Oliver Stensby, 28, should have walked across the commencement stage two and a half years ago, but the hospitality major suffered two crushing blows in fast succession.
In 2011 he watched his beloved mother succumb to cancer. In the midst of his grief, Stensby faced the onset of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare, debilitating condition that left him completely paralyzed and in the hospital for a year. Undergoing months of physical therapy and in tremendous pain, he eventually relearned how to do everything from walking and feeding himself, to driving a car. With his mental function fully intact, he fought his way back into the classroom.
He is one of the 3,620 students who will be receiving degrees this summer – a new record for summer commencement at FIU. The summer commencement ceremonies will take place Monday, August 3 and Tuesday, August 4 at the FIU Arena on FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus, 11200 SW 8th St. in west Miami-Dade County.
“Our students are determined to reach their educational goals no matter what obstacles they face,” said Mark B. Rosenberg, president of FIU. “They find solutions, they overcome challenges and they get it done. I commend them on their hard work and dedication to their education.”
Stensby, who will graduate Monday at 7:30 p.m., is one of a group of standout students who will be recognized as Worlds Ahead graduates at the ceremonies. Other Worlds Ahead students include:
- Kevin Orcel, 22, was born in Haiti with glaucoma, and required surgery when he was only eight months old. Unfortunately, the surgery was not effective and his vision loss progressed. Seeking better medical care for Orcel and new opportunities, Kevin’s parents moved his family to Miami when he was 10 years old. At 13, Orcel had another operation with no success; however, he didn’t let his condition get the best of him. He became a star athlete in high school. At FIU, he was on the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) Dean’s Student Advisory Council and in the Public Relations Student Society of America, participated in alternative breaks in Jamaica, and served as creative director of the SJMC’s student-run agency. After graduation, he hopes to get his master’s degree in sports management at FIU, and pursue a career in sports marketing. Orcel will graduate on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- Christina Fleetwood, 37, has been able to celebrate many academic and professional milestones along the path to earning her Ph.D. in dietetics and nutrition, she’s done so while overcoming much adversity. The very semester she was to complete her degree, she suffered several heart attacks—at one point, flat lining on the operating room table. She survived, but doctors told her to put school on hold. But that was not an option for Fleetwood. One week after undergoing angioplasty and the placement of two stents, Fleetwood was back at school, full-time, while maintaining a research job. She also managed to make necessary lifestyle changes to prevent additional damage to her heart. She went on to pass her board exams to become a registered dietician. Unfortunately Fleetwood’s mom died unexpectedly in April 2015. Fleetwood’s experience along with her family’s extensive heart problems, sparked her interest in cardiovascular research. She’s currently applying for academic and government positions that will allow her to pursue that interest. Fleetwood will graduate on Monday at 7:30 p.m.
- Anabel Mendt, 25, is the embodiment of a global citizen. Born to German parents in Venezuela, Anabel is fluent in Spanish, English and German. In her early childhood, she lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for four years and then returned to Venezuela. After graduating with a degree in architecture from the Central University of Venezuela in 2012, she traded Caracas for Miami to begin a new life and work on her master’s degree in architecture at FIU. While at FIU, Mendt studied abroad in Tokyo. She was a delegate for the Harvard World United Nations in The Hague, Netherlands and Taipei, Taiwan. Mendt will graduate on Tuesday at 3 p.m.
U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo will be the commencement speaker at 7:30 p.m. on Monday.
Robert Chadwick “Chad” Moss, executive vice president of Moss and Associates, will be honored with the FIU Medallion – Outstanding Alumni at 10 a.m. on Monday.
Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, fifth president of Barry University and community activist, will receive an FIU Medallion – Cal Kovens Distinguished Community Service Award at 3 p.m. on Monday.
Additionally, President of Quantum Results Inc. Albert Lorenzo will walk on-stage as a graduate, 41 years after he completed his degree in business administration from FIU. A member of FIU’s inaugural baseball team, first-generation college graduate and member of the FIU Board of Directors, Lorenzo never attended his commencement ceremony in 1974. He had a successful career in banking before transitioning to politics where he has advised government leaders at all levels. Lorenzo will participate in the 3 p.m. ceremony on Tuesday.
For more details about FIU’s spring commencement ceremonies, please visit commencement.fiu.edu.