Class Act

UH’s Fall 2023 Grads Ride into the Sunset with Degrees in Hand,
On-Campus Ceremonies Scheduled for Dec. 15 and 16

Student atop cougar statue

The time has come for 3,713 Coogs!

Fall Commencement is fast approaching, and it’s a time of celebration and reflection for the University of Houston’s Class of 2023.

University Commencement events on Dec. 15 and 16 will mark the conclusion of these Cougars’ academic journeys as they receive their bachelor's, master’s, doctoral and professional degrees. While many are bidding farewell to UH, they will leave with lasting memories of their time on campus.

To preserve their fond memories of UH, graduates will have ample opportunities to capture graduation pictures at several photo-friendly locations. These include:

The University Seal – Cullen Circle Entrance

Cullen Family Plaza

Student Center South – First Floor Entryway

Athletics Alumni Center (8 a.m. – 5 p.m. only)

For those supporters unable to join the festivities in person, ceremonies will be livestreamed.

A breakdown of fall degrees is as follows:

2,978 – Bachelor’s

610 – Master’s

105 - Doctoral

20 – Professional

While each graduate has their own Cougar tale to tell, here are just a few success stories from the fall Class of 2023.

female with graduation cap and gown, waving cap with right hand
Girl in white dress with red scarf at a fountain

Karen Hanna - Photo courtesy of Ivram and David Hanna, Therese Ikladious

Karen Hanna - Photo courtesy of Ivram and David Hanna, Therese Ikladious


Fall’s Youngest Grad

Karen Hanna is graduating at an age when most students are arriving at UH as freshmen. Her discipline, drive and determination are just some of the reasons she is this fall’s youngest graduate.

At just 19, Hanna will earn her bachelor’s degree in exercise science. She’ll soon begin pursuing her graduate studies with the goal of becoming an occupational therapist in pediatrics.

“I’ve always dreamt of being part of a field that changes lives,” she said. “I have always had a special connection to kids, and I’ve always wanted to work with them. Communicating and engaging with children is a different experience than with other populations. I love witnessing the joys in their lives and being part of that is an incredible opportunity.”

During her time at UH, Hanna managed full courseloads to accelerate her degree trajectory. Prior to becoming a Cougar, she balanced high school classes with higher education. Taking classes at Lone Star College and UH while in high school, she became acclimated to a university environment and arrived on campus with 34 credit hours.

Born in Cairo, Hanna and her family departed Egypt to pursue a new life with more educational opportunities. Both she and her brother, a Cougar alumnus, found such prospects at the University of Houston.

While she is deeply appreciative for her experience at UH, Hanna’s faith and family were key to helping her cross the finish line so quickly.

“I am thankful to have such a loving and encouraging family that always supports me and wants me to succeed,” she said. “They have truly shaped me into the best version of myself today!”

“UH is full of people that encourage and help you grow academically and professionally! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because you can and you will!
Go Coogs!”
Karen Hanna, Fall Class of 2023

World at Her Fingertips

Veronica Garcia’s time at UH has been spent studying other cultures and languages. Now, she is prepared to earn her bachelor’s degree in World Cultures and Literature with a focus on German Studies.

Garcia first enrolled at UH in 2018 but decided to refocus her goals at Houston Community College. Her years at a community college provided her with a new academic trajectory and a renewed passion for languages.

“I returned to UH with a mission to pursue German studies,” she said. “The structured and supportive environment of my community college allowed me to refine my academic focus and build a solid foundation in my chosen field. This experience defined my career aspirations and equipped me with the determination and direction I needed to succeed at UH.”

At UH, she dove into extracurricular activities that supported her professional aspirations. These included the Delta Iota Chapter of the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for International Scholars, as well as a Teaching English as a Second Language practicum. Those experiences along with the support received from peers and professors prepared her for future endeavors.

