200 years in the making

After acknowledging a historic milestone, UC President Pinto encourages class of summer 2018 to ‘build a bold tomorrow’




By Matt Koesters

Photos by Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

Aug. 3, 2018


Commencement is always a time to celebrate the successes of our students at the University of Cincinnati. Families and friends gather to witness their loved ones receive recognition for their academic accomplishments. One would think each of the more than 2,000 degrees conferred would be more than enough reasons to rejoice, but UC President Neville Pinto gave 2018’s Summer Commencement class 200 more.

“Like an extra tassel on your graduation cap, your commencement carries additional significance; it coincides with UC’s Bicentennial celebration,” Pinto said during his commencement address. “You graduate at a time when 200 years of UC spirit, strength and success stand right by your side.”


A graduate's mortarboard, decorated with an autism awareness icon.
Two students smile into the crowd at Summer 2018 Commencement
A graduate high fives a young girl riding on a man's shoulder's outside of BB&T Arena


Although Commencement is an academic finish line of sorts, Pinto urged the class to not view it that way. “Class of 2018, your newly earned degree does not mark an end to your education. It marks a beginning,” he said. “It lays the solid foundation to ignite your quest to keep learning and to build the bold tomorrow.”

Ever since Daniel Drake’s founding of the two colleges that would become UC two centuries ago, the university has been a force for a better future, Pinto said. He pointed to Drake, civil rights icon Marian Spencer, and Dotloop founder Austin Allison as exemplars of the theme of UC’s bicentennial: Boldly Bearcat.

“More than a motto, Boldly Bearcat is an attitude we expect you to carry out into the world,” Pinto explained. “It’s the grit, the guts and the grace to do what is right; stretching for excellence by seeking the highest; working hard to shape the future you dream of – even when faced with obstacles or nay-sayers. Boldly Bearcat is paying it forward and making a positive difference.”

Summer Commencement was the last UC function held at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena, the Bearcats’ “home away from home.” The renovation of Fifth Third Arena is scheduled for completion ahead of the 2018-19 basketball season, and will once again serve as the site of future Commencement exercises.


A graduate shakes his fists victoriously above his head as he crosses the dais.
The color guard.
Confetti falls on the graduates.
Two graduates pose for a photo.


About the graduates


  • The Summer 2018 graduating class of 2,047 students hails from 52 different countries;

  • Among American graduates, 45 states and the District of Columbia are represented;

  • Nearly two-thirds of the class (60.3 percent) originates from Ohio, and 68 of Ohio’s 88 counties are represented;

  • This year’s summer class is 5.4 percent larger than the Summer 2017 graduating class (1,943);

  • More than half of the Summer 2018 class received graduate degrees, including 989 master’s degrees and 162 doctoral degrees;

  • More than half of all degrees conferred are in STEMM fields (57.1 percent);

  • Nearly a third of all graduates participated in distance-learning programs (655);

  • Nearly 14 percent of graduates — 284 — are first-generation college students;

  • The average age of all graduates is 28.9, with students as young as 18 and as old as 75.


Being Boldly Bearcat

Every UC student has a story about their journey from newcomer to graduate, and no two are alike. They come from all walks of life, and each must overcome challenges as they pursue their degrees — some of them are normal, while others are unique and incredibly daunting.

Here are a few of the stories from this year’s summer 2018 commencement class:

  • Amie Berger once thought she would be dead by 28. But instead of letting her struggles be the end of her, she made them the inspiration for her decision to better her life with a college education. Now 42, Berger graduates with a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling. “I have give a shout out to Dr. Mathew Sauer for his continued support and encouragement,” she says. “This late life stage transformation has been rewarding in many ways.” Berger plans to pursue a master’s degree.

  • Portia Watkins is a first-generation UC graduate, but she certainly won’t be the last in her family. While working toward her doctoral degree in education, she and her husband were foster parents to more than a dozen children and had four adoptions finalized, all while she worked full-time. Watkins’ daughter will earn a UC degree this spring, and her other children and foster children have discovered their own aspirations to pursue college educations thanks to her journey. “Attending the University of Cincinnati is becoming a family tradition,” she says.


A graduate beams with pride while receiving his doctoral hood
A wide shot of commencement taken from the upper deck at BB&T Arena.


