Date December 2, 2016
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Midyear completion students navigate their own unique paths toward graduation

Ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 3, will celebrate the diverse achievements of Brown’s “.5ers,” who complete their degree requirements this month.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The summer before his senior year at Brown, Richard Flores had what he calls a “wake-up call.” The literary arts and psychology concentrator had landed an informational interview at Nickelodeon. Interested in applying for jobs in the entertainment industry after graduation, he asked the rep what the likelihood of getting one was. She was blunt: pretty slim.

That’s when Flores decided it was time to beef up his resume. Though he was involved in multiple extra-curricular activities at Brown — not to mention working two campus jobs and about to embark on an ambitious thesis project, a film about a refugee turned superhero — he hadn’t yet interned in the entertainment business.

So Flores began applying to internships, eventually landing not one, but two gigs — an internship at MTV and another at director Justin Lin’s production company, Perfect Storm. The catch? He’d have to move back to Los Angeles, his hometown, take a semester off and graduate the following year.

Flores spoke to his faculty mentor and the supervisors at his two Brown jobs. “They were really supportive,” he said.  “They said, ‘You can’t say no to this opportunity,’ which I really appreciated.” So he headed to L.A. for the term, gaining experience that led to another opportunity the following summer — a “dream internship” with DC Comics.

Flores is one of 111 “.5ers” who will complete their Brown degree requirements this December. Approximately sixty of them will take part in a Midyear Completion Ceremony in Sayles Hall this Saturday, Dec. 3. (The event will be live-streamed here starting at 4 p.m.) Reasons for finishing studies mid-year vary widely. Some students, like Flores, take time off to intern, volunteer or work. Others leave to travel or pursue creative projects. Sometimes academic, personal or medical issues motivate a leave.

Another cohort of students who often finish mid-year are transfer students who stay at Brown for an additional semester to meet credit requirements. That’s the case for Anton Manzano, an anthropology concentrator who spent his first year of college at a university in Spain. Attracted by Brown’s Open Curriculum, which offered an alternative to more rigid European course requirements, Manzano transferred to Brown the fall of his sophomore year.

Though he grew up in the Philippines and attended a Spanish university, Manzano said that what has set his Brown experience apart is his exposure to international diversity.

“I have always been interested in international issues,” Manzano said. “But I have never known as much about what is going on in the world around me as I do since coming to Brown. Being here has exposed me to people who have come from all over the globe, and I am always learning from their diverse perspectives.”

Manzano channeled his global interests into a variety of pursuits including an internship at the United Nations and leadership positions in Brown’s International Organization, a peer support group for international students, where he has served as fundraising and philanthropy chair. He will spend the spring working for the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, creating an online platform to share refugee stories with the goal of increasing awareness of and support for the state’s refugee community. Eventually he hopes to pursue a career at the United Nations.

Though Manzano will walk in the University Commencement exercises in the spring, he said that the Midyear Completion Ceremony is nonetheless an important rite of passage for seniors who finish their Brown career in December.

“It would feel different if we had to wait five more months to march,” he said. “This feels more rewarding. It’s nice to know we are being recognized for our achievements despite our different academic position. Also, there are other .5ers who won’t be able to attend in May, so this gives a sense of closure. It’s a way of saying goodbye.”

Like Commencement, the midyear event will be celebrated with remarks from administrators, faculty and students. President Christina Paxson will deliver the salutation, and Dean of the College Maud Mandel will welcome students and families and give closing remarks. Daniel Kim, associate professor of English and American studies will speak, and two of the departing students will offer their senior reflections: Flores and Taunton, Mass., native Sophia Bonenfant.

Bonenfant, a biology concentrator, has served as a residential peer leader for three years and is a teaching assistant for an introduction to biology course. She also interns for the Childhood Asthma Research Program at Hasbro Children's Hospital. Eventually she plans to apply to medical school with the ultimate goal of becoming a pediatrician.

Sophia Bonenfant hugging Bruno
Sophia Bonenfant, a ".5er," poses with the Brown mascot during her time as a residential advisor for Brown's summer precollege program.

The Midyear Completion Ceremony, she said, offers recognition for those who take a more nontraditional path toward their degree, a path that sometimes comes with challenges. It’s these challenges that she will reflect upon in her remarks.

“We spend a lot of time formulating plans for how our four years at Brown will go —for how our whole lives will go — but I’ve learned that things don’t always go according to plan,” she said. “I didn’t expect to take to take a leave from Brown, but it happened. I am going to talk about how these changes in plan are not failures on our part. It’s how we navigate these obstacles and rise above our challenges that defines who we are.”

In his remarks, Flores will focus on an important realization he had while interning at DC Comics where part of his job involved developing potential new storylines for the comic book character “The Blue Beetle.” The Blue Beetle’s alter ego is Jaime Reyes, who, like Flores, is Latino. Very little of the Blue Beetle’s story has focused on his cultural identity, said Flores, and during his internship he worked on ways to integrate that heritage into the character’s story arc. The exercise resonated for Flores.

“Kind of like the Blue Beetle, the closer I got to my goals at Brown, the more I forgot who I was culturally — until I had this great opportunity to take a leave and go back to L.A. for these internships. It can be easy to be trapped in this Ivory Tower, to be granted these superhuman abilities and forget who you are and where you come from." said Flores. “In the storyline I worked on, Reyes gained newfound strength after accepting the fact that he is not just a superhero but a Latino superhero. So at the ceremony, I plan to talk about how we shouldn't segment ourselves into specific identities. It is important to accept every facet of who we are."