Order of Events: Processional; National Anthem sang by Lea Nicole Carranza; Welcome and Opening Remarks by WGU Nevada Chancellor, Dr. Spencer Stewart; Commencement Address delivered by Helen Thayer; Graduate Speakers are Jerlenny Perez and Amanda Chavez; Conferral of Degrees WGU Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Marni Baker Stein; Closing Remarks from Dr. Stein; Recessional.
Transcription of video:
Dr. Angie Besendorfer: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 66th commencement ceremony for Western Governors University, graduates, families, and friends. [Applause]
Graduates, families, and friends, thank you for joining us as we celebrate this special occasion. Our bachelor’s ceremony is being recorded and streamed live over the internet. A special welcome to all of our online participants joining us from across the country and around the world. Please stand for the processional and remain standing for the National Anthem.
Dr. Spencer Stewart: Thank you. Please take your seats. We'd like to thank Lea Nicole Carranza from Woodland Hills, California, who is graduating with her Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing Management for performing our National Anthem. Let's give her a round of applause. [Applause]
Good afternoon, everyone. It is my honor to convene the 2018 WGU Commencement in Las Vegas. On behalf of the entire university, we welcome our honored graduates and congratulate you on completing one of life's great achievements. We also extend our warmest welcome to the many family members and friends who are here to support their graduates. [Cheers] That's right. Round of applause. [Applause]
In addition, we want to recognize and welcome the many graduates who together with their family and friends are watching this event via our life webcast. [Applause] There are many others here to celebrate your success. We are joined by our provost and chief academic officer, Dr. Marni Baker Stein, and other members of our university leadership team.
Standing here I see the many family and friends of our graduates. It is likely that today would not have been possible without them at your side. In fact, there are over 11,000 guests attending today's ceremonies and many more watching online to support and celebrate you. You are a much loved crowd. Would all of you, the friends and family of our graduates, please stand up. Please stand up. Graduates, let's put our hands together and give them a round of applause. [Applause]
At WGU we often have family members graduating together. Could we please have these family members stand and be recognized? This is such a special occasion. Let's give them a round of applause. [Applause]
WGU is honored to be recognized year after year as a military friendly university. We would like to recognize the military members who are graduating today. Would the graduates who are active duty, reservists, and veterans please stand and be recognized? [Applause]
Thank you so much for your service. Thank you. And last but not least, if you our students and alumni are the lifeblood of this institution, then the faculty and staff are its heart. Would our faculty and staff please stand and be recognized? And graduates, many of our faculty and staff have put in such great time and attention to serving you. Would you give them a round of applause? [Applause]
Twenty-one years ago WGU was officially founded. Nineteen years ago, WGU enrolled its first student. The university now has 110,000 graduates. Since the beginning of this year, WGU has awarded nearly 12,000 degrees. Today, we recognize the achievements of more than 1,500 graduates who are attending these ceremonies in Las Vegas today. Among these there are 