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Eight Student Speakers, One Class of 2024

Eight Student Speakers
Each year, UC San Diego encourages graduating students to represent their class as a student speaker at the momentous all campus commencement ceremony. This year, eight students have been selected as speakers. Photos by Daniel Orren, Erik Jepsen and Long Truong of University Communications with additional photos courtesy of student speakers.

UC San Diego’s all campus commencement is going to be different this year. Because we couldn’t pick just one, eight student speakers will offer words of gratitude and inspiration to their fellow 2024 graduates via video at the June 15 ceremony. Together, the speakers represent the heart of UC San Diego: a vibrant community of dreamers, innovators and changemakers determined to uplift others as they climb and better serve our world.

Read on to learn more about them.

Kole Kistler in front of the Sun God sculpture
Kole Kistler in front of the Sun God sculpture.

Kole Gregory Kistler

Education sciences with a minor in critical gender studies

Kistler interprets and conveys the world around them uniquely. Diagnosed with receptive and expressive language disorder at the age of three, Kistler has refuted the idea that, in their words, disorder encapsulates failure. Since they expressed and understood language differently than others, doctors assured Kistler’s parents that, per diagnosis, they may earn a high school diploma at best. Today, Kistler is about to receive a degree from UC San Diego — one of the top universities in the nation.

Their inspiration for catalyzing change: “Starting my second year at UC San Diego, I joined Professor Luz Chung in facilitating the Spanish Literature Club at a partnered high school. It was our responsibility and mission to not teach and reinforce the Spanish language to students but rather reclaim the cultural appreciation and significance that represents the language through artistic mediums. The club inspired me to work with students in harvesting a community enriched by uplifting one another rather than tearing each other apart by hiding behind insecurities, frustrations and projections.”

Why they wanted to be a speaker: “I want to represent my class to reflect on my experiences, struggles and inspirations through the sense of encouragement and motivation. I do not want to use my story as a means to highlight my own successes and failures but rather to reflect on what I have learned as a university student and aspiring educator.”

Mineh Balushian Haftevani

Human developmental sciences

Balushian showed up to 7th grade class knowing zero English and having completely missed the 6th grade. She and her family had traveled from Austria to the United States as Armenian refugees from Iran when she was 12. Since then, Balushian has excelled academically and given back greatly. She supported her UC San Diego classmates by organizing study and tutoring sessions, volunteered at The Preuss School UC San Diego and wrote a children’s book addressing bullying in the classroom that she gifted to the classroom library in the Early Childhood Education Center. After graduation, she hopes to be an orthodontist or pediatric dentist who returns to teach at a dental school.

Mineh Balushian
Mineh Balushian is graduating from her dream school, UC San Diego this June 15.

Her inspiration for catalyzing change: “During Winter Quarter 2024, an opportunity arose for me to volunteer at The Preuss School to tutor an 8th grade English class. That experience encouraged me to become a catalyst for change and be part of UC San Diego’s mission. I spent months volunteering and helping students who were behind their grade level to catch up, or I would help co-manage the class with my host teacher. These experiences encouraged me to take a step in the direction of expanding educational opportunities for students and families in need. I was also once in need of extra English language development.”

Why she wanted to be a speaker: “In middle school, I would dream about going to UC San Diego because I would always stand in the hallway staring at the different university flags that our middle school’s alumni got into after high school. I clearly remember the UCSD flag. I knew my family had come to the United States in search of a better future so I studied day and night, I read countless books and I would watch documentaries and movies with no subtitles. I think my journey can inspire my fellow graduates to believe in themselves and never doubt their capabilities.”

Adamari Martinez (far left) with her family
Adamari Martinez (far left) with her family.

Adamari Martinez

Ecology behavior evolution and climate change studies

Martinez couldn’t have imagined her college experience as it happened. For starters, she’s the first in her family to attend college. Secondly, like many, she entered college at the height of COVID-19. Despite stepping into the unknown and navigating the pandemic, Martinez was unafraid to change lanes after discovering her passion for climate change awareness. This June 15, she looks forward to celebrating with her family and beginning her part-time instructor position with the Ocean Discovery Institute. Dreaming further, she aspires to work in environmental consulting or disaster relief to assist communities disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Her inspiration for catalyzing change: “I was initially pursuing a career in scientific research. After taking PSYCH 189, I realized that I wanted to change my career path to help those who are disproportionately affected by climate change. I got involved in climate activism with grassroot organizations where I would speak about the climate crisis in San Diego. I also took on an internship at Ocean Discovery Institute in City Heights where I assisted in delivering environmental education and shared the importance of taking care of our planet with students. In the future, I hope to continue sharing my knowledge and helping those that are more severely impacted by the climate crisis.”

