Sam Houston State University graduates have made remarkable strides in their lives to reach commencement day. Here are a few examples of Bearkats graduates, who have demonstrated a “can-do” spirit through challenges and service, and remind us of the many ways Sam Houston State is preparing students for meaningful lives of achievement.
Hagui Fernando Cardona Sanchez came to the United States with his family at the age of 14 in pursuit of a better life that would ultimately lead him to SHSU. But starting out, he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
U.S. Army veteran and mother of seven, Ashley Ford is an expert at overcoming hardships. The obstacles in her path never stopped her from finishing school and showing her family and friends that anything is possible.
Sam Houston State University history major, Joshua Rachita, enjoys helping preserve American history. Rachita worked at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum for almost four years, where he gives historical demonstrations as a blacksmith.
When Deirdre Holloway isn’t helping others pursue their educational dreams, she works on continuing hers. While earning her doctoral degree she has also served as director of student affairs in Fort Bend ISD, where she still works today.
Justina Benson graduated from high school in Nigeria at age 15 before moving to the US to join her family, who had previously left. Starting over in a new country while also beginning college was intimidating.
A first-generation student, Brandon Fierro was raised by a single mom in Carlsbad, New Mexico. With the help of his mother, Fierro decided what to study and what other passions to follow.
Studying abroad can be tricky due to the language barrier. When Y Luong joined the Sam Houston State University community as an international student from Vietnam, hardships during the pandemic made her experience even more challenging. With support from the campus community, she was able to still pursue her academic and career dreams.
An accounting graduate student at Sam Houston State University, Annette Gutierrez plans to give back to the community that gave so much to her when she needed it. After graduating this semester, Gutierrez will begin her career in Houston, Texas as an audit staff at Ernst & Young.
Destiny Burton was able to find herself and the type of teacher she wants to be within the different organizations she participated in at SHSU. Burton was the president of College of Education Ambassador, co-president of Texas Association of Future Educators, member of Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society, TRiO SSS, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, and Truth College Ministry.
Originally from Belize, Courtney Paulson’s dedication to her education at Sam Houston State University and the United States Army is evident in her work ethic. Paulson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in political science.
Courtney Malecek didn’t anticipate being a college student and a new mother at the same time. She also didn’t expect to experience such tremendous grief. During that time, she found comfort knowing she wasn’t alone. Within her campus community she met others dealing with loss, hardship and stress.
Mother to a second-grader, graduate student and full-time staff member are all titles that describe Sam Houston State University’s Anne Weathersby. Weathersby will graduate with a master’s in clinical mental health counseling, and she plans to continue working as assistant to the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
A criminal justice major at SHSU, Jessica Smotherman has closed a chapter of life that took her over 10 years to write. Despite the struggles, she has earned a bachelor’s degree and dedicated it to her mother.
Learning the ropes of college can be tricky for any student, but when Jeannine Ramirez’s life was suddenly interrupted by fears of presumed deportation, it took her stress to a new level. Despite the challenges of uncertainty, she continued on her educational path in pursuing her dream of a career in accounting.
For Tiffany Taylor-Jordan, being a Bearkat graduate has become a family tradition, even if the journey was not a traditional route. Taylor-Jordan, who is graduating this fall with a bachelor’s degree in education, decided to finish her degree 20 years after she started.
Carlos Zimmerman has seen plenty of victories celebrated as a play-by-play announcer for 90.5 KSHU radio in Huntsville. This fall, Zimmerman celebrates a victory of his own by crossing the stage at commencement with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Sam Houston State University.
Carson Gordon, a third generation Sam Houston State University student, will be continuing her education after graduation by pursuing an MBA at SHSU. Her Bearkat family legacy begins with her grandfather who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree at SHSU. The trend continued as Gordon’s father and mother met here. After her father graduated, he served in the Army for 26 years, carrying Bearkat pride to Afghanistan with an SHSU flag.
A bilingual health care studies major at Sam Houston State University, Vasty Nazario plans to continue helping bridge the language barrier gap, specifically when it comes to medical information and care. Upon graduation this month, Nazario will begin her career as a qualified mental health professional with Marvelous Counseling & Therapy, PLLC in Houston, where she began as a receptionist three years ago.
Mikah Boyd’s passion for journalism led her to Sam Houston State University’s mass communications department as a transfer student. Once she arrived at SHSU, she soon found her sense of belonging, a strong support system, and things began to improve.
Emily McMillen will be using her degree in Human Resource Management with an HR consulting firm, Achilles Group, after graduation. In her new role, she is hoping to improve the lives of employees by working with businesses on bettering employee accommodations.
As a first-generation student from Lagos, Nigeria, adjusting to college life wasn’t easy for Kismot Kamal. Although finance and transportation difficulties made it hard while working several jobs, that didn’t stop her from fulling her dream of earning a degree in healthcare administration from Sam Houston State University.
“My biggest supporter has definitely been my husband. He was there with me going through the same experiences as a college student, and we encouraged each other not to give up.”
“The School of Music, The College of Education, and Sam Houston State as a whole, have helped me accomplish the soul, the musician, the student, and the educator that I was meant to be.”
After completing 47 hours of core curriculum through Brazosport College, Gaona continued his educational journey at SHSU in 2019 and just two years later, he is happy to be graduating. While his studies at SHSU may have been brief, he certainly made an impact with the campus community, recently earning the ‘Outstanding Freshman Leader’ Sammy Award.
“Coming all the way from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I was happy to find a family in the School of Music here at Sam. I will never forget the connections and memories I've made here with the incredible faculty and students.”
As a first-generation student starting out a SHSU, Jonathan Owens was faced with the many challenges of navigating through a brand-new world with little experience. Despite the struggles, he found the support he needed and the spirit of perseverance to pull-through and earn a degree.
“Service toward the wellbeing of others is not a switch that can be turned on or off. It is something one must choose to embrace. It is during disastrous times and experiences such as these, that the meaning of, "The measure of a Life is its Service" is truly understood.”
“I was very impressed by the representation and diversity of the faculty in the Counselor Education program. This was instrumental in my decision to apply and attend the graduate program. It was the first time that I was taught and, ultimately, mentored by professors who shared my ethnic and cultural background, and who understood the intricacies of being bilingual and providing services in languages other than English.”
“Learning more about myself has really helped me understand my work ethic and transformation from a kid with ideas, but was too self-conscious and insecure, to someone who speaks up as a leader.”
“My mother taught me that the adversity can bring perspective, and my grandmother showed me the strength found in humility. After I graduate, I hope to live a life that is worthy of their sacrifices.”
Jordan Johnson has been the Sam Houston State University student body president since May 2020. During her time at SHSU, she was also a part of the Orange Pride, served as co-executive director of the Center for Diversity & Intercultural Affairs, was the 2020 Miss Piney Woods Pageant winner, and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and Alpha Kappa Psi.
Katie Willard currently serves as an inventory specialist with SHSU Facilities Management. She is the recipient of the Wood Matthews Scholarship Fund, the Loretta J Hankins Endowed Scholarship, the John C. and Wilma McAdams Memorial Scholarship, the Joe M. MacKenzie Scholarship, and the Jim Stevens Information Technology Scholarship.