Against the odds: Fall 2018 graduates demonstrate grit and determination


For many students graduating from FIU this fall, earning a university degree has been a hard-fought achievement, one they accomplished by overcoming obstacles such as medical setbacks and natural disasters.

“At FIU, we take pride in the accomplishments of our students and their determination to succeed,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “Commencement is a time to celebrate the thousands of students who have persevered to achieve a major milestone in their lives and are now making a difference in our community and their families.”

FIU will hold 10 commencement ceremonies from Dec. 9 through Dec. 12 at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center to celebrate the graduation of almost 4,300 students. The achievements of several of those graduates stand out among their peers. They include:

  • In 2015, Aldo Amenta sustained a severe spinal injury while diving into a pool.  His family had to choose between paying for therapy or for his studies. Through FIU’s Ignite Campaign, Amenta received funds to cover his tuition, allowing his family to cover therapy expenses. Amenta, who is graduating with his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, will be walking across the stage with the help of an exoskeleton on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m.
  • Barely a month after arriving from Cuba with his parents in 1998, Carlos Ariasbecame gravely ill. He was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a life-threatening infection that causes the brain to swell, along with two other severe conditions. He was in a coma for 18 days and when he awoke, he could not walk or talk. His right arm was paralyzed, his left eye was blind, and he had retrograde amnesia. Doctors were not optimistic at first, but Arias fully regained his motor skills and sensory abilities. Despite taking off a couple of semesters due to ongoing serious health issues, he will be graduating with his master’s in physician assistant studies on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
  • By the age of 13, Price Destinobles had no contact with his father and his mother was incarcerated. Classified as an unaccompanied youth by the state, Destinobles found refuge with his aunt in North Miami. Through involvement in programs such as the 5000 Role Models of Excellence, Destinobles set his sights on higher education. A hospitality major at FIU, Destinobles earned the full-tuition Carnival Gold Scholars award and served as president of FIU’s Disciples on Campus Christian Club and as a manager for the men’s basketball team. Destinobles graduates with his bachelor’s in hospitality management on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 3 p.m.
  • After his father’s death, Alex Kingley Toussaint’s mother was faced with the challenge of raising her three sons alone in their home in Haiti. As a single mother and business owner, she was a vulnerable target. She left the country in search of a safe place for her family, but when she returned home the catastrophic 2010 earthquake hit Haiti. The family obtained Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and moved to Miami. To help his family, Toussaint worked up to three jobs at a time as a music instructor and now faces an uncertain future in the U.S. because of his TPS status. Toussaint will receive his bachelor’s degree in music on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 10 a.m.

For a list of students who will be recognized as Worlds Ahead Graduates, please click here.

During the commencement ceremonies, the following community members will be honored:

  • Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, a two-time alumna of the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences, will receive the FIU Medallion-Outstanding Alumna on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Jennifer H. Richards, professor at FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education, will receive the FIU Medallion-University Services on Monday, December 10, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

The commencement speakers will be:

  • Laurans A. Mendelsonchairman of the board and chief executive officer of HEICO Corporation, Sunday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m.
  • Arnold W. Donald, president and chief executive officer of Carnival Corporation & PLC, Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 3 p.m.
  • W. Allen Morris, chairman and chief executive officer of The Allen Morris Company, Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m.

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