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Ph.D. Candidate Mario Galicia Jr.: Coming 'Full Circle' as UCSB Graduate Division's 2015 Commencement Student Speaker

Mario Galicia Jr. is UCSB Graduate Division's 2015 Commencement Student Speaker. Credit: Patricia MarroquinWhen Ph.D. candidate Mario Galicia Jr. steps up to the podium at the Graduate Division’s 2015 Commencement ceremony to deliver his address as this year’s student speaker, it will be “a coming full circle moment.” The San Bernardino-raised grad student we featured in a January 2013 GradPost Spotlight excelled as an honors student in high school despite being bullied in a gang-plagued community. But he was later expelled from two colleges for failing grades before managing to “get myself back on track” and transferring to UC Santa Barbara, which has been his happy home since 2006.

Mario earned his Associate of Arts degree in Humanities and Social Sciences from the Moreno Valley campus of Riverside Community College in 2005. Here at UCSB, he has earned two degrees: a BA in Chicana/Chicano Studies and Sociology (Magna Cum Laude) in 2008; and an MA in Education, Cultural Perspectives and Comparative Education, in 2013. He will receive his Ph.D. in Education, Cultural Perspectives and Comparative Education, this summer.

For Mario, UC Santa Barbara means home (he and his wife Maria married in the Faculty Club); family (their two children, Michelle and Mauricio, were born in Santa Barbara); community (of mentors, advisors, supporters, and friends who received him “with open arms”); and accomplishments (the former GSA president will be the first in his family to earn a Ph.D.).

“UC Santa Barbara has become special to me because it represents a different chapter in my life,” he told us. Mario took some time to discuss this UCSB chapter; the support he has received along the way; and the message he intends to impart on Commencement Day.

Please tell us what your education at UCSB has meant to you.

My education at UC Santa Barbara has meant a great deal to me. I actually arrived at UCSB as an undergraduate transfer, alongside my wife, girlfriend then, Maria, in the fall of 2006. I went on to graduate in 2008, with acceptance for the fall quarter to the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. As the first in my family to attend a doctoral program I really had no reference point to ground myself off of, so I had to trust my department, my advisors, as well as other campus resource officials with their counseling. I was lucky enough to receive phenomenal guidance from a great many people willing to help me, even when I didn’t realize I needed the assistance. I learned that altruism does exist in the real world, and I am a fan of paying it forward as a result of my own educational experiences here at UCSB. I may be the first in my family to earn a Ph.D., but I don’t intend to be the last.

Mario Galicia Jr. poses with his family, from left, son Mauricio, wife Maria, and daughter Michelle, after trying on his new regalia.

Who all have been a big support to you as you’ve gone through the higher education process?

I have had a lot of great people support me through my higher education process. Of course there’s my wife and children, who provide me the energy and motivation that I need to get through the tough times of grad school. There are many individuals, from local community programs and organizations, such as the Santa Barbara School District, Casa de la Raza, and Ismael Huerta, that have all helped support me through my studies. I also spent a couple of years at the community college prior to transferring to UCSB so I met some wonderful people during my time there. These individuals were representatives from various departments: Student Services, Associated Students, Title V, and Puente program. I learned that I needed to deal with my past so that I could move forward in my future. They taught me to believe in myself, but also in others. These lessons were important to me because of the negative educational experiences I confronted while in middle school and high school. I’d especially like to thank Dr. Daria Burnett, Jonell Guzman, Dr. Edward Bush, Dr. Valarie Zapata, Salvador Soto, Maria Pacheco, Anna Marie Amezquita, and Donna Plunk for the faith, love, and trust that they’ve demonstrated to me from the beginning of my college career. The same can be said of my friends here at UCSB. Early on we met Bill and Arliene Shelor, Christian Villasenor, Walter Boggan, Mischa Lopez, Elroy Pinks, the Rios family, Michael Young, Stephen Jones, Harold Salas-Kennedy, and last but not least, my committee. I wish that I had the space to include every person who made a difference in my life. These individuals taught me about the core values we hold at UCSB: “Scholarship, Leadership and Citizenship.” Without their advice, referrals, shoulders to cry on, and words of encouragement, I would not have been able to accomplish my goals. 

Why is UCSB a special place for you?

To any outsider, UC Santa Barbara might have a great aesthetic appeal, but to me what attracted me to UCSB was the people. From the very first time I set foot on this campus I was received with open arms. Since then, UC Santa Barbara has become special to me because it represents a different chapter in my life. When Maria and I arrived at UCSB, we were undergraduates and had no idea what it would be like changing from a semester system at RCC to a quarter system at UCSB. We also had no idea what it would be like living with each other. On top of that, I also felt sad to be away from my family and friends. It took me a little while to allow myself to open up to others and let them into my world. Once I did, though, I was met with plenty of friendly faces to offer me a space to vent, listen or learn, while being surrounded by others that were going through similar struggles. I still do miss my family and friends back in San Bernardino, and I visit them as often as possible, but I do feel as though we have made Santa Barbara into our new home. My wife and I were married at the Faculty Club here at UCSB; both of our children were born here, and we hope to raise them here.

Please tell us what kind of message you hope to impart to our graduating grad students at Commencement next month.

Without giving too much away, my speech will address the following: resilience, altruism, and using education as a means to reach our personal goals. We have all faced challenges, whether big or small, and we have also learned a great deal from those experiences; in some cases we learned about the kindness in others’ hearts, and other times we have learned about our own tenacity. What we do with those experiences as we move forward is what’s important. Do we use our education to only benefit ourselves, or is there opportunity for all of us to create change for others; here at UCSB; in our respective communities; maybe even at the state and federal level?

'To any outsider, UC Santa Barbara might have a great aesthetic appeal, but to me what attracted me to UCSB was the people. From the very first time I set foot on this campus I was received with open arms. Since then, UC Santa Barbara has become special to me because it represents a different chapter in my life.' – Mario Galicia Jr.

What are your plans after graduation?

My immediate plan after graduation is to finish my writing so that I can defend my dissertation before the end of summer. I am also on the job market so I am, and will continue to be, applying for employment and post-doctoral appointments. My family and I are also looking for a new residence so we will be apartment hunting as well. Despite the many transitions we are facing this summer I also intend on spending plenty of time with my wife and the kids enjoying the local venues. Long term, though, I know that we would love to be able to find employment in Santa Barbara so we may continue to raise our children in this beautiful community.

Why did you apply to be the student Commencement speaker? What motivated you to do so?

I applied to be Commencement speaker because I felt like it would be a coming “full circle” moment for me. You see, at one point in my college career I was kicked out of two colleges because I failed all of my classes. I managed to get myself back on track and eventually transferred to UCSB. I was fortunate enough to then get hired as a transfer student intern for Admissions, and later as outreach peer for Graduate Division, where I helped provide thousands of students with campus tours. Additionally, as GSA president I also had the privilege of meeting, listening, and conversing with a great deal of our graduate students; I even managed to befriend some of them along the way. I guess when I applied to be Commencement speaker I just wanted the opportunity to be able to send all of us off onto the next stage of our lives, whether it be our careers, or more education.


You can hear Mario’s message on Commencement Day, June 14, beginning at 4 p.m. on the Faculty Club Green. For those unable to attend, the ceremony will be live-streamed at the UCSB Commencement Live Webcast page. More information about Commencement may be found on the Graduate Division’s Commencement page.

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