Loved Ones Come from Near and Far to Celebrate Class of 2024

Two people pose for a photo outside in their graduation caps and gowns, holding diplomas. Image by Ed Brennen
Commencement was a family affair for information technology grad Joe Sousa '18, '24 and his daughter Emily Sousa '24, who earned a degree in exercise science.

By Ed Brennen

When exercise science graduate Emily Sousa ’24 looked up into the Tsongas Center stands during Commencement, her father was nowhere to be found.
That’s because Joe Sousa ’18, ’24 was sitting with her in the sea of graduates, accepting his own bachelor of science in information technology.
“I had to convince him to walk with me,” says Emily, a Lowell native.
“I’ve done it before. Today is her day. I’m very proud of her,” says Joe, who earned a bachelor of science in business administration (accounting and finance concentrations) from UML in 2018. 
Working as a photolithography and etch process engineering technician at Analog Devices in Wilmington, Massachusetts, Joe Sousa says “it doesn’t hurt” to get a second degree in IT. 
“The times are changing,” says Joe, who did both degrees online.
One of the reasons Emily chose to attend UML, she says, was seeing her father’s experience in earning his business degree.
“He’s my biggest role model. I’m so proud of him,” says Emily, who didn’t have much time to celebrate her bachelor’s degree: She started classes for her Doctor of Physical Therapy two days later.
A person in a cap and gown holds flowers and a diploma while standing next to another person and posing for a photo outside. Image by Ed Brennen
Mechanical engineering grad Esra Eisa '24, right, received a surprise visit at Commencement from Sara Haroon, her friend since high school in Sudan.

Four years ago, at the age of 19, Esra Eisa ’24 left her family in Sudan and came to Lowell by herself to get a STEM education that was not possible for her in her home country.
After earning an associate degree from Middlesex Community College, Eisa transferred to UML for a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering.
Meanwhile, a civil war erupted in Sudan. The ongoing conflict prevented Eisa’s family from traveling to the U.S. to attend Commencement, but she sent them the link so they could watch the ceremony online.
Eisa still had a half-dozen supporters on hand for her big day — including her best friend from high school, Sara Haroon, who now lives in Dubai and made the 14-hour trip to surprise her at the ceremony.
“I’m so proud of her,” says Haroon, who met Eisa eight years ago in Sudan. “She’s been here working hard, getting A’s.”  
Eisa wants to advocate for and empower girls in Sudan to pursue STEM education. She also wants to use her engineering talents to help improve energy and infrastructure in her home country.
To that end, she is now starting her career in the energy industry at Waldron, an engineering and construction management firm in Exeter, New Hampshire.
A person in a graduation gown poses for a photo outside while standing next to two people. One his holding his mortar board. Image by Ed Brennen
Criminal justice grad Henrique Santos '24, a first-generation college student from Lowell, was cheered on at Commencement by friends, including his "work mom," Kim Steadman, left. "He's passed the exams. Now this is the public and family recognition that we see what he's accomplished," says Steadman.

Henrique Santos ’24 decorated his mortar board with the inspiration for his bachelor of science in criminal justice: Spider-Man.
“He’s why I want to help people,” says Santos, who started working full-time at Vinfen Behavioral Health in Lowell after completing his degree in December. He’s already halfway done with his master’s degree in criminal justice.
“If you can help people, it’s not a choice — it’s a responsibility,” the Lowell native says. “If I have the power to change someone’s life for the better, I want to do it.”
A person in a graduation gown holds his diploma while posing for a photo with four people on the steps outside an arena. Image by Ed Brennen
Guillermo Francés Poquet, right, a nutritional science grad and midfielder on the UML men's soccer team, celebrated his college degree with his parents, center, and aunt and uncle, who are from Valencia, Spain.

A native of Valencia, Spain, Guillermo Francés Poquet came to UML to play Division I soccer and earn a degree in nutritional science.
After all he accomplished — including a team-high five goals as a senior midfielder and America East All-Academic Team recognition — his parents, José Ramón Francés Sáez and Magdalena Poquet, made their first-ever trip to campus to see him graduate.
“It’s so special to have them here,” says Francés Poquet, whose aunt and uncle also attended. 
With Francés Poquet serving as translator, his mom was asked what it means to see him graduate.
“There are a lot of emotions and satisfaction for this day,” she says, gesturing with her hands up and down over her heart. “He’s the only child, so it’s very special.”
Francés Poquet plans to pursue a Ph.D. and possibly a career in professional soccer.
But first, he was off to New York for a few days with his family.
A person in cap and gown is surrounded by people outside. Image by Ed Brennen
Computer engineering grad Archange Lombo '24, back left, celebrates with family and friends in front of the Tsongas Center.

After delivering the Commencement address at the Saturday morning ceremony, computer engineering graduate Archange Lombo '24 was greeted by about two dozen cheering friends and family as he emerged from the main entrance of the Tsongas Center.
Blowing whistles, clapping and singing, they turned the front steps of the arena into an impromptu dance party.
“It feels great,” says Lombo, who moved with his family to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016.
Among the revelers was his sister Anayah Lombo, who is a junior at UMass Amherst.
“He makes me want to do better,” she says. “Not everyone has the opportunity to go to school and graduate. He makes the whole family proud.”