Students get engaged during Green School commencement

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For one Panther couple, this summer's Green School commencement ceremony will forever be a special part of their story. Yes, the two earned their degrees that day. But they also got engaged – on stage during the ceremony.

Criminal justice major Christopher Ubeda got down on one knee and presented a ring to now-fiancée Jacqueline Mendoza right after she received her diploma and shook hands with FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg.

It was a complete surprise.

“I wanted to do this proposal,” Ubeda said. “I thought, what can I do to propose to this beautiful girl on the biggest stage possible?”

The couple met at their church, so he thought of proposing there. But, when he realized the two would be graduating together, he decided FIU – the place where the two of them had come to achieve their goals – would be perfect.

Mendoza said it was her dream to graduate during the same ceremony as Ubeda. Since she started her studies at FIU after he did, Mendoza took more classes at a time to be able to make it to commencement the same semester.

By a stroke of luck – or fate – Mendoza, a health services administration major, ended up attending the Green School commencement ceremony. She thought the situation was already perfect. Until of course Ubeda proposed, and the entire experience got even better.

Mendoza and Ubeda said the setting was just right. The two, both first-generation students, are proud to be Panthers and start their engagement right where they earned their degrees.

“FIU gave us the tools to achieve the American dream,” Ubeda explained. “FIU gives a chance to students who chase their dreams. [With this proposal,] I wanted to give back to FIU. I wanted to show the world that this was my biggest day.”

Ubeda added that the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the Green School were crucial for his journey at FIU.

“The Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice helped me find my passion. It taught me discipline and that there's a justice system out there, and it needs dedicated people to make a positive change.”

Mendoza said the couple's time as students helped them grow closer together.

During their time at the university, they spent hours studying together, learning about each other's majors and supporting each other, she explained.

“FIU for me felt like home,” Mendoza said. “Even when I was overwhelmed, there was always help. It's a unique school. I learned so much from FIU.”

The couple plans to come back to the university for future master's degrees and to stay involved as alumni.

The pair thank God for their blessings and ultimately credit their faith for their successes.

“Our faith has brought us to where we are today,” Mendoza said. “We believe in each other and have always been there for each other. Everything is possible, if you put God first and have each other.”

By Gisela Valencia