UC Davis Student Takes Father’s Lessons to Heart, Named Top Graduate

University of California, Davis, student Lucydalila Cedillo grew up in East Los Angeles in a home without books, collected recyclable cans with her mother to help support the household and didn’t know anyone who had gone to college. But on morning rides to middle school, she took to heart what her father told her about the importance of learning.

Lucydalila Cedillo of Los Angeles will receive the University Medal at her commencement on June 10. (Jason Spyres/UC Davis photo)

Lucydalila Cedillo of Los Angeles will receive the University Medal at her commencement on June 10. (Jason Spyres/UC Davis photo)

Now bound for a doctoral program at Harvard University and a career as a professor, the animal science major is the top graduating senior at UC Davis. She will receive the University Medal at the 2 p.m. commencement of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on Friday, June 10, at the Pavilion of the Activities and Recreation Center. (The campus hold its 10 remaining commencements through June 8 to 12.)

‘My gift to my parents’

“It means a lot to me,” Cedillo said. “And it’s sort of my gift to my parents for all of their support. As soon as a I get it, I hope to give it to them with a huge, warm hug.”

Video about Cedillo (two minutes): https://youtu.be/MTx0e6DrmTs

Immigrants from Mexico, Pedro and Dolores Cedillo were not able to continue their own education beyond the seventh grade. But Cedillo spoke of what her father, a mechanic and musician, would tell her: “He would give me those long talks about why it’s a privilege to be here and how I should never take my education for granted. He’d say, ‘Learn as much as you can. No one’s ever going to take it way from you.’”

Award recipients a class of their own

The award, which includes a $2,000 honorarium and a plaque, is for excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society. And Cedillo will join recipients in a class of their own who have gone on to become doctors, engineers, professors and others devoted to work that ranges from seeking a cure for cancer to helping the poor in developing countries.

Making the most of the opportunity

With the same rigor that earned her a black belt in karate, Cedillo made the most of her studies at what is a world-class university. Originally thinking of veterinary medicine, she became interested in genetics as a route to researching gene therapy for diseases. On the way to earning A+ in 26 courses and a cumulative grade point average of 4.0, Cedillo also served as an undergraduate teaching assistant.

She participated in the McNair Scholars Program that helps prepare historically underrepresented students for doctoral programs. As a volunteer in a genetics laboratory, she conducted an independent research project to construct a genetic map of rainbow trout and is the lead author of a research paper being prepared for publication.

Cedillo also won scholarships to support her research, her participation in a national research conference and, in later years, the cost of her education.

How she did so well

Asked how she did so well, Cedillo said she stopped worrying about grades and focused instead on understanding concepts and “connecting the dots between classes.”

“It led to the same result, but I appreciated my education a lot more,” she said.

Grateful to her professors for both inspiring and mentoring her, Cedillo will begin her doctoral program in genetics in the fall.

‘Not just for yourself but for others too’

Cedillo remembers another of her father’s lessons about education and is committed to serving as an educational role model, especially for those who are disadvantaged. “He said use what you learn not just for yourself but for others too.”

She is helping two teens with their applications for university and has already had an influence on younger children from her Boyle Heights neighborhood. One said he wanted to go to Harvard just like her.  

“I’m someone they can relate to because I’ve grown up playing soccer, baseball and zombie tag in the neighborhood,” she said. “I told him, ‘Yes, you go for it, and I’ll help you get there.'”