Double Commencement

A couple who met in the military overseas graduates together from USF’s College of Public Health.

By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (May 14, 2013) – Amidst all the powerful emotions at the University of South Florida’s commencement ceremonies, the joy of completing college was shared between one special couple.


Ayesha and Ivan Kirk walked across the stage together with graduates of the College of Public Health, shook President Judy Genshaft’s hand and posed for their individual pictures. One difference was that they posed for one together, thanks to the intervention of Ayesha’s uncle, Albert Owens.

Her uncle, who identifies himself as Bucified Bert, a character he created for WFLA-TV Sports, was especially proud of his niece and requested that the proceedings pause ever so briefly to allow for one special picture together. The staff was happy to oblige – to everyone’s delight. This is not an everyday occurrence.

Ayesha and Ivan served in the military together, met overseas, got married and now graduated together.

We live by the motto, ‘Grow together and not apart,’” Ayesha said. 

After high school Ayesha enlisted in the U.S. Army as an ammunition specialist. But her uncle intervened, convincing the recruiter to change her military occupation specialty to medical logistics specialist. The change put her in the position to make an important connection and start her on her present career path.

“I met my husband in Seoul, South Korea,” she said.  “He was a combat medic and we were in the same unit. We started off as friends, which I believe is extremely important.”

It was a tough assignment but they weathered it well.

“We both come from close knit families and being in a foreign country can be challenging. We always kept one another lifted in prayer, encouraged one another, and most importantly we laughed together,” she explained.

When it was time to leave the military, they decided to live in Tampa, Ayesha’s home town. She grew up in Ybor City and East Tampa. Ivan is from the South Side of Chicago. That decision also included going to USF to build on the work they did in the military. They decided to major in public health and now hold bachelor’s degrees. 

Ivan is happy with the choice.

“Life in Tampa is very different from the Windy City, but I am enjoying the opportunity to see Tampa evolve. The weather is an added bonus. USF was challenging, fulfilling, engaging,” he said, adding that he found everything “very well-organized.”

They were well-organized as well. Two people attending classes, studying and taking exams can be quite challenging. This couple was also working full time as licensed practical nurses and busy raising two children, eight-year-old son Imery and one who arrived 10 months ago, Iyanna. 

“We made it to graduation with a lot of prayer, a supportive family, encouraging one another, and some sleepless nights,” Ayesha declared.

They’re not done with school though.  Both plan to attend graduate school as soon as possible – together, of course.

In the meantime Ayesha wants to advance her career in psychiatric care and Ivan wants to pursue a career in epidemiology.

They have high hopes for their children as well.

“Our hopes for our children are that they become a man and a woman of integrity, full of purpose and God-fearing. With that foundation, the sky is the limit.”

With her degree in public health, Ayesha will be able to put into practice her uncle’s best advice given to her throughout her life, "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure." 

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.