by Alexandra DeMarco
On Tuesday afternoon, the Center for Global Engagement hosted the 2022 International Graduation Reception in recognition of international students graduating during the spring 2022 and summer 2022 semesters.
Many of the international undergraduate and graduate students graduating from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville this semester walked in the ceremony, held in the Student Union Ballroom. This semester the international graduating students hailed from 39 different countries in total. At the ceremony, flags arranged in a semi-circle around the ballroom’s stage represented the nationalities for all those in attendance.
Amber Williams, vice provost for Student Success, started the ceremony with an energetic welcoming speech centered around three pieces of advice for a successful future: pursuing one’s dreams, fighting fear and leading life through love and humanity.
“As you move into this next chapter, you can be happy by pursuing your dreams, fighting fear, leading life though love and humanity, and finally, every day when you wake up in the mornings and you look at yourself in the mirror, if you aren’t happy with what you see, clean it, re-imagine it, wipe it down,” Williams said. “You are in control of your future. This is your story, and as I mentioned earlier, your story matters.”
Williams stressed to students the importance of persevering through obstacles to follow one’s dreams, whatever they might be.
“Dreams don’t always have to be about cash,” Williams said. “They don’t have to be about the house you have. Dreams can, remember, be about the people you’re with, the people you engage with, how did you make someone feel when you leave.”
“I hope when you leave UT that you will think fondly of your experiences here. … We are honored that you allowed us to help you edit these pages of your life,” Williams said.
The students then crossed the stage, received medallions and were recognized by Dixie Thompson, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School.
In addition to representing dozens of countries, the graduating students also represented numerous different academic fields. International student Peibo Li moved to the U.S. in high school as an exchange student from China and decided to study at UT after his host family encouraged him to explore opportunities for college in the United States. Now, he’s graduating with degrees in neuroscience and political science.
During his time at UT, Li has been quite engaged on campus. He conducted microbiology research with Associate Professor Karen Lloyd and wrote a thesis on Chinese free trade policy through the Baker Scholars program. Outside of the classroom, Li trained to become a Master Scuba diver, spent two years on UT’s equestrian team and spent one year on the fencing team.
Li advises other international students to step out of their comfort zones when exploring what UT has to offer.
“Don’t be shy,” Li said. “Try to go ahead and say hi to everybody, try to meet new people as much as possible. Just go expand your network, get to know people, hangout with others. It’s always nice to hear some other perspective. … Get out of your comfort zone. Try new things.”
Li is now headed to Goldman Sachs to work as an analyst on Wall Street.
Another international student, Daniela Rivarola, is graduating with her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology and moving to Denver, Colorado, to work at her dream job as an assistant professor at Regis University.
Rivarola, who has an undergraduate degree in biology, moved to Tennessee from Argentina to work with Daniel Simberloff, renowned ecologist and Gore Hunger Professor of Environmental Science at UT.
“It was great to have an opportunity to work with him, so he was the reason why I came here,” Rivarola said.
At UT, Rivarola became involved with the local Latin American community and has been grateful for the support she has from friends at UT — especially during the pandemic.
“It’s very important to have a support net around you, and it’s hard to be far from home, and there are many cultural shocks or things that are different,” Rivarola said. “So having a network of people around, it’s very important.”
Undergraduate international student Eleni Golloshi will be staying in Knoxville and working full-time after graduating this spring with her degree in biomedical engineering.
Golloshi moved to Knoxville from Albania to join her sister, who was working on a PhD at UT at the time. She’s been involved with RUF International, the Biomedical Engineering Society, Undergraduate Research and more during her years as a Volunteer.
“I’ve met people from all over the world (at UT), and I love exploring other cultures and traveling. … Also, it’s amazing how nice and helpful people have been to me in the past few years,” Golloshi said.
Golloshi encourages other international students to also have fun and make friends while working on their degrees.
“Just enjoy life. Go out,” Golloshi said. “You can do it, you can still go out and have fun and still be successful in your degree.”
The ceremony closed with a similar message from Rachel Rui, director of CGE’s Office of Communications and the Office of Asia Engagement.
Like Williams, Rui had three main points for the students: savor their moment of accomplishment, remember where they’re from and appreciate the connections they’ve made at UT. She stressed the importance of taking a break, amidst the rush of academic life, to relax and appreciate the feat of graduation.
“Take care of yourself. Love yourself, and do make sure that you savor this moment,” Rui said.
Rui recalled the day she arrived in Tennessee as an international PhD student from China, stepping off the plane with luggage in tow and her career dreams in sight.
“Remember where you’re from,” Rui said. “Remember those important moments that are life-changing, and that will bring back, help you to memorize all the dreams.”
Soon, this year’s graduating international students will be getting two postcards in the mail from CGE — one with a message from a UT alum, and one blank postcard, already addressed to the Center for Global Engagement.
Students are encouraged to take the blank postcard with them to wherever they find themselves next and mail it back to CGE. This way, they’ll remain Vols for Life as they enter the next stage of their journeys, wherever they may be.
Jason Moody (865-974-5752, firstname.lastname@example.org)