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More than 13,000 Miami Dade College Graduates Reach for the Stars April 28

2012 Graduation

Miami, April 20, 2012 - Miami beckons with promises of new opportunities for a better life. And right at the epicenter of this thriving community is Miami Dade College (MDC), the nation’s largest and most diverse higher education institution, transforming millions of lives for more than five decades. On Saturday, April 28, the college will salute more than 13,000 new graduates at five commencement ceremonies.   

MDC’s 2012 graduates represent more than a hundred countries. From balancing school with full-time jobs and raising children as single parents to creating trailblazing, nationally-recognized projects that impact the community, their passion and commitment is inspiring. They also remind us about the power of family support, in and out of the classroom. Many are entering the workforce and others transferring to America’s most prestigious universities to continue their studies.     

Meet some of this year’s stellar graduates:

When Wolfson Campus student Jessica Giraldo walks across the stage to receive her diplomas in paralegal studies and pre-law, she will be the first in her family to achieve this dream. Among her relatives, her Colombian father will be there to see her fulfill the promise she made to him when she was 16. “I’ve always felt that I inherited their dreams. And they always encourage me to get an education,” she said. Giraldo went beyond her parent’s expectations. She was recently honored with a national 2012 Newman Civic Fellow award for helping to create the 305 Rise mentoring campaign. She has served as president of MDC’s Society for Law and Community Service, is a Paralegal Studies Advisory member, volunteered to preserve the Miami-Dade County Law Library, worked on projects with a local domestic violence shelter mentoring elementary school children, and the State Attorney’s Office, among others. She was also selected to attend a prestigious leadership seminar at Harvard University last year.  Her goal is to become an attorney.   

Husband and wife Imtiaz and Gulnar Memon, doctors in their native Pakistan, are graduating together from Medical Campus with physician assistant degrees.  “My husband and I are very grateful to MDC for taking us in, and giving us an opportunity,” Gulnar said. In addition to balancing school work with raising three children, ages 3, 4 and 6, Imtiaz is an adjunct professor and tutors students in the PA program at MDC. Gulnar volunteers on campus as a note taker for dyslexic students. They both plan to pursue master’s degrees and continue working in the medical field.

Homestead Campus biology major Iara Backes Olivera and her older brother make up the first generation in her family committed to completing an upper-level college education. The 22-year-old, who was born in Peru, wants to become a physician with a strong emphasis on scientific research. She is currently presenting her research on the Resveratrol molecule at several conferences. “Knowledge inspires me,” she said. “I’m always amazed by how many things there are to learn.” Backes Olivera, along with her husband of four years, will move to Gainesville in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Florida. 

At age 20, North Campus mass communications major Monique Madan works part-time as a reporter for The Miami Herald, was the only community college student selected to participate in the prestigious New York Times Student Journalism Institute and leads a staff of 75 as editor-in-chief of MDC’s award-winning student newspaper, The Reporter. Under her leadership, last year the paper was named top Florida community college newspaper by the Florida College System activities Association, and she received two first-place awards in the News Story and Editorial categories. Madan, a Cuban American, is also a nominee for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation transfer scholarship. She has applied to several top universities to continue her studies in journalism.    

Twins Daphnee and Francelia Eckembrecher, born prematurely at 26 weeks, had to fight for their lives early on. Now the 20-year-olds with mutual dreams of becoming doctors want to help others survive. Born and raised in Miami, the sisters are graduating from InterAmerican Campus with biology degrees and have applied to several top-notch schools, including Johns Hopkins University, Mount Holyoke College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others. In addition to academic learning, they gained hands-on experience and a sense of community by volunteering at local hospitals.        

After nearly 20 years of marriage, Graciela Sosa’s husband left her alone with four children. She didn’t speak English, nor have any work skills. In the midst of that personal storm, the Honduras native decided to enroll at the Hialeah Campus. She began taking ESL and remedial classes. Today, Sosa is graduating from MDC with honors and attending Florida International University to study social work. She said she wants to help other women and children who are facing situations similar to her experience. “I strongly recommend to everyone, especially women, to never give up nor postpone your professional dreams for anyone,” Sosa said.

Music is one thing that binds siblings Shani and Sadiki Saunders, two Kendall Campus students in MDC’s acclaimed School of Advanced Studies, which allows selected students to complete high school while working toward an associate degree at MDC. Shani, 18, enjoys playing the viola with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, at church, in nursing homes, and in a chamber group with Sadiki, 17, who plays the saxophone. Shani is heading to Rice University in the fall to study biology on a Delta Sigma Theta Scholarship, but her ultimate goal is become a physician. Sadiki, a National Merit Scholar and a National Achievement Scholar, will begin at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, where he plans to study math and music.  


Media-only contacts:
Juan Mendieta, 305-237-7611,, MDC communications director
Tere Estorino, 305-237-3949,, MDC media relations director
Sue Arrowsmith, 305-237-3710,, media specialist
Tarnell Carroll, 305-237-3359,, media specialist
Alejandro Rios, 305-237-7482,

Miami Dade College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate and baccalaureate degrees.
Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Miami Dade College.
Miami Dade College is an equal access/equal opportunity institution and does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, marital status, age, religion, national origin,
ethnicity, pregnancy, disability, veteran's status, sexual orientation, or genetic information.
Contact the Office of Director, Equal Opportunity Programs, ADA and Title IX Coordinator, at 305.237.2577 for assistance.