UCF Alumnus Memorializes Pulse Tragedy Through Art

Last month, UCF art grad Forrest Lawson ’18 bested more than 400 artists for top honors and a $50,000 award at a regional competition for his piece 6/12/2016, a sculpture he created to memorialize the Pulse tragedy, honor its victims and communicate the emotions and responses the shooting awakened across communities.

Born and raised in a small town in between Naples and Sarasota, Punta Gorda (“we call it the In Between because there really is nothing going on there”), Lawson somewhat explored his creativity growing up, but hadn’t really thought of it as a future career path.

“I was always drawing very macabre things, because I was a gay teen in the closet,” Lawson says. “But I never really explored it until I got to college because back then it was like I had to become a dentist or a doctor.”

Lawson, who met his now-husband during their sophomore year of high school, was bullied growing up for being gay long before he even came out. Because of this, he and his husband dated secretly for a few years until officially making their relationship public following graduation.

“It was more of a survival thing; I was just denying it because I didn’t want to have to confront other people or myself,” Lawson says.

After high school graduation, Lawson attended Florida Gulf Coast University, before transferring to Valencia College to major in architecture. But once he realized he was having more fun building actual models, he took advantage of the DirectConnect to UCF program and switched to majoring in art by the time he arrived at UCF in 2014.

“Coming to UCF was a great experience for my work and growth,” Lawson says. “I just never really felt the sense of community that I feel in Orlando anywhere else. For me, UCF was the right choice.”

The decision Lawson made to switch from architecture to art was in large part due to the joy he found in the creation of tangible objects.

“I think I have control issues, even still, because so much of my life and coming out felt out of control,” Lawson says. “So I think for me, having that control over tangible clay and making sculptures, it makes me feel a little more stable.”

During his years at UCF, Lawson was able to implement a community aspect to his work by doing more outreach-driven projects, taking his initial vision and allowing others to participate in its execution.

Shortly after the Pulse tragedy  in Orlando on June 12, 2016, Lawson and several of his friends came across an article that said a long-standing FDA ban had been lifted. The ban in question specifies, “Men who have had sex with other men (MSM), at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.” When Lawson showed up to donate, however, it became clear that the article was false — the ban was still very much in place.

“We had literally just been gunned down in what we kind of equated to a church for us,” Lawson says. “We had been told at that point we were worthless because somebody wanted us dead. And so, we wanted to help. We wanted to donate blood and help our brothers and sisters. But we couldn’t. It was a slap in the face, just, ‘no, you’re still worthless, don’t bring that here.’ It was a kick when we were down.”

“Thirty people participated after being asked to donate blood and answer questions required by the FDA during the initial screening process. The project began first as an attempt to spread feelings of alienation and rejection felt among gay males towards their straight counterparts, but the process only ended up highlighting the discrimination and educating the participants of their inherent privilege.” -forrestlawson.com/gallery

Most of Lawson’s work is a response to his own anger. And being turned away from donating blood and doing all he could to help the victims of Pulse made him angry. So he got to work creating the sculpture Better Blood (seen right).

“Artists have a task, in society, to paint the revolution in a way that people can connect with,” Lawson says. “I want to use the platform that I have in whatever capacity that I have to communicate that ignorance and hatred are not acceptable.”

While creating Better Blood was a helpful experience for Lawson to express his frustration, he was still eager to create something that would memorialize the Pulse tragedy and honor the victims.

This motivation would eventually become 6/12/2016, which involves 49 cubes with the names of the victims hand-stamped and their dates of birth. The cubes also contain the two commonalities between each of the 49 victims – their death date and the wristband they were wearing the night of the shooting. Lawson posted a nationwide call for people to submit their response to the tragedy and each of the narratives selected are juxtaposed to a name and wristband.Putting together 6/12/2016 took Lawson about five months. He describes it as a long and emotionally exhausting process.

“It definitely made me confront a lot of feelings that I hadn’t yet,” Lawson says. “I had feelings of alienation and separation anxiety after the shooting. Pulse was actually the first club that I’d ever gone to. So it was strange, especially going there and seeing the pictures. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time where I’ll fully process it, but doing this at least did make me confront it.”