“I have built so many connections with my fellow classmates and professors that I know will help me succeed in all of my future endeavors,” she said. “There is no doubt that I will deeply miss UH after I graduate, but I am thrilled to start a new chapter in my life and look forward to the prospects that lie ahead!

Girl with curly hair in graduation gown

Veronica Garcia

Veronica Garcia

A Degree for Two

When Valerie Leija crosses the stage, she won’t be alone. Of course, she’ll be joined by her College of Education classmates, but a very special person will be along for the ride—her unborn son.

Leija said that future family member was her biggest cheerleader as she worked diligently to complete her bachelor's degree while pregnant.

“I am so excited to tell my son about the wonderful journey he was a part of,” she said. “He was there for me during all of those late nights studying. And during every exam we took together, he was right there telling me it would all be okay. I want him to know that he was my motivation to keep moving forward and that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Leija is looking forward to walking the stage this week and to becoming a mother. Caring for others, however, is nothing new. During her time at UH, she worked at Cougar Cupboard 2 (also known as PEEPS Pantry in Farish Hall). The pantry serves UH students by providing food and other necessities.

Helping feed student success has been a highlight of her time at UH and she is proud to have been there for her fellow Coogs. After UH, Leija plans to be a Health Education Specialist, but first things first.

“After graduation I plan on becoming a full-time mommy while studying for and taking the Certified Health Education Specialist exam,” she said. “My time here at UH has prepared me to be a stronger woman. I went through many obstacles, and I managed to break right through them. Life will never put more on you than you can handle. This is a lesson I will take with me for years to come.”

Women wearing black graduation cap and gown standing in front of trees

Valerie Leija

Valerie Leija

Made to be a Mentor

Gray Mulligan wasn’t born in Houston—nor Texas for that matter—but as the old saying goes he got here as soon as he could.

Although his native Michigan is home to several universities, the Liberal Studies major knew UH was the right place to begin his higher education journey.

“I wanted to attend a big school in a city,” he said. “Most of the other large research schools didn’t have the right feel or an option for students looking for a smaller community. Here at UH, there is a different culture. Houston is a working environment, and many other schools had a college town feel rather than the real world’s working city environment.”

Mulligan will earn his bachelor's degree this weekend, and it will be a bittersweet experience. While he will revel in the moment, Mulligan will no doubt miss the campus he’s called home for the past few years. Besides the University itself, Mulligan will miss the community and culture that drew him here.

At UH, Mulligan been the very definition of an “involved student.” His time and energy have been invested in supporting the University and his peers. As a member of the Honors Mentorship Program, he’s provided guidance to his fellow students. Likewise, he’s grown as a leader.

“The most important part of my time at UH has been my work through the Honors Mentorship Program,” he said. “I found that I loved this work. Teaching emotional intelligence and empathy and the organizational level work has really brought a nice conclusion to my degree.”

When not working with his fellow Coogs, Mulligan could be found in the stands at TDECU Stadium as a die-hard supporter of the UH football team. He was one of the painted Bleacher Creatures who donned the school’s colors on face and body to cheer on the team.

Next up for Mulligan is prepping for the LSAT and returning to the Great Lakes State. Although he departs Houston, the city and UH will always have a place in his heart. He will always remember the lessons learned at UH and the classroom interactions that helped him develop as a student, a mentor and a leader.

“I’m thankful that I get to bring a bit of UH with me,” he said. “In and out of the classroom, good things come from showing up and exercising the courage to open up and participate. I encourage future Coogs to raise your hand, ask those questions, and join the organizations that you believe in. You belong here, and there is always a place here at UH for you.”

Make student with glasses holding up right hand and wearing graduation regalia

Gray Mulligan

Gray Mulligan

“I encourage future Coogs to raise your hand, ask those questions, and join the organizations that you believe in. You belong here, and there is always a place here at UH for you.”
Gray Mulligan, Fall Class of 2023
Make student with glasses wearing graduation cap and gown