Graduate & Undergraduate students selected to speak at Commencement 2013 

Graduate Speaker 
Ms. Mercedes Lardizabal, was born and raised in the Philippines. There, she attended St. Paul College of Pasig and moved to South Florida in 2003 with her family. She completed her undergraduate degree at Nova Southeastern University, majoring in Communication Studies and was recognized for her outstanding academic standing by being inducted to Lambda Pi Eta, the National Communication Association Honor Society.

Hoping to contribute to the growing field of Communication Arts, Arts Management and Filipino American Studies, Ms. Lardizabal graduate research projects focused on themes involving the role of arts and culture organizations and the Filipino American community. 

Her master’s thesis is entitled, “Building Social Capital Through Arts and Culture: A Plan for the Filipino American Community of South Florida.” She examines the networks, resources, arts practices and cultural assets of the Filipino American community of South Florida in order to use arts and culture to strengthen the community’s social capital. She was a Competitive Paper Panelist in the Florida Communication Association’s 81st Annual Convention where she presented her academic research, “The Search for the Filipino American Identity: Exploring the Work of Filipino American Artists.” In addition, she continues to stay involved with the Filipino American community of South Florida through their various cultural activities. 

Throughout her time in St. Thomas University, Ms. Lardizabal maintained a 4.0 GPA and worked as a Graduate Assistant for the School of Leadership Studies and the Institute for Communication, Entertainment and Media. Furthermore, she is actively involved with the marketing and graphic design aspects of the faculty/student produced documentary, Blooming Hope

Ms. Lardizabal has completed internships in marketing and public relations with the Alvin Sherman Library and Boardroom Communications, Inc. respectively. She has volunteered at the Broward Cultural Division and the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale. As an active parishioner of St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Pembroke Pines, she is a member of the Agnus Dei choir and served as a young adult group leader.

Ms. Lardizabal is looking forward to making a mark in the arts and creative sector as well as contributing to Florida’s arts and cultural literacy by sharing her talents, skills and values she has instilled in St. Thomas University. 

Undergraduate Speaker
Mr. Jean-Bernard Latortue was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Gonaives, Haiti. He returned to the United States in 2007 and completed his last year of high school at North Miami Senior High. In 2009, he entered STU’s School of Science, Technology and Engineering Management, but hurriedly left to Biscayne College having discovered a stronger penchant for the social sciences and humanities.

Under the tutelage of History Professor and Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Francis Sicius, and Political Science Professor and Program Director, Dr. Giselle Jamison, Mr. Latortue has developed intellectual abilities which will be useful throughout life. 

Mr. Latortue considers himself to have become a true embodiment of what St. Thomas University ultimately seeks to accomplish – Developing Leaders for Life. He was one of the two student leaders selected for the inaugural class of the President’s Leadership Circle Fellows (PLC). As a PLC fellow, he was honored to shadow the president of the university, Monsignor Franklyn Casale, for six weeks. One of Mr. Latortue’s most prominent leadership positions was that of Head Resident Assistant under the supervision of the Residential Life Director, Richard McNab. Mr. Latortue also served as a senator in the legislative body of the Student Government Association and as the captain of the Campus Community Emergency Response Team.

During his senior year, Mr. Latortue had the opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, Spain for one semester. While overseas, he immersed himself within the Spanish culture by living with a host family and by enrolling in courses that encompass Spanish politics, history and language. He was also able to travel to other Spanish cities and visited numerous United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites, including the Islamic Palaces of La Alhambra in Granada and the large Roman Catholic Church, La Segrada Familia in Barcelona. 
As an honor student, Mr. Latortue served as a Teaching Assistant in the Cuban Politics course, and was one of the four students from St. Thomas University to attend the Florida Political Science Annual Meeting held in Miami this year. He is a member with Presidential Status of the National Society of Leadership and Success; a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the National History Honor Society, and has earned Dean’s List honors throughout the course of his studies here at St. Thomas. 

Today Mr. Latortue graduates from St. Thomas’ Honors Program with a dual degree in Political Science and History cum laude. He plans to pursue a master’s degree followed by a career in Foreign Service.