This past May, 6/12/12016 and Lawson headed to Lake City, South Carolina to compete in the ArtFields competition. ArtFields began in 2013 with a simple goal to honor the artists of the southeast with a week’s worth of celebration and competition. This year’s event involved 400 artists showing pieces over the course of eight days, culminating in 12 awards presented. Lawson recalls feeling relieved after the smaller-in-dollar-amount prizes had been awarded because he was nervous about having to get up onstage and give a speech. He hadn’t begun to fathom he’d be the recipient of the grand prize of $50,000.

“I whimpered and I cried in front of 400 people,” Lawson says while describing the surreal moment of his win.

For the most part Lawson has very responsible plans for his $50,000 reward – pay off student loans, help out with his upcoming move to the University of Georgia where he’ll soon be starting the MFA program– but he did cook a big meal for his friends and go out for his first filet mignon in six years.

Lawson knows that his success is due in large part to his willingness to push past doubters or those who may root against him by turning that negativity into something beautiful. His advice to up-and-coming artists is to do the same, even when that negativity may be on the inside.

“Research, read a lot, learn about galleries you should be in touch with. And stick with it,” he says. “It’s so cliche, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Don’t let your inner saboteur talk you out of being creative if that’s what you’re meant for.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week – Nov. 26, 2018

1. We’re not completely certain, but we have a feeling the word “bittersweet” was created to describe days like last Friday. As you likely know, McKenzie Milton went down in the second quarter of the game against USF this weekend. Knight Nation has since offered an outpouring of support for #10, and we at UCF Alumni send him our best and wish him a speedy recovery. As for our Knights on the field, they were emboldened to give it all they had and win over the Bulls 38-10. That win bumped us up to #7 in both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll.

We’re proud as ever for the ways our team rallied and showed the nation what we all already knew — to be a Knight is to be a part of a devoted family that supports each other, laughs together and keeps on charging on.

2. To show our support for McKenzie and just how grateful we are to be a part of his #10hana, Knights will be sporting leis this upcoming weekend for our American Athletic Conference Championship game against Memphis. If you’re in Orlando and want to show your solidarity for our team, join us for the Indoor Tailgate Dec. 1 at the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center at 12:30. If you can’t be in Orlando, find out details for Watch Parties here (and don’t forget to stock up on leis!).

3. If you’re looking for other ways to support Knight Nation this week, you’re in luck! Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, the worldwide day of charitable giving. You’ve eaten all the Thanksgiving turkey your stomach could hold, taken advantage of all the Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday deals your heart desired, and tomorrow is the day to exercise your generosity and give.

With 68,00 current students, there has never been a more important time to support your alma mater. We encourage you to check our post Five Things Knights Need to Know About Giving Tuesday at UCF to learn more about how you can be a part of all the undefeated athleticism, unmatched academia and unwavering momentum at UCF.

4. “I love baseball so much and that’s the only sport I wanted to get involved with. Back then, I didn’t think I would ever become a world champion, but the dream was to get there someday.” We get pretty excited when a UCF student’s dream becomes a UCF alum’s achievement! Kiyoshi Momose ’00MS, who is the sports and conditioning coach for the Boston Red Sox, can now add a check-mark next to the bucket list item of winning the World Series in Dodger Stadium. We’re proud to call you a part of the #UCFamily, Kiyoshi! Read more here.

5. With Thanksgiving in our collective rear-view mirror, it’s officially not out-of-bounds to start prepping for December holidays and there’s no better way to do so than to pretend that Florida is colder than it really is and attend Light Up UCF! There’s ice-skating, light shows and even a Ferris Wheel. Get into the holiday spirit and be there.

Holiday Helpers

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 14, 2016) — The Knights Helping Knights Pantry found allies in the UCF Parent & Family Philanthropy Council and UCF College of Business Alumni Chapter this holiday season.

Related: Photo Gallery

Eight members of the parent council, which is newly formed this year, sorted professional clothing and packed 50 bags of roughly 270 pounds of food and supplies on Dec. 9. The bags of food are meant to help students get through winter break when the pantry is closed from Dec. 13 to Jan. 9.

“They’ve provided for at least 50 students, who are now going to be able to eat this holiday season. That’s what it comes down to,” Knights Pantry manager Jessica Roberts said. “I’m so glad we could work together. Knowing they didn’t just want to make a donation and have that be the end of it, but that they wanted to come in, work with the pantry, find out what we’re about, means a lot to me.”

