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2023 Winter Commencement Features Inspiring Stories


Simpson College awarded 50 bachelor’s degrees at Winter Commencement on Friday, Dec. 15. The celebration included powerful and moving messages from a pair of graduates highlighting how Simpson helped them achieve their educational aspirations.

Ronaldo Ordaz ZambranoRonaldo Ordaz Zambrano '23 talked about the thrill of pursuing and achieving goals at Simpson — both as a soccer player and as a student. Putting extra time on the soccer pitch, he earned more playing time and became a prolific scorer. This year, as team captain, he earned all-conference and all-region team honors.

Zambrano put equal energy and enthusiasm into excelling academically. And Simpson's supportive learning environment made all the difference in helping him thrive.

"My main goal was to graduate college with a 3.0 grade point average or higher," said Zambrano. "Considering the fact that I am a first-generation student, it was not an easy feat. Luckily, I took advantage of the (Simpson’s) TRIO program and study sessions. I worked through it and am pleased to say that I exceeded my goal and am graduating with a 3.4 grade point average. I can truly say what I have experienced at Simpson has set me up to succeed in life."

Now, proudly holding his Simpson degree in biology, Zambrano will chase a new set of goals.

Simpson Is a Game-Changer

Carlos FuentesWhen Carlos Fuentes '23 came to the U.S. from Mexico City at age 5, his dreams were all about baseball. And he became a big hit on the diamond, eventually earning a full-ride athletic scholarship at a "big time" university. Unfortunately, he says, he lost that scholarship because he failed to take his academic responsibilities seriously. No more baseball, no more college.

Fast forward 20 years and Fuentes found himself working hard to raise his four children while in an employment situation with very limited opportunities. Wanting to ensure better fortunes for his children, he has urged them to "do better" in school and to make sure they get a college education. Their questioning response challenged Fuentes to rethink his own situation.

"My oldest told me, 'Why should they try when I gave up so easily?' I decided then and there that I would go back to school and told them that we would all work at getting better grades and becoming better as a whole."

So, Fuentes enrolled in Simpson's Continuing, Graduate and Online Education program. Simpson's faculty and staff worked closely with him to help him navigate the demands of rigorous coursework while holding down a full-time job and raising a family. Now he has a degree in management with his eyes set on earning his MBA.

"The hunger I have been able to develop since I started school again is nothing like I have ever felt before," said Fuentes. "From here on out I will show everyone that you can be anything you set your mind to. I will get that MBA; I will have a career that I am proud of and most importantly I will show my kids that hard work and dedication do pay off. I thank Simpson College for giving me that drive, that determination, that I lost so many years ago. I'm back baby, and nothing will stop me now."

Nicole CrainFeatured commencement speaker Nicole Crain '05, executive vice president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and Simpson trustee, counseled graduates that employers are seeking professionals who are honest, kind and non-judgmental. She challenged the Class of 2023 to demonstrate the best principles of "servant leadership" as they lean on lifelong Simpson support to grow as thriving professionals.

"Don’t let tonight be the end of your Simpson experience and story, but rather the beginning," said Crain. "The Simpson College network nationwide is strong, but I think it is strongest in Iowa. I hope you plan to stay in Iowa. The opportunity to make a difference, the opportunity to have a career and lifestyle you want is right here."