Why she wanted to be a speaker: “I see this as an opportunity to reflect on how far the Class of 2024 and I have come. After graduation, the majority, if not all, of students will experience some level of change. Change can be daunting, however, I want to remind our undergrads that they have been able to overcome some of the most difficult challenges in the midst of so much change in the world and that they are allowed to change the direction of their lives at any given moment.”

Adamari Martinez (far left) with her family.

Qui-Shawn Tran

Interdisciplinary computing and the arts

Tran represents most everything UC San Diego is about: connection, interdisciplinary study, creative expression and adventure. He feels tapped into the ebb and flow of the university through his engagement with various communities (OASIS Summer Bridge, the Triton Community Leadership Institute and the Cross-Cultural Center, to name a few), his residence in multiple UC San Diego colleges and his study abroad experience in Copenhagen, Denmark. In between it all, he’s also written poetry, participated in the “Pho” King pageant hosted by the UC San Diego Vietnamese Student Association, cultivated a meditation practice and dreamed of future travels. Up next, he’ll teach English in Japan for a year.

Qui-Shawn Tran outside the UC San Diego Cross-Cultural Center and Charles Lee Powell Structural Systems Laboratory.
Qui-Shawn Tran outside the UC San Diego Cross-Cultural Center and Charles Lee Powell Structural Systems Laboratory.

His inspiration for catalyzing change: “Growing up in a strong Asian and Mexican American community, I never needed to question my identity in society. The turning point was in direct relation to the anti-Asian American hate set off by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although my studies continued, every day, I was burdened with a heavy heart as I faced the undeniable statistics, videos and news stories about rising hate crimes. With respect to Angela Davis’ community activism, I decided I would no longer accept the things I cannot change. I decided to change the things I cannot accept. I became more active in the Vietnamese Student Association and volunteered my time whenever I could to integrate art and poetry into the Asian American community. Art is not a luxury but a necessity in communities for healing and moving past adversity.”

Why he wanted to be a speaker: “On a gut level, I believe that I can relate to every single student that is graduating this year. I have no doubt that I’ve interacted with thousands of students, faculty and staff. With my eagerness and enthusiasm, I have had the chance to understand the doubts we feel at our lowest moments and the hope we feel at our greatest moments. I hope that I can bring the joy and light and love I have felt in my time at UC San Diego to my fellow graduates.”

Keanu Nazemi performing at a Deejays and Vinylphiles Club event.
Keanu Nazemi performing at a Deejays and Vinylphiles Club event.

Keanu Sina Nazemi

Cognitive science with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation

Nazemi's UC San Diego connection began the moment he arrived in the world — he was born in a UC San Diego Health hospital. And for the past seven years, he’s been making his way toward earning his degree. Although, it won’t be in the major he started initially. Five and a half years in, Nazemi came to realize that he couldn’t force electrical engineering any longer. He bravely decided to begin again and made the switch to cognitive science. He’ll now earn a degree that informs his passion for working at the intersection of technology and the arts to push the limits of what’s possible in audio and visual experiences.

His inspiration for catalyzing change: “Joining the Deejays and Vinylphiles Club (DVC) made me realize how crucial it was for students to bond over music. It inspired me to become a production manager to develop impactful programming and stand up for student orgs. I wish to enter the world inspiring others with exciting and user-centric experiences. In the words of my hero, Tron, I fight for the users!"

Why he wanted to be a speaker: "My classmates and I have shown strong wills, unwavering principles and a deep empathy for those suffering in our world today. Throughout the pandemic, political divides and raging global conflicts, we have stood together, more united and determined than ever, to raise awareness and seek solutions to these pressing issues. Over the past seven years as a UC San Diego undergraduate, I've made lasting friendships, taken a diverse array of courses and witnessed the evolution and growth of our university. I believe I am uniquely qualified to represent my fellow graduates, and I am eager to celebrate with the Class of 2024!"