The Knights Helping Knights Pantry has grown over the last seven years from a closet in the Student Union to its own mini market that provides food, clothes and toiletries to students in need. The bag-packing was the parent council’s first hands-on service project – one that applies to an issue not just at UCF, but nationwide.

In early December, CNN featured a new report that found 48 percent of more than 3,000 students surveyed from 34 colleges experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. At UCF, a study done by Dr. Amy Donley in the UCF Sociology Department showed that 23.2 percent of the 902 student respondents have experienced or are experiencing homelessness.

Parents like Monica Green spent an hour packing bags of food and supplies and also sorting through donated professional clothing from the College of Business Alumni Chapter. Green was compelled to get involved with the parent’s council because she felt a duty to find a way to support the university that was a second home for her two children.

“You have to give back to the community,” Green said. “This was a great opportunity to help, but my heart breaks for the kids. I’m glad that the university as a whole has recognized the need and is doing something, and we can help to meet that need.”

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The council’s idea to help the pantry was first formed in October when Hurricane Matthew shut down campus operations for 48 hours. Members of the council wondered how students were getting the resources they needed.

The university executed its emergency plan for Hurricane Matthew, but when the group learned of the pantry’s closure for the winter break, the parents wanted to find a way to help. Their efforts were bolstered by the College of Business Alumni Chapter, which contributed 250 pieces of clothing to stock the pantry’s professional wardrobe choices.

Marketing alumna Roslyn Antoniazzi ’08, who serves as vice chair of the College of Business Administration Alumni Board, said she was glad that she could rally together support from alumni to take care of current students.

“I was absolutely thrilled to see there is support for the students and that there’s an option to not have to choose between buying that book or something to wear for an interview,” she said. “It’s helping to drive the university’s mission to set up students for success post-graduation.”

Students can pick up bags from the Student Care Services office until Dec. 22, and again starting Jan. 3.

How You Can Help
The pantry hopes to revolutionize its day-to-day operation by purchasing a commercial refrigerator. Thanks to donations already generously given and a matching gift pledge by Publix, the Pantry is $1,000 shy of its fundraising goal. Help make a difference, Give Today.

Olympic Knights: Bronze or Bust

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UCF alumna Aline Reis (center, black jersey) has a chance at the bronze medal on Aug. 19.

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 18, 2016) – A chance at a bronze medal is on the line for one Knight at the Summer Olympics.

UCF alumna Aline Reis ’11 and her native Brazil will face Canada in Friday’s bronze-medal soccer match at noon. WATCH

If Brazil wins, Reis will join an elite group of UCF alumni who have stood on the podium at the Summer Olympics. Michelle Akers ’89 won gold with Team USA’s 1996 soccer team, and Phil Dalhausser ’02 brought home gold from the 2008 Beijing Games in beach volleyball.

Dalhausser, a three-time Olympian, was also competing at this year in Rio but unfortunately exited the games early with a loss to top-seeded Brazil on Monday’s quarterfinals. He thanked his fans, sponsors, family and friends via Instagram for the support he received. Dalhausser thanks

Reis, who earned her degree in interdisciplinary studies, was called up to Brazil’s National Team Camp in February with no guarantees of a spot on the Olympic roster. She secured a role as the reserve goalkeeper on the 18-member roster.

Her shining moment occurred on Aug. 9 when she received a starting nod, played all 90 minutes in goal and came up with two great saves to earn a shutout in a 0-0 tie against South Africa.

She was featured in an Aug. 16 article by Sports Illustrated  after Brazil lost a heartbreaking match in penalty kicks to Sweden that — had they won — would have advanced them to Friday’s gold medal game.

“The coolest thing is it’s not only the typical soccer fan that’s supporting us,” Aline said in the story by Grant Wahl. “We have senior citizens, women of all ages watching us and sending us messages, wanting to take pictures with us. So I think that’s the biggest accomplishment we can have, even more important than a gold medal. We want to change the face of women’s soccer in Brazil. And if we can continue to do that through the media and the soccer that we’re playing on the field, that’s our biggest accomplishment.”

During her career at UCF, Reis earned All-American, all-region and all-conference honors and helped UCF win two conference championships. She was also recognized as a scholar All-American.

Lasting Impact

 

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Aug. 17, 2016

Christal Peterson was an All-American sprinter and conference champion for the UCF track and field team before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences (pre-clinical) in Summer 2015. She also served as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President. This fall, Peterson will start the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at UCF.

