It may be UC Irvine’s 47th annual commencement, but that doesn’t mean the campus is short on firsts. New programs and traditions constantly enrich the graduation ceremonies, and this year is no exception.

First business bachelor’s degrees: UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business ushered in its undergraduate program in fall 2008, and the initial 113 will graduate Sunday. Among them is Oliver Moravcevic, who has joined Edwards Lifesciences’ 24-month, rotational Accounting & Finance Development Program.

“I am truly grateful for all the support the Merage School has given me – and for helping me become part of Edwards Lifesciences,” says Moravcevic, who credits Chang Hu, the school’s associate director of undergraduate programs/career consulting with offering resume-writing and job-search tips.

“Through my experience at the school, I developed my teamwork and leadership abilities and became an effective communicator. I use these skills every day at Edwards to provide quality work across our global finance teams.”

First graduates of the Cal Teach program: In 2007, UCI was one of 13 universities in the nation awarded $1.4 million by the National Math & Science Initiative to develop a dual bachelor’s degree and single-subject teaching credential program. The first cohort of students enrolled in that program graduates this year. Anita Nensey is one of them, having earned a mathematics degree along with a secondary teaching certificate.

“As soon as I became a math major, I knew that I wanted to teach mathematics at the high school level,” she says. “The Cal Teach program let me achieve my dream career in the fastest and most productive way. I learned so much about teaching: time management, classroom management, what a daily lesson entails, how it’s important to interact with other teachers, etc.”

Grace Kwon, who will also receive a math degree and a secondary teaching credential, says she found her “UCI home” in the Cal Teach program.

“Being a first-generation middle and high school student in the U.S., I had no one in my family to turn to for advice. However, I always had at least one teacher who encouraged and supported me. I grew as a student leader through the support of others, and that was a major reason for my decision to become a teacher. I want to be able to provide that help to students.”

Nensey and Kwon are both applying for teaching jobs, in which they hope to inspire the next generation and increase U.S. students’ proficiency in math.

First School of Law commencement: Fifty-eight law students accepted diplomas in a May 5 ceremony at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. During three years of study, they published the inaugural UC Irvine Law Review and established the pro bono program. Sam Lam and Mohammed Elayan were the first class members to tackle a pro bono case, assisting in a political asylum matter on behalf of an Iraqi man in detention. Thanks to their diligent work, the judge released their client and allowed him to remain in the U.S.

First year for bell tower tradition: The Student Center bell tower, a gift from the 2010 graduating class, includes a carillon system that every hour plays the classic chimes of the Palace of Westminster. In a new tradition, Class of 2012 graduates and their parents will be serenaded 15 minutes before and after each commencement ceremony.

UCI’s bell tower creates a campus landmark at the hub of student life and follows a tradition that dates to the early Middle Ages, when massive, cast-metal bells rang from churches and campaniles. The UCI bell tower and its chimes will ring out across the campus for generations of Anteaters to come.

First recognition of longtime commencement volunteer: Commencement planning starts long before the stage is built and balloons are inflated, so when John Sommerhauser, the School of Social Sciences’ manager of graduate student affairs, was queried about his participation last December, he returned this note: “It’s always a pleasure, and I don’t expect a break in my attendance record now. It’s been 24 years running, not counting my own undergraduate participation back in 1977.”

This – his 25th consecutive year of volunteer service – was considered worthy of note. At Friday’s social sciences ceremony, Sommerhauser became the first volunteer honored for such dedication.

“He’s always helpful and looking out for the best interests of students,” says Barbara Johnson, commencement coordinator. “One year, he was moving to his new home in Riverside, but he put his graduates and his school ahead of his own responsibilities that day. What a great opportunity to recognize volunteerism!”