Jiayi Liang

Applied mathematics with a computer science minor

From building robotics to studying the stars, Liang’s passion for STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) allowed her to connect with others and complete her UC San Diego education in a mere three years. Her favorite memories are housed on the second floor of Geisel Library where late study nights were spent with students who share her Chinese culture. Having moved to San Diego from China at 10 years old, Liang has conquered adversity and cultivated a commitment to education access. She’ll soon pursue a master’s degree in data science at UCLA. Then, she’ll consider obtaining her doctorate degree in mathematics or begin working as a data scientist.

Jiayi Liang completed coursework for a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and a minor in computer science in three years.
Jiayi Liang completed coursework for a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and a minor in computer science in three years.

Her inspiration for catalyzing change: “Participating in cutting-edge research in the Cool Star Lab as a freshman, combined with my experiences of establishing Triton VexU, ignited my passion for being a catalyst for making education more accessible and inclusive. I saw how hands-on learning, mentorship and supportive communities can empower students from diverse backgrounds to thrive academically and personally.”

Why she wanted to be a speaker: “I hope my class carries forward the spirit of community that has defined our time at UC San Diego. Our Triton experience is a testament to the power of resilience, collaboration and the pursuit of excellence in the face of adversity. As we embark on the next chapter of our lives, let us remember the strength we derive from our diversity, the importance of lifelong learning and our responsibility to serve society through our unique talents and perspectives.”

Onyekachi Ezeokeke in front of the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier.
Onyekachi Ezeokeke in front of the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier.

Onyekachi Samuel Ezeokeke

Human biology

One song certain to make it on the soundtrack of Ezeokeke’s life journey is “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts as featured in his favorite Disney Pixar movie, “Cars.” With a love for travel and appreciation for taking one day at a time, Ezeokeke has driven a Triton path that celebrates diversity and led to boundless opportunities for exploration. In his time as a Triton, Ezeokeke advocated for minority justice and equity through his work in student organizations and events. Notably, he co-founded the Nigerian Student Association and the Health, Education and Literacy (HEAL) student organization. Before pursuing medical school, Ezeokeke will take time to travel the world after graduating.

His inspiration for catalyzing change: “In my first year, I had the pleasure of joining a lab to challenge my knowledge of science and learn different ways in which I could help people. At this job, I experienced workplace discrimination for the first time. I eventually found the courage to inform the principal investigator, who then transferred the postdoc making derogatory, racial comments about me out of the lab. This altercation changed my viewpoint on letting discriminating and derogatory remarks slide and helped me stand up against injustice. It also led me to continuously provide support and mentorship to underclassmen, letting them know that minority students are intelligent and deserve a spot in competitive spaces.”

Why he wanted to be a speaker: “Coming from a minority background, it would be an honor to show those who follow after me that graduating from one of the top universities is possible for people like us if we persevere and put the work in. Representing one of the minority backgrounds on campus, I'd like to show that there is strength where there may not be numbers. The journey may not always be filled with people who relate to you nor understand your history, but with dedication and perseverance, you can accomplish what you set your mind to.”


Bindu Achalla
Bindu Achalla hopes to use her leadership skills for a successful career in product management or information technology and, one day, to assist women and children with basic needs in India.

Bindu Priyanka Achalla

Business analytics

Leadership comes naturally to Achalla, and she is committed to using this talent to open doors for others to be successful. An international student from India, Achalla is dedicated to fostering a culture of excellence and inclusivity within the field of product management, the information technology industry and all her future endeavors. Beyond a successful career, she dreams of one day establishing a non-profit to assist women and children in India access basic needs.

Her inspiration for catalyzing change: “Joining the Rady Product Management Club at UC San Diego was a pivotal experience. As a student with a passion for product management, I recognized the immense value of joining a club that not only provided opportunities for skill development but also served as a platform for aspiring product managers to connect, collaborate and learn from one another. I was inspired by the shared enthusiasm and determination of my peers. I also saw an opportunity to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for aspiring product managers at UC San Diego.”

Why the Rady School of Management student wanted to be a speaker: “Throughout my academic and professional endeavors, I have cultivated a strong sense of empathy, resilience and determination. I understand the challenges and triumphs that come with pursuing higher education, and I am committed to sharing words of encouragement, wisdom and inspiration with my peers. I’m honored to help represent the collective voice and spirit of our graduating class, celebrate our achievements and inspire us to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.”

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