Peterson recently returned from a week-long service-learning trip to Panama with the UCF Athletics-based group Knights Without Borders. Since 2013, KWOB has aimed to provide cross-culture experiences in developing a sense of world unity. In addition to this trip, Peterson has also served on KWOB journeys to Costa Rica and Ireland. The group of 30 who traveled to Panama built a multi-purpose sports court with Courts for Kids in the town of Tucuecito in the province of Coclé.

Below is a first-hand account of the experience.

“Knights Without Borders is something I look forward to every summer because it is almost like a reset button on my life. For a whole week I am forced to have no communication to the outside world, and I am okay with that. I think sometimes you need an experience that makes you evaluate your life and your priorities, not taking anything or anyone for granted.

My connection to UCF is even more important now as an alumna than it was as an undergrad. UCF is on the rise, and it’s important to continue to contribute to its legacy. I was not the only post-grad former student-athlete on the trip, and I honestly believe that helped because we are all in the same boat right now; some of us are going straight to grad school while others are taking some time off to figure out if grad school is the right fit for them. So it was kind of cool to connect with them and realize that I was not alone in my feelings of closing an important chapter on my life (sports) and taking on a new one – in my case, being an adult and graduate assistant for the student-athlete welfare and development office.

crop workIn terms of the day-to-day work, we did not have a cement mixer, so all of our cement for the court needed to be made by hand, which I thought was absolutely crazy. But after the first batch, I realized that it was something that could be done. Since I’m so used to being a helping hand, I just assumed that I could help mix the cement. That was a big fat NO with every shovel I tried to put into the mix. I slowly realized my place in the system.

Inauguration day for the court was a beautiful thing. Seeing the people of Tucuecito come together as a community to see the finished product was simply amazing. What really stuck out to me the most was that the townspeople all prayed over the court, almost like they were christening it. They prayed that the court stays around for generations to come, and that it also brings the community together as one. Then they prayed for the hands that built the court. It was really an honor.IMG_7146

What I’ve learned on these trips is that you just appreciate the value of time because it is not promised for anybody. It is truly a blessing to be able to connect with people on a deeper level, beyond the basic information.

Our individual journeys are unique, and there are reasons for everything at the end of the day. I learned that my life is no longer my own anymore. It is to serve others, and I will continue to do that. I want to thank UCF for all the opportunities I have been granted. Never in my life did I think I would be traveling the world and helping people while doing it. I am extremely blessed to have participated on my third KWOB trip. The power of sports is such a universal language that can literally inspire and change the world. That’s why every day I live by the quote: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’”

-Christal Peterson ’15

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Burnett Honors College Alumna Wins “Jeopardy!”

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By Brittany Pigott, The Burnett Honors College

ORLANDO Fla. (Aug. 8, 2016) — On an average day, Latin and sports do not go together in the same sentence. Unless, perhaps, you’re a contestant on “Jeopardy!”

Luckily for UCF and The Burnett Honors College alumna Courtney Paulson, she is well educated in both.

Paulson ’11 won the July 29 airing of America’s favorite quiz show, “Jeopardy!” thanks to her successful guess on this final question: This Catholic university gets its name from the Latin words for “new” and “house” and was in the news in Spring 2016.

“I had taken Latin in high school, and the first school I thought of was Notre Dame, and knew the Latin word for new was nova by watching a taping of Jeopardy earlier that day, but I couldn’t think of a school that had nova at the end,” she said. “Until I remembered watching the last March Madness game when Villanova had won. I’m a huge sports fan.”

Paulson, originally from Minnesota, attended UCF as a National Merit Scholar. She graduated in 2011 with her Bachelor of Science in statistics while receiving recognition for completing both University Honors and Honors in the Major. Outside of Honors, Paulson was also a part of the math club, athletics tutoring program, physics society, astronomy club, Marching Knights and completed a college work experience internship with Lockheed Martin.

“Once I visited UCF I was sold and made my decision to attend the day we got home,” Paulson said. “It’s so hard to pick a highlight when you get to spend four years in Orlando, Florida, but I loved everything about UCF and was so sad to leave.”

She then decided to further her education after receiving a full ride into the business statistics Ph.D. program at the University of Southern California.

“I was able to bypass getting my master’s since I already had the research experience by completing a thesis through the Honors in the Major program,” Paulson explained.

