May 27, 2012

Proud graduates head to Commencement - and their futures

Seun Familoni and Janet Nwaukoni
Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle
Oluwaseun "Seun" Familoni, right, graduating from ILR, and Janet Nwaukoni, a biology and society major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, on Cornell's Arts Quad May 27 before Commencement ceremonies.
Matthew Swoveland and Nicole Castillo
Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle
Matthew Swoveland, who received his master's degree in classics, poses with his wife, Nicole Castillo, who recently completed her master's degree at Harvard. The couple, who had to travel to see each other several weekends a month for a few years, will now live together in Boston.
Tiffany Tsai with friends
Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle
California native Tiffany Tsai, center with friends, graduates with a major in biology in the College of Arts and Sciences and is headed for a four-year doctor of pharmacy program at the University of Colorado-Denver.
Anna Mumford and her father
Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle
Anna Mumford, graduating with a degree in design and environmental analysis from the College of Human Ecology, and her father, Mark.

As Oluwaseun "Seun" Familoni gathered with friends and thousands of other graduating seniors on the Arts Quad Sunday (May 27) morning before the academic procession to Schoellkopf Stadium, she thought about how she had defied odds to be graduating at Cornell's 144th Commencement.

Familoni, an ILR School student, moved to the United States from Nigeria at age 13.

"This whole experience has just been a dream come true," she said. "When I was 5 or 6 years old, I never thought I'd end up in a U.S. school, [much less] an Ivy League school like Cornell."

Familoni, who transferred to Cornell from Towson University, spent this past semester abroad, first in Coventry, England, and then she visited 15 countries in 30 days.

Graduating with a 3.83 GPA, something of which she's particularly proud, Familoni will work for Aetna Inc. in human resources in Connecticut, she said.

Ijeamaka Obodoagha, an Africana major in the College of Arts and Sciences, also defied the odds this weekend -- she gave birth to her son, Isaiah, in January. She said many people encouraged her to take at least a semester off, but with the support of Isaiah's father, Emile Chang Jr., CALS '12, and her family, she completed her studies and even stayed involved in student organizations and volunteer work. Her mother traveled with her from California back to New York on a three-day train trip two weeks after Isaiah was born and has been helping with the baby.

Obodoagha is headed to business school at Stanford University in the fall.

Craig DeFrancisco, graduating from ILR, said his Cornell experience has "definitely been the highlight of my young life." He spent a semester in Geneva, Switzerland, interning at the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency. He minored in law and society through the College of Arts and Sciences and now is looking for a paralegal job in Washington, D.C., or Baltimore, he said, with plans to go to law school in a few years.

Anna Mumford, who majored in design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology, said she is headed to the Philadelphia area to work as a brand strategist for Bailey Brand Consulting.

"Cornell taught me to work hard, play hard, but at the end it's all about your family being here," she said with a smile, adding that seven friends and family members were here for her graduation.

"I learned that the most important part of learning is asking questions -- the people that ask the most questions learn the most," she said, adding, "I also learned how to buy coats on sale in Florida to bring up to Ithaca."

In addition to the 3,227 undergraduates earning bachelor's degrees, 1,749 students received graduate and professional school degrees this weekend.

Matthew Swoveland, for example, who received his master's degree in classics, was elated to be done with the 700-mile round trip he's been making three times a month to visit his wife, Nicole Castillo, in Cambridge, Mass., who just finished her master's degree at Harvard Divinity School.

To save money, Swoveland said he had set up a website to manage a carpool for the numerous couples split up between Ithaca and Boston. It was cheaper than the bus, and he usually had a full car, he said. "We were back and forth all the time."

Now the couple will be together in Boston: Castillo will work at Boston Medical Center and Swoveland at the Cambridge-based company Formaggio Kitchen, which imports cheeses from all over the world.

Swoveland said his degree may not be the typical background for a cheese importer, but that his fluency in French, German, Portuguese and Spanish will definitely come in handy as he travels to Europe and Nicaragua to talk to local producers. He'll also teach weekly classes on cheese and local foods in Boston and Cambridge.