Undergraduate Commencement Speaker Describes UCR As “A Second Chance”

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
June 12, 2014

Lauren Flores entered UCR as a biochemistry major hoping to go on to medical school and become a cardiologist. After realizing his interest in policymaking through classes and internships, he decided to pursue a law degree, and switched to law and psychology. Since he still wants to help people in the health field, he plans to obtain a PhD in cognitive psychology as well as his JD. Throughout his UCR career, Lauren struggled to pay for school; he worked at UPS from three until eighty-thirty in the morning and sometimes earlier on holidays, all while taking classes and doing lab work every week day. Eventually, he was forced to take a year off. “During that break I had to live out of my car and between hospitable friends” he said. “It forced me to grow up quickly and hitting rock bottom inspired me to overcome my challenges.”

Despite switching majors, Lauren did a great deal of work in the biochemistry major; only four or five classes stand in the way of him completing the degree, which he says he will pursue as a second bachelor’s once he is done. In addition to his coursework, he has worked in Dr. Clark’s eyewitness memory and cognition lab as well as Dr. Sy’s multisensory learning lab. Off campus, Lauren has been involved with volunteer work and political internships. He first worked with Senator Mike Roel, where he helped set up events, went door-to-door talking to constituents about certain issues that were being raised and their opinions on them, and made phone calls. The most significant part of the experience for him was actually speaking with county board supervisors and constituents, which proved useful for his recent internship with Senator Feinstein for the UCDC program.

There, he was mainly a legislative intern and worked on education, agriculture, and veteran affairs. Lauren performed research for any bill on the floor or on its way to the floor and provided that information to legislative correspondents. One of his biggest responsibilities was organizing Senator Feinstein’s constituent breakfast. “Every Wednesday while they are in session, constituents can come and speak to her about climate issues, drought changes, and more. She usually delivers about a twenty minute intro about what her office is currently doing, and allows them to take pictures with her afterwards,” he says. Lauren scheduled all of it; from organizing the event the day of, orchestrating where people sit, to informing the senator of who would be present. “People send requests and so I did research so she can prepare.” When Lauren was asked about one of the coolest experiences he has had there thus far, he discussed how the proclamation he wrote made it to the floor.  “I wrote it commending the most recent president of the Kennedy Center,” he said. “It was delivered to the senate floor and signed by Majority Leader Harry Reid and delivered by Senator Feinstein herself. It was the best and most humbling experience of the internship.”

Following this, Lauren was allowed to write speech remarks, something he never expected to happen as an intern. He also spoke to press and directed them to the press secretary. In addition to his internship, he took two classes; the first was the philosophy of museums, where he visited and studied monuments and museums in DC. “It was very hands on,” he said. “We talked about space, depth, and compared different museums to each other.” The other class was a seminar, which discussed the rules and political nature of Congress. “The best thing is it was taught by John Lawrence, former Chief of Staff. Just recently we were in the Capital and got to meet Nancy Pelosi,” he says.

Lauren was fortunate enough to give a couple speeches in DC, the most significant involving UC President Janet Napolitano, where students held a silent protest. “ I was asked to give a speech, and I had to cross a picket line of fellow students,” he said. “I felt so guilty having to cross that into alumni territory.” During the speech, Lauren spoke about education, students’ opportunities and how UC’s have been successful in providing them. In his leisure time, Lauren considers himself to be very active and a “major thrill seeker”. He owns a motorcycle, has gone skydiving, and hopes to get his scuba diving certification in the near future.

When asked about why he wanted to speak at commencement, Lauren attributed it to the gratitude he felt toward UCR. “The university gave me a second chance, even when my grades had suffered because I couldn’t afford it,” he said. Lauren felt that the faculty was particularly helpful in helping him achieve his personal goals. “The professors would reach out to me after doing well in their classes, and that’s how I got lab positions and opportunities to speak to other faculty members about my ideas. They really do care about how well they teach and want to help students out.”

After graduation, Lauren hopes to work for Senator Feinstein for a year as a staff assistant position. He is scheduled to take both the LSAT and GRE in September, and plans to apply to graduate schools in the fall. “If I could afford to, I would love to stay in school and learn more languages and about economic policy, but I will probably end up in academia, non profits, or the public sector,” he said. “Ultimately, anywhere I am needed I will head in that direction.”

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