She is currently enjoying a two-week break after completing eight years of continuous schooling before she moves to Maryland to start her professional career as both a researcher and professor in Statistical Regressions and Business Analytics at the University of Maryland.

“I grew up doing trivia leagues in high school and was also a part of the Honors College bowl team, so I always knew I wanted to be on ‘Jeopardy!’ I actually took the online test periodically and auditioned back in high school for their teen tournament,” Paulson said.

After nailing the timed online 50 question quiz, she was then invited to an in-person audition. The audition consisted of another quiz and a mock version of the game, as well as a personality interview. After passing the online quiz and feeling very confident in the face-to-face audition, she was put into the contestant pool where she could be called anytime within the next 18 months.

After going through the process a few times, she finally got the call to put her trivia skills to the test.

“I had no idea what to expect. You spend the day doing practice rounds and watching the other people compete. You basically have a whole day of free jeopardy trivia, answering daily double and final answer questions, where you get to stand up in front of the podium and ring the buzzer,” Paulson said. “It’s the ultimate nerd experience.”

Paulson’s episode was taped the last week of April and aired on July 29. Although there were many rigorous questions about U.S. Code, women authors, word origins, scary sounding animals, battleships, musicians and traveling Ireland, she came out as the champion with a total prize of $11,700.

Paulson returns to “Jeopardy!” on Sept. 12 when she will look to defend her title.

Want to be the next “Jeopardy!” contestant? Click here to start your journey. 

Olympic Knights: Dalhausser Dreams of Recapturing Gold

6-11-16 Phil Dalhausser celebrates vs Gibb Patterson quarterfinals
Photo courtesy of FIVB

 

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF alumnus Phil Dalhausser is back at it again for Team USA. The 2002 business graduate and beach volleyballer is set to compete in his third Summer Olympics this month as the Rio Games kick off Friday.

Dalhausser is one of three UCF alumni who will participate in the Olympics this year. He is striving for another gold medal (he was crowned champion at the 2008 Beijing Games) and is joined by Aline Reis ’11 (Brazil, soccer) and Ricardo Gouveia ’14 (Portugal, golf), who are making their first Olympic Games appearances.

Dalhausser was introduced to beach volleyball at Daytona Beach’s Mainland High School where his coach liked to have his team practice on the sand to give the squad an advantage in the indoor game. His fondness for the game grew at UCF where he played club indoor volleyball and found ways to get extra practice on sand.

“They had sand courts on campus and Orlando had a nice little volleyball community and almost every night those courts were packed. So I would be at the courts probably more often than when I was in class,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. “Any time I could get a game in, I’d be down there playing. I guess you could say I was obsessed with it.”

In his first Olympics appearance in 2008, he not only won gold but was also named Most Outstanding Player for beach competition. He was honored as USA Volleyball’s Beach Team of the Year in 2015 with his partner Nick Lucena. The teammates promoted the Road to Rio on NBC’s The Today Show in April.

In addition to his many career highlights, he is a Michelle Akers Award winner (2009), which is the university’s highest honor given to alumni who have brought international, positive attention to UCF through their accomplishments.

Dalhausser, 36, and a father of two, has publicly said he expects these Games to be his last, so he has his heart set on making them unforgettable.

“There’s never been a male player who’s won two gold medals on the beach side, so I’d like to be the first to do that. That’d be pretty sweet,” he told the Daytona Beach News Journal.

Beach volleyball is set to compete at Copacabana Beach from Aug. 6 until Aug. 18. Dalhausser’s first match is scheduled for Aug. 7 against Tunisia at 3:30 p.m. and will stream live on www.nbcolympics.com.

Second Time Around

Kim Hardiman

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — When Kim Hardiman first realized she needed to go back to school, she resisted. She already possessed bachelor’s and master’s degrees plus years of teaching experience on her resume.

Now with graduation day in sight and a second master’s degree under her belt, she views her decision to come to UCF as a blessing.

“As an older teacher, you think you know it all and you don’t,” she said. “The teachers here at UCF are the best I’ve ever had in my life. I value this master’s degree more than the first one I got.”

Hardiman was born in Hong Kong and was an orphan for the first five years of her life until a couple from New York adopted her. She said she was lucky that her parents wanted an older child.

“Most children in the orphanage, they end up working in the factories,” she said. “I was very blessed. Every adversity [I faced], there was a twist or a turn that something good happened over it.”