  • In the late 70s, Susan Stoepel wasn’t sure she had what it takes to manage college-level coursework. She had taken a few classes, but she admits she didn’t apply herself. It wasn’t until 2012 that Stoepel returned to UC, but she came with a renewed determination. After working full-time and taking two classes per semester, Stoepel, 58, is proud to finally be able to call herself a college graduate. “I worked really hard since returning to the university, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve accomplished,” she says. “If I could tell incoming students one thing, it would be to work hard but remember to have fun."

  • After working as a registered nurse for more than two decades, Darin Bershefsky wasn’t sure he would be able to succeed in school at this stage of his life. Instead, the Eaton, Connecticut resident maintained a 4.0 GPA while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in nursing through UC’s distance learning program. The first time Bershefsky set foot on Greater Cincinnati soil was to attend commencement, but that’s just the start of the journey ahead. “I could have not achieved these accomplishments without the love and support of my wonderful wife and family,” Bershefsky says. “She and my girls have sacrificed a lot while ‘Daddy is studying’. As a reward, we will be taking a much needed family vacation to Hawaii and California in September.”


President Neville Pinto claps at the podium.
A student spreads her arms and smiles as she crosses the dais.
A student poses victoriously, arms above her head.
  • Sumanth Maddirala wasn’t sure if he was college material. A self-described below-average student, his lack of confidence made him reluctant to apply. But once he started class, he found that applying one’s self comes with rewards. “After making a few adjustments during my first semester of college, I earned a 3.6 GPA,” he says. “From that point onwards, I have earned nothing short of a 4.0 GPA.” Maddirala immersed himself in UC culture, serving in several leadership positions with organizations such as Emerging Ethnic Leaders and Cleanup Cincy, and ultimately earned recognition as one of the School of Information Technology’s top pupils. “I have grown as a leader, a mentor, and a highly technical software engineer,” Maddirala says. Not bad for someone who claims they had “always wanted to drop out of school.” Maddirala will pursue his master's degree in IT at UC.

  • “I’ve watched my own children walk for their graduation,” says Barbara Marcum, “When I looked into my future, I saw the ‘empty-nest’ years loom before me.” Marcum decided that it was time for a new life and a new direction. She knew she wanted to give back to her community and care for others, so she enrolled in UC’s speech pathology distance learning program. “I am well prepared to step out and give to others as a speech language pathologist,” she says. “It is an honor to be a graduate of the University of Cincinnati.”
A student hams it up on the dais during the ceremony.
A student and faculty member share an embrace on the dais.
  • Jennifer Becker’s road to a college degree came with plenty of hurdles. Married at 21, she worked while her husband pursued a political science degree at UC. At 24, it was her turn to get started at UC. She had two children during her pursuit of her bachelor’s degree in business administration, the second of which was born just before exam week. “Less than 48 hours after being released from the hospital, I was sitting in a classroom to take my business analytics exam while my husband, 1-year-old and newborn waited in the car,” she recalls. That was but one of countless challenges for Becker, who continued her studies and raised her children through her husband’s two six-month deployments with the U.S. Air National Guard and late-night shifts with the Cincinnati Fire Department. “I often studied with a napping child laying across my lap,” she says. Becker finished her degree with a nearly flawless GPA, and will begin working with Kirsch CPA Group in the fall — but not before she gives birth to her third child, who is due in just a few weeks.


A decorated mortarboard that reads On my way to a CPA
Three female students show off their diplomas outside of the arena.
  • UC Blue Ash professors Jacquelyn Gibbs, Tracy Herrmann, Heather Moore and Debbie Page had the privilege of not only seeing their students earn their degrees at Commencement, but also of joining them as fellow graduates. The four professors each formally received their doctorate degrees. and some of them also had students who received their associate or bachelor’s degree from the college as part of the same ceremony.
The University of Cincinnati is one of America's top public research institutions and one of the region's largest employers, with a student population of more than 44,000.


A graduate smiles and looks upward.
President Pinto motions for the graduates to stand up.
Graduates file into the arena at commencement.
A graduate poses with his proud family.
A musician plays the French horn
Two doctoral students take a selfie backstage at Commencement.
Six graduates pose outside.
A student's mortarboard that reads Yo soy UC


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