Best of the best sit on stage during ceremonies

By Monica Warren
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Of the more than 4,000 undergraduates receiving degrees during Saturday's commencement ceremonies, six graduates will be honored for their years of hard work and dedication with special honors and the chance to sit on stage.

Alistair Chapman and Xuemei Cai will receive the Freeman Medal, which is awarded each year to one man and one woman selected by administration for their moral character and community involvement.

The Nugent Awards, created in memory of Robert Logan Nugent who was the UA's executive vice president when he died in 1963, will go to Joshua Wright and Megan Hammer.

Aaron McKenny and Iram Ahmad will be awarded the Robie Medals, which were created to honor the late Wendell T. Robie of the class of 1917 and Inez Benzie Robie of the class of 1916.

Chapman, a molecular and cellular biology senior, said he was born in Scotland and lived all over the world before settling in Gilbert with his family.

He said he has seen himself change from a shy freshman five years ago to this year's Associated Students of the University of Arizona student body president, one of the most visible and involved positions on campus. Chapman credited the UA and his many community-based involvements with this change.

From ASUA to the coed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, Chapman calls philanthropy "the cornerstone of my career at the UA."

Cai said she came to the United States from China with her family when she was a toddler. After years of hard work as a triple major in biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology, and East Asian Studies, she will head to Massachusetts for Harvard Medical School in the fall.

Cai was selected as the College of Science's Outstanding Senior. She said her success came not only from involvement with classes and clubs, but from the relationships she formed with professors.

"I can't thank them enough for helping me through these last four years," Cai said.

Wright, a psychology and religious studies major, said he originally came to the UA because it was where all his friends were headed.

But he leapt into student life, working at the Arizona Daily Wildcat, Hillel Foundation and as the director of SafeRide for the past two years.

Wright said some of his favorite college memories came from SafeRide, from driving lots of different people around to meeting his fiancee, whom he will wed this summer.

"Treat it like it's the real world," Wright advised students. "There's no truth to the statement 'Wait until you get to the real world.' I think this is as real as you can get."

Hammer, a nutritional sciences senior, will move to Los Angeles after graduation to complete a dietetic internship at the University of Southern California.

She said she has been involved in all facets of campus life, from the Chi Omega sorority to the Chain Gang and Bobcats honoraries. Hammer also worked as a research assistant with the Arizona Cancer Center's Women's Healthy Eating and Living Study.

"I will greatly miss UA," Hammer said. "It's been one of the greatest experiences of my life."

Ahmad will receive degrees in molecular and cellular biology and art history.

She has been performing research at a pediatric genetics lab at the Arizona Health Sciences Center since her freshman year.

Her findings on Niemann-Pick Type C, a disease where cholesterol accumulates in cells and causes diseases, have led her to national and international conferences to present her work.

Ahmad said working at the lab was one of the best experiences she ever had.

McKenny, a business administration and management information systems senior, will move to Philadelphia after graduation to work for IBM.

Through his work with the Eller College of Management, as the state president of Phi Beta Lambda and as one of the founders of Tau Alpha Phi Society, an honorary for management information systems students, McKenny said he is prepared for what lies ahead of him.

"My perception of a bachelor's degree is not what you know; it's how you can communicate with other people," McKenny said. "It prepares you for the business world. I think the UA has prepared me for that."

Though their involvements and achievements vary widely, most of the top graduates agree on one key to college success: balance.

"A lot of students come in wanting to party all the time or study all the time," McKenny said. "I don't think there's any merit in either."

Hammer agreed and said not finding time for making friends and relaxing just causes more stress while in college.

"School and leadership opportunities are very important, but it's equally important to build yourself personally," Hammer said. "Be a good friend and have fun."