Her upbringing in New York introduced her to people from all cultures and backgrounds. As she got older and started traveling overseas to places like the Middle East, Thailand, South America and Europe, she grew to love those cultures even more.

“I just realized there is so much to learn. It’s not just from the textbook,” she said. “When you’re in another country and speaking to someone in another language, it comes alive.”

She studied art at Stony Brook University and earned her master’s in fine arts from Hunter College in the 1980s. She remained in New York, living as an artist and a dancer. She picked up traditional Chinese ribbon dancing to reconnect with her heritage.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed things for her. She used to ride the subway into the World Trade Center frequently and said she was supposed to perform a dance there the day of the attack. She didn’t feel well that morning and decided not to go.

The galleries that displayed her artwork shut down while the city began rebuilding. She felt she needed a change and eventually moved to Florida.

Her passion for interacting with the international community prompted her to return to school to pursue teaching. She completed her Teaching English as a Foreign Language graduate certificate at UCF in 2005 before spending the next decade at Embry Riddle Language Institute. She also served as Embry Riddle’s Asian Student Union advisor.

When teaching requirements changed, Hardiman needed to earn a second master’s degree if she wanted to continue her career. So she returned to UCF 11 years after earning her original certificate.

She juggled three classes a semester while also teaching two courses as a graduate assistant. Although she said it was a lot to handle, she excelled and was selected as the 2016 Sunshine State Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) of Florida Outstanding Educator Award.

“I value what I do with my education because now I can help other people. I want to ignite the passion [in them] to go back to school. Don’t ever say no to education,” she said. “That’s my message as an alumni. Take the risk. Try something new. Try a class you don’t know. Even work with teachers you hate because you learn the most from the teachers you had the hardest time with.”

Summer Graduate Makes It Count

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Consuelo Rodriguez ’16 and daughter Yuridia

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — Seven-year-old Yuridia Rodriguez sat next to her mother, Consuelo, and watched as her nickname Yuri was spelled out in gold stickers on a black graduation cap.

Her brother’s name, Alex, age 2, was placed down next.

“I just figured that since they’ve had to sacrifice also, I’m going to put my kids on here,” said Consuelo Rodriguez, an accounting graduate. “I’m going to put the Mexican and American flags. I’m going to put something UCF. A little bit of everything just to show what we’ve been through.”

Rodriguez, a resident of Lake County, started at UCF in 2005. When she had her daughter, she took time off but made it a priority to go back to school, even if it took her years to finish her degree.

She said she has taken one class a semester while still juggling a full-time job and taking care of her family. Rodriguez said there were times she was on campus until 3 a.m. studying or working on assignments and would then have to drive an hour home.

“I’ve been doing it more for them to show them that it’s possible and they can do it,” she said as she looked at Yuridia. “When they grow up and it’s their turn, they can see that I did it. They need to go above what I did.”

She hopes to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in accounting. Her parents, husband, children and three siblings will all be in attendance to watch her cross the stage at CFE Arena on graduation day.

“It just feels awesome. I thought it was never going to finish,” she said. “Our family doesn’t have a lot of graduates. It means a lot to everybody.”

Dog Days of Summer Graduation

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Amanda Overend ’16 and dog-in-training Ridley

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. — Amanda Overend takes pride in propagating what has become a life motto: “Help is a four-legged word.”

The Orlando native associates her college experience with volunteering – a passion she found five years ago.

Her most recent philanthropic endeavor has been helping raise puppies for Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs.

UCF is the first public university in Florida to have an agreement with the organization and allow dogs to be raised on campus. Overend has trained three dogs: Deacon, Asland and her current golden-lab mix, Ridley.

“It’s had a huge impact on me,” she said.

So much so that she included the dogs’ names on her cap and will have Ridley in the audience on graduation day along with her parents and best friend since middle school.

Overend said it took her 11 years to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology. In finding her way, she moved across the country and back, and changed degree paths several times from web design to biology to marketing and nursing before finally landing on psychology.

“When I switched to psychology, I fell in love once I found classes that I actually enjoyed,” she said. “UCF is home. My aunt went here, and I actually felt a part of the school of psychology.”

Although she calls it a long journey, she values her experience at UCF and encourages others to use their time in college to explore who they are and what is important to them.

“It’s really not a race,” she said. “Just go at your own speed and find a degree that you truly feel passionate about. Not just one that is going to be easy.”