More than 680 students celebrated commencement day Wednesday for The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.
For a select few, the path to the Dickie’s Arena stage was wrought with unique obstacles and divergent trails. The stories below feature snippets of a few students’ perseverance and their unwavering devotion to their dreams. They overcame odds, achieved the highest honors and embody the values and vision of HSC.
Daniel De La Cruz
About 10 years ago, Daniel De La Cruz was in prison. He served four years of a seven-year sentence after crashing his car while driving under the influence of alcohol. The San Antonio native said he was running with a bad crowd, and his life was spiraling out of control.
On Wednesday at Dickie’s Arena, he was handed his Ph.D./M.S. in biomedical science. From his time sitting in a cell to now, he’s owned and operated a car lot, earned his real estate license and authored the kind of life turnaround worthy of a Hollywood drama.
“I never knew anyone with a graduate degree,” he said. “Now, I only know people who hold graduate degrees.”
De La Cruz’s ambitions don’t stop at earning his doctorate from HSC’s School of Biomedical Sciences. He hopes to attend UNT Denton to earn an MBA and merge his research training and entrepreneurial spirit.
Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine student Taylor Orcutt’s left arm ends at the elbow because of a rare birth defect. After completing her studies at HSC to earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, she’s on the verge of realizing her dream of becoming a physician.
Orcutt has never let her disability be a hinderance. In high school, she excelled at soccer, basketball, volleyball and cross country. She graduated valedictorian in her hometown of Little River, Texas, before attending Texas A&M for her undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering.
At HSC, she became a Luibel Advisory College representative, a TCOM student ambassador, an officer in the Human Anatomy Society and a member of the Pediatric Club.
“I have thought a lot about the fact of showing people: ‘You know what? She can do this, so there is no reason I can’t do that,’” she said. “There are a lot of platforms that are out there that can help people and support groups, especially when it comes to helping show kids what they can do.”
School of Public Health standout Noah Peeri leaves HSC as one of its most decorated students. The Sony Brook, New York, native received the Dean’s Award this year for scholarly excellence in research.
His academic work earned him a residency at the prestigious Sloan Kettering Institute in New York City, where he will pursue his dream of becoming a full-time cancer epidemiologist.
Peeri is a first-generation American, whose parents are from Israel and France, respectively. The support he received at HSC, he said, has prepared him for his next step.
“It’s been great because it’s a smaller program and the faculty have been very supportive,” he said. “My mentor, Dr. [Uyen-Sa] Nguyen, has been a big source of support and constantly challenges me to think at a higher level.”
Deborah Reddout couldn’t move her fingers or feel her legs. The Tulsa-born gymnastics competitor was 15 years old, and she was practicing a tumbling maneuver on a trampoline. The last thing she remembered was bouncing about 20 feet in the air and somehow losing control. She landed on her head. After passing out for a few minutes, she couldn’t feel her coach pinching her leg.
Doctors at the time said she’d never walk again.
Not only did she recover after a successful spinal fusion surgery and years of physical therapy, but she walked the stage at Dickie’s Arena after finishing her Doctor of Physical Therapy in HSC’s School of Health Professions.
“I had an incredible medical team, but my physical therapist at that rehab center was the person who I became the closest to,” Reddout said. “She had the most impact on my life. That was 10 years ago, and we still keep in touch to this day. She was a huge inspiration and a big part of why I chose this path.”
Now Reddout will pursue a career path that allows her to work with other people who have suffered spinal cord injuries and guide them through their rehab journeys. She is already speaking to two local in-patient rehab facilities about joining their teams after she takes the National Physical Therapy Examination this summer.
Recent College of Pharmacy graduate Charlie Cid is no stranger to huge challenges. As an ultramarathon runner — races that usually far exceed the normal 26.2 miles in a marathon — he’s been juggling his two passions.
“We all have the same 24 hours in the day,” he said. “I spend mine either putting my feet to the trails or in the library buried in a book. I am the type of person to push myself and break unimaginable boundaries in and out of school. I hope to complete a 100-kilometer race by the end of the year and a 100-mile race in the next three years.”
Cid accepted a pharmacy residency at the Medical Center Health System in Odessa, Texas, where he will train to be clinical pharmacy specialist. He hopes to land a job in the intensive care unit or emergency department at a nonprofit hospital system.
The Princeton, Texas, native was active during his time as HSC. Between training for races and studying, he found time to be a member of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists; founding member of the National Community Oncology Dispensing Association; board of directors’ member for the Tarrant County Pharmacy Association; candidate educator and chaplain for Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity Inc.; co-director for the Texas Pharmacy Association; and executive committee member for the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists.