Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 | 2 a.m.
On Tuesday evening, a sea of red graduation gowns flooded the Thomas & Mack Center for UNLV’s the 55th Winter Commencement.
Families and friends sat above the graduates, weighed down with flowers, gifts and leis ready to cheer on their loved ones who waited eagerly for their names to be called and the degree they worked so diligently for to be handed to them.
On the front of the stage, in front of thousands of graduates hailing from 33 states, the District of Columbia and 49 countries, sat 29-year-old Glahnnia Rates, one of four graduating students highlighted by UNLV’s Acting President Marta Meana for their academic and community achievements.
Rates, who moved to Las Vegas in 1992, both exceeds and embodies her peers. She, like nearly 85 percent of the graduates, is a Nevada resident and like 63 percent of the graduates, she comes from a diverse background.
But unlike many of her peers, Rates battles interstitial cystitis, a chronic, painful bladder disease.
“It’s pretty normal for people to have clear tests and be the picture perfect of health. They used to call it the phantom disease because it primarily affected women and healthy women. So, they would look good, all the tests would be fine, but they would feel terrible,” Rates said.
She was diagnosed five years ago after multiple doctor visits and months of tests. She left Nevada State College, where she was studying at the time, to focus on managing the disease.
In the fall semester of 2016, Rates returned to college, this time at UNLV, to study public health. This time, her disease went into remission, and she blossomed.
Rates took on various leadership roles across campus, including president and undergraduate scheduling liaison for the Public Health Student Association, the vice president of marketing for the National Pan-Hellenic Council, and as vice president and treasurer of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.
“She’s had a really neat path, troubled with some adversity, with some challenges, but she did a really great job of persevering and getting her degree today,” said Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of the UNLV School of Community Health Sciences. “She’s overcome a lot of challenges, but she never complains about it.”
Rates is also a part of the American Public Health Association’s Black Caucus of Health Workers, Delta Omega public health and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies, and has an internship with the Southern Nevada Health District. There, she works research projects exploring health disparities in the Las Vegas Valley.
“Unfortunately, the people who are chronically sick the most are the ones who don’t have a lot of money. People who are low on the socio-economic totem pole, people of color, people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Rates said. “Those are some of the main causes of health disparities.”
Rates’ mother was a radiology technician. She would often accompany her mother to work as a child, getting to see the X-rays and quickly taking an interest in the health care industry. Rates will continue her education at UNLV in the spring to pursue her master’s in public health focusing on epidemiology and biostatistics.
“If you’re talking about diseases, whether infectious or chronic, you’re like, 'How is this going to affect me? Am I going to be stigmatized if I talk about this,'” Rates said. “You worry that if somebody knows about it or your friends know about it or your job knows about it, are they going to keep me here?”
Rates, though, is quick to point out that stigma is unfounded. She’s thrived in spite of her chronic disease and graduated with a 3.7 grade point average.
More than 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, ranging in age from 20 to 72, were eligible to participate in this winter’s commencement, officials said.