bell will begin a new job as a math teacher at a San Jose middle school.

Jesus Diaz, 29, who also earned his master’s in education, and helped mentor Bell during her time at UCSC, said he noticed “a much greater sense of maturity” in himself during the program.

During his time at UCSC, he was motivated by a desire to help society. “I noticed a need for good math teachers,” Diaz said. “I wanted students to appreciate math as more than just a computational subject.”

Soon, Diaz will teach math at San Benito High School in Hollister.

Throughout the weekend of undergraduate ceremonies, participants did their best to add creative and lighthearted touches to the proceedings, ranging from Snickers bars handed out to econ graduates to Habib's combination of stand-up comedy sprinkled with inspirational advice.

Among his ideas: don’t waste too much of the day by sleeping in, and don’t become so reliant on technology that you miss out on what is right in front of you.

The roster of other speakers included Elisabeth Cameron, UCSC associate professor, history of art & visual culture, and Edward Warburton, UCSC associate professor theater arts, who spoke at Porter College; Ryan Coonerty, Santa Cruz City Councilmember and former mayor, at College Eight; Ron Glass, UCSC associate professor of education, at Oakes, and Kawami Evans, academic coordinator at UC Davis, who spoke at Kresge.