As she took her spot in line backstage, Tiffany Pereira adjusted her cap, gown, and tassel.
“It’s now real — now that I have the regalia on,” said Pereira, who earned a master’s degree in biological sciences and was recognized by President Marta Meana as an Outstanding Graduate. “Now that I’m here, I just think back to all the people — all of my professors, my parents, and everyone that has helped get me to this one moment. It’s kind of surreal.”
Pereira was one of more than 3,000 UNLV students who became UNLV alumni on Saturday as they crossed the stage at the Thomas and Mack Center to receive their hard-earned degrees during Spring 2019 Commencement.
While Saturday’s graduation was similar in many ways to the ones that came before, one significant aspect set it apart.
Saturday’s group of UNLV graduates were the first to receive a degree from a Research 1 university — the gold standard for university research classifications. After years of diligent work from university leadership, staff and students, the university was elevated to R1 “very high research activity” status in December by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. UNLV is one of just 130 institutions with the prestigious distinction.
“This is truly a great day in the history of our university, and the end to what has been an incredible year for us,” UNLV President Marta Meana said to the newest group of graduates. “I could not be prouder of everything we have accomplished together. We are making history and we are changing the world for the better with every graduate that walks across this stage.”
The graduates who crossed the stage on Saturday came from 37 states and 50 foreign countries. Many are the first in their family to graduate from college, and well over half – 60 percent – are from ethnically diverse backgrounds. The Class of 2019 ranges in age from 18 to 71, with an average age of 27.
Student commencement speaker Louisa Heske, who graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in biology and two minors in Spanish and business administration, said there are many attributes that make the members of the 2019 graduating class different from one another. But the shared college journey will forever bind them together, she said.
She, too, highlighted the shared experience of the university’s ascent to R1, but also the opening of UNLV’s new medical school, the third presidential debate in 2016, and the community’s resiliency in the aftermath of Oct. 1, 2017.
“At UNLV, we take pride in our differences,” Heske said. “And at the same time, we have learned to shine even brighter lights on what we have in common. It’s the sense of unity that generates real progress and there are moments like this every day at UNLV.”
Kevin Page, chairman of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, told the graduates that the Las Vegas community, and the state of Nevada, will progress forward with their help. And members of the Class of 2019 have a strong economy to look forward to. The U.S. unemployment rate is only 3.6 percent, and employers plan to hire nearly 11 percent more new college graduates than they did last year for positions in the U.S., according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
“We need you to be the highly skilled workforce our state desperately needs,” Page said. “We need your healing powers, your ingenuity, your business acumen, your teaching spirit, your generosity, your compassion, and most importantly your loyalty. In short, our state needs you to be the next generation of leaders that will help Nevada grow.”
Saturday’s two commencement ceremonies also included the recognition of Justice Miriam Shearing, Steven P. Shearing (posthumously), Tony Sanchez III and Cliff and Donna Findlay as Distinguished Nevadans. Meana also continued the tradition of honoring a group of outstanding UNLV graduates, including Pereira, for their incredible academic and community achievements.
“Go get your dreams,” Pereira said when asked to give advice to the students who come after her. “Go get it.”