Published May 12, 2021
As graduating UB students prepare to transition to the next stage of their lives, many are looking back to where they began, and how far they’ve come.
Denice Guillermo (BS Arch '21) was among three graduating students recently spotlighted by UB to demonstrate how their love, pain, triumphs and tragedies have forged them into something stronger than they were: inspirations to others.
An interesting detail about senior Denice Guillermo is that she doesn’t seem to have changed in the past six years. At least, not outwardly.
“I have been the same height and roughly the same size as when I was in middle school,” says Guillermo, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was 6.
Still, she has seen a lot of change in her life. Last year, she lost her father, Ali Dennis Guillermo, to COVID-19. Her father, a frontline health care worker, had wanted his family to experience a better life. He came to the U.S. from the Philippines, months ahead of his family, to lay the groundwork that would become his family’s foundation.
“My father (had) always been a hard and humble worker,” says Guillermo. “It was because of him that my family and I were able to have a life here in America. (My) father chose to work the night shifts at the (Long Island Community Hospital), leading him to sleep during the day. Therefore, every day, we would all convene at the dining table and have dinner as a family for some quality time together. I knew that those dinners were important and treasured by my father as a way to connect with the family that he worked so hard to build. Despite his apparent exhaustion, I could see his contentment and pride at witnessing his dream come true. Seeing all five of us at the dinner table is something that I will always hold dear in my heart.”
As a child, Guillermo did her best to fit in. “In hindsight, growing up I instinctively took measures to hide or minimize my foreign origins from my classmates in order to fit in better,” she says, “which often resulted in forgetting my own heritage — at times even rejecting it. Looking back now, I see that I failed to recognize my upbringing as an opportunity to share and celebrate my unique experiences in a diverse world.”
These days, Guillermo blends art, culture and diversity in her approach to life. She will receive her bachelor’s in architecture at the School of Architecture and Planning commencement on Friday, and entered the school’s master’s in architecture program this spring.
“Throughout my developmental years, I had always taken towards visual and performance art as an essential part to my daily schedule that I often looked forward to. This included participation and education in drawing and painting, photography, mixed media, dance and theater, music, and arts and crafts. All of these, mixed with my social justice and inclusion mindset, research curiosities, and creative writing and communications skills, led me into the path of architecture and planning. I believe that this major has offered more than a creative outlet for me, rather introduced a multi-faceted way of thinking about such an expansive field.”
Unlike during her childhood, she now celebrates her differences, as well as those of others. In a time where so many people fear and hate those they consider “different,” Guillermo challenges people to stop and think, rather than simply react.
“If I was supreme ruler, I would mandate a daily reflection regarding oneself and others,” she says. “This would entail that everyone takes a couple of moments to acknowledge their accomplishments, learn from failures and identify their current state of being. In addition, I would encourage people to imagine themselves in another’s shoes, whether a friend, loved one, a stranger, and especially an enemy. With these I hope to bring out more compassion across seemingly divergent groups to reinforce that we are all human and that we are all flawed.”
"I would encourage people to imagine themselves in another’s shoes, whether a friend, loved one, a stranger, and especially an enemy. With these I hope to bring out more compassion across seemingly divergent groups to reinforce that we are all human and that we are all flawed.”
- Denice Guillermo (BS Arch '210