Even over Zoom, Arizona State University graduate Cameron Vega’s poise and professionalism is notable.
Like many students this year, the Ahwatukee man has had some practice using the virtual platform.
Just as his semester interning for the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., was getting underway in the spring of 2020, the pandemic hit. Cameron ended up returning home to finish out the internship online, but it took some convincing.
Ever since his first visit to Washington as an adult, in the summer of 2018 when he flew out to represent the Alexander Hamilton Society as incoming president at a conference, he was hooked.
“I kind of knew I found where I wanted my home to be on the flight in, where the plane does a little turnaround at the Washington Monument,” Cameron said. “I was stunned by that. I knew that these were the sites I wanted to see for the rest of my life.”
He might still get that chance now that he is a freshly minted graduate of Arizona State University.
Cameron was there as one of 18,000 ASU students who received their degrees last Monday.
That total was an 8 percent increase from spring 2020 — including more than 5,200 ASU online students, a 24 percent increase over last May; more than 700 of those online students earned their degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan partnership.
Of the overall student total, nearly 12,200 are undergraduates and more than 5,500 are graduate students. Nearly 6,900 students graduated with honors, the most ever for an individual class and a 5 percent increase over last spring.
And unlike last spring, when everything shifted remote, this time colleges will host a variety of in-person celebrations in addition to their virtual convocations.
“We are incredibly proud of what our Sun Devils have accomplished during the past year of all-compassing changes and challenges wrought by the pandemic,” said Melissa Werner, executive director of the Office of University Events and Protocol and the Office of University Ceremonies.
Cameron is among the honored grads.
He is the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership Dean’s Medalist.
His academic career so far has included three fellowships – one each with ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, Center on the Future of War and Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies.
He also earned a National Merit Scholarship, a National Hispanic Scholarship and a George Washington Scholarship.
In March, Cameron received word that he had been accepted to Johns Hopkins University for graduate studies with a full ride, thanks to a well-earned Pickering Fellowship.
He plans to pursue a master of arts in international relations, after which he will join the U.S. foreign service for five years.
Cameron started his freshman year at ASU as a physics major. It was a last-minute decision to take part in the model United Nations Conference that changed his trajectory forever.
ASU Now spoke with Cameron about how he got to where he is today.
You double majored in political science as well as civic and economic thought and leadership. When did you realize you wanted to study those fields?
Before the start of the fall semester freshman year, I participated in the model United Nations Conference for the very first time. I participated in the conference because I had enjoyed playing computer games like “Civilization” and had developed an interest in the role of foreign policy and how it relates to interpersonal communication and understandings.
So, after the conference, I was drawn to political science as a broad field. Then, while I was taking a political ideologies class, we read a couple excerpts from texts such as Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan.” And for me, reading those excerpts really didn’t capture the full picture.
But I noticed that in my SCETL classes, which I took on the recommendation of a few peers, that they really did approach the whole texts and look for not just the individual context, but the context of the text as a whole and the historical context which was developed. And I found that it really complemented my political science degree and ended up becoming more of my focus than political science was.
Why did you choose ASU?
For me it was a matter of cost effectiveness knowing that I’d be pursuing a graduate degree later. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to be in debt beforehand. And the offer from Barrett as a National Hispanic Scholar was too good to pass up.
What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?
Just about how many opportunities are out there. Being from Arizona and wanting to be in D.C. means that I took every opportunity I could to try and get over there to the East Coast and level the playing field between me and some of my East Coast peers and colleagues that I’d be competing with for careers and graduate school positions. And for me, that meant going online, parsing through jobs and internship listings, parsing through conference listings and seeing what I could apply to and what was realistic for me. And ASU was a big help with that; receiving institutional support from the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership as well as from the School of Politics and Global Studies was critical for me getting my foot in the door.
Same thing with student organizations at ASU. There were some fairly well-renowned foreign policy organizations that I was able to become a part of and rise through the ranks of, officer-wise. Being able to utilize those positions to get myself over to D.C., despite being all the way from Arizona, really allowed me to succeed in my undergraduate career.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
Look for opportunities to pursue leadership positions in student organizations, but make sure you can handle them; make sure you can commit to them. I’ve seen some students before, including myself, who get burned out by overcommitting. But look for opportunities, especially for leadership, because they allow you to stand out among a huge undergraduate class when you’re applying for scholarships, fellowships, graduate schools and careers.
And don’t be afraid to take some chances and maybe sit in on a class and see if it sparks an interest, especially early on as a freshman or sophomore.
If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
I think that that money should be put toward equitable structures in America. Whether that be police reform or testing out a universal, basic income or offering greater educational opportunities for those in lower income brackets.