School of Education Commencement

Friday, April 21, 2023

The School of Education Commencement ceremony has concluded

The encore presentation will be available on this page for a limited time.


Sylvia Mendez

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters and Commencement Speaker

Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez is the oldest daughter of Gonzalo Mendez, a Mexican immigrant, and Felicitas Mendez, a Puerto Rican, who challenged segregation so that she and other Latino children could be provided the same quality education provided to white students.

Her parents were plaintiffs in the landmark Mendez v. Westminster School District (1947) case that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and ended school segregation in California. In 1943 in Westminster, California, students of Mexican descent were required to enroll in segregated and inferior schools known as “Mexican Schools.” When Sylvia was in the third grade, she and her brothers, Gonzalo, Jr. and Jerome, were denied admission to the “white” school near their Westminster home. The Mendez family, along with four other Latino families, fought to integrate the school. Mendez won in the Federal court in 1946, then again in appeal 1947, and helped make California the first state in the nation to end school segregation. Seven years later, Mendez served as significant precedent for the NAACP in its US Supreme Court school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education.

Miss Mendez, who still resides in Orange County, attended Cal State Los Angeles, earning a B.S. in Nursing. She worked for 33 years as a nurse at the Los Angeles USC Medical Center. Since retiring Miss Mendez has traveled to all seven continents and visited over 60 countries. She and her family have received numerous awards and recognitions, including a US Postage stamp commemorating the 60th anniversary of the appellate victory; public schools are named after Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez; two documentaries: the Emmy-winning film Mendez v. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos Los Niños by Sandra Robbie and Mendez v. Westminster: Families for Equality by Erica Bennett; there are now public schools that are named after her as well.

On February 15, 2011, President Barack Obama presented Sylvia Mendez with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Sylvia continues the legacy left by her parents by fighting for quality education and by encouraging students to stay in school.


Aja d’Encarnacao '23

School of Education Student Commencement Speaker

Aja d’Encarnacao was born in Riverside, California to a Chinese/Portuguese immigrant father and an African American mother who was the daughter of sharecroppers from Texas. Aja’s mother was her first teacher, her preschool teacher, and she fondly recalls all of the wonderful memories made in the classroom that no doubt would later inspire her to become an educator too. Aja worked for Head Start in several roles with the lifelong goal to become an elementary teacher with her own classroom and students. 

Following her parent’s example, she earned two associate’s degrees — in early childhood studies and humanities — at Riverside City College. She continued her education at California State University, San Bernardino, earning a bachelor’s degree in social science. Eventually, she returned to school and earned an MBA at Redlands. After feeling a sense of void, she came back to earn her special education credential. As an education specialist, she fell in love with the classroom. After being exposed to the “inclusion model” she decided to go back to school and earn her multiple-subject credential. She is currently realizing her dream as a first-grade teacher for Rialto Unified School District.

Aja enjoys spending time with her family. She is married with a blended family of five adult children  and seven godchildren who are her biggest inspirations in the classroom. She loves her students and insists that she has learned just as much from them as they have from her.

She credits her parents for anything and everything that is good about her.  She also credits her mother and Mr.Rogers for being her educational role models and heroes! 

She would like to say congratulations to the class of 2023! 

Garner Holt sitting front of a framed picture of a robot with exposed internal workings.

Garner Holt

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters 

Garner Holt, a San Bernardino native, is well known as the founder of the world’s largest animatronics company, Redlands-based Garner Holt Productions, Inc. (GHP), which he started in his parents’ garage while in high school. GHP’s “mechanized magic” animatronics can be found at Disney and Universal Studios parks around the world. GHP animatronics are also found at parks and attractions for clients including Knott’s Berry Farm, Warner Bros., Nike, Coca-Cola, Salesforce, Lockheed-Martin, Legoland, Hershey, and the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands.

A well-known champion of education, Holt was inspired through his work at GHP to establish Garner Holt Education through Imagination, LLC, a unique new company with a team of educators and industry professionals who create educational environments and programs that provide students with a solid foundation in creativity, innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship aimed at the goal of preparing students to be college and/or career ready in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

The work in GHP’s education division has resulted in digital and physical maker camps for K-12 students and the creation of animation makerspaces – AniMakerspaces – in Redlands Unified School District K-12 schools, among others in California and across the nation. Most recently, they partnered with U of R’s Information Technology Services to create the first version of a higher education AniMakerspace on the University’s Redlands campus.

This project, underwritten by a grant from the Fletcher Jones Foundation, provides opportunities for U of R students, faculty, staff, and community members to learn about and use 3D printing and modeling, advanced fabrication technology, and programmable animatronics to enhance experiential learning.


School of Education Events

Pre-Commencement events


First Generation Recognition
7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Orton Center
Please join us as we celebrate our First Generation students’ accomplishments. For additional information, contact
RSVP required


School of Education Awards Recognition and Doctoral Hooding Ceremony
4:30 p.m.
Orton Center
School of Education students, faculty, and guests are invited. The event will begin with a gallery walk featuring the dissertation research of doctoral candidates, followed by a recognition of awardees and hooding ceremony for doctoral candidates led by School of Education faculty. The hooding ceremony is symbolic of passing the guard from one generation to the next and celebrates academic achievement; a tradition that dates back to the late 1800’s. Seating is limited. For additional information, please contact
RSVP Required


Lavender Recognition Ceremony
4 p.m.
Casa Loma
Please join us as we celebrate the accomplishments of our LGBTQIA2S+ graduation candidates at the annual Lavender Recognition Ceremony. For additional information, contact
RSVP required

FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2023

Students of Color Celebration
2:30 p.m.
Memorial Chapel
The Students of Color Recognition Ceremony provides the opportunity for students of color to celebrate in a more intimate setting. For additional information, contact
RSVP required

Commencement day events

Friday, April 21, 2023 


Baccalaureate Processional Line-up 
Cap and gown required

10:30 a.m.
Hall of Letters, North Lawn

Baccalaureate 11 a.m.
Memorial Chapel
Legacy Medallion Ceremony
RSVP required
1 p.m.
Alumni House Lawn
Students of Color Recognition Ceremony
RSVP required
2:30 p.m. 
Memorial Chapel
School of Education Processional Line-up 3:30 p.m.
Casa Loma Parking Lot
School of Education Commencement Ceremony 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Ted Runner Stadium

Please note: For the comfort of all our guests, no smoking, pets, or emotional support animals are allowed at any event, whether indoors or outside.
Learn about accessible parking and other accommodations.

See the full schedule of events

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