By Vicky Santos and Cheryl Quimba
Release Date: May 17, 2023
BUFFALO, N.Y. – Balancing a job, classes and a serious relationship, University at Buffalo American studies major Esmedelin Sippel did her best to graduate in 1999, but fell a little short on her GPA.
“I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have the right focus,” Sippel says.
Sippel had been taking classes at both UB and SUNY Buffalo State University since 1994.
“Academically, I kept going back and forth. I was not great at it, but when I finally did get all my credits I said, ‘okay, I’m graduating and finally doing this,’” Sippel recalls.
While her overall GPA was a 2.0, her UB GPA was just under a 2.0, which meant she couldn’t officially graduate from UB. When Sippel found out, she was disappointed.
“My mom bought me this ring for graduation back in 1999. When the graduation auditor called and said that I have the credits but not the GPA to graduate, I put the ring in my jewelry box, and I did not wear it because I did not earn it. I just refused to wear it,” Sippel said.
She was allowed to walk for graduation and her plan was to come back over the summer to finish up, officially. But due to working a full-time job and making plans with her to soon-to-be-husband, summer came and went and Sippel was unable to fulfill her promise to herself.
“I kept trying to figure out ways to make it happen, but I always had something else come up that made me put it off,” Sippel said.
Over the years, Sippel gave birth to two daughters and moved around for work and other family obligations — but she never lost track of her graduation ring and her commitment to finish the degree she started.
“Every time I opened my jewelry box, the ring was there, just staring at me, and I would say, ‘One day, I will deserve you. One day, I’ll wear you with pride.’”
When life brought her and her family back to Western New York a few years ago, Sippel decided to enroll and finish her degree. Coming back to school now really isn’t any easier for Sippel in terms of availability – if anything, her schedule is more demanding than it was in that summer of 1999. Her daughters are teens and involved in sports and other school activities. She’s recently overcome medical and marital issues, and she volunteers as the track and field coach at her daughters’ school.
So, what made her decide to go back now?
“I knew that I needed to do this and show my daughters that no matter what happens, you’ve got to get up and you’ve got to continue. I wanted them to see that it’s never too late to do the right thing.”
And while Sippel’s decision to come back and finish her bachelor’s degree was hers alone to make, she has not felt alone on the journey.
“The amount of support that I have received from UB has been overwhelming. And the Department of Africana and American Studies has really embraced me. They have helped me and taken my hand to lead me through this, and I don't want to stop. I want to keep going. I don't want to give up that support system. I’ve gathered this momentum now, and I just love it here. I don't know how else to describe it.”
In the days leading up to graduation, Sippel is wearing her ring with pride around campus knowing that she will finally be an official UB alum.
Graduating senior Rachel Moyofoluwa Aguda spent much of her time at UB in a lab, investigating an enzyme involved with vitamin D metabolism.
The biochemistry major was interested in the enzyme’s potential in treating a type of bone disease, and for Aguda, it was personal: In high school she was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis, a common spine disorder. Through her research, she hopes to help find a cure that would benefit scores of other young people with the same condition.
And she’s well on her way. Aguda received a highly competitive National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship, which enables her to work for one year at the NIH after graduation. She plans to ultimately pursue a career in medicine as an orthopaedic surgeon.
Aguda attributes much of what she’s been able to achieve so far to UB.
“UB equipped me with networking skills and the courage to represent myself authentically,” she says.
Celine DeCambre believes that clinical psychology is her calling. Having experienced the effects of unhealed trauma in her own life, the first-generation college student now wants to use the skills and knowledge she gained as a psychology major to help others overcome their struggles, particularly individuals from underserved communities.
“I want to make a difference in people’s lives and empower them to achieve their full potential,” DeCambre says.
She has quite the track record so far. At UB, DeCambre was a member of multiple honor societies, a volunteer biopsychology teaching assistant and a clinical psychology research assistant in the Behavioral Health Lab. All the while, she carried a 3.75 GPA and found the time to establish her own marketing consulting company.
And this is just the start. DeCambre, who graduated a year early, plans to further her growth and education in clinical psychology by securing an internship in the field and engaging in further research, and then pursuing a doctoral degree. Her long-term goal is to establish a private practice where she can provide culturally competent care to marginalized populations.
“Ultimately, I envision myself as a thought leader and advocate for equity and diversity in mental health services,” she explains
Trey Lohnas, a communication major, has a passion for building connections and helping people grow their skills. Much of his enthusiasm sprung from his time working as an experience ambassador in UB’s Career Design Center, helping other students learn about and navigate the multitude of paths open to them after graduation.
“Working at the Career Design Center was the single best idea I had in my entire college career,” Lohnas says. “I worked with amazing people, learned how to network and how to reach out to people.”
That experience led Lohnas to decide to pursue a master’s degree in education studies at UB. Ultimately, he intends to work in the areas of training and development in human resources for a mission-driven company or nonprofit organization.
“I get a lot of personal satisfaction in seeing someone come in who doesn’t know how to do something, then see them gain knowledge and learn how to apply it,” Lohnas says. “I want to help people become leaders among leaders.”
For graduates like Lohnas, Aguda, DeCambre and others in this year’s class, professional ambition is inextricably tied to an ethic of service and community impact. These students are setting off with the aim to transform the world and — for the benefit of us all — the ability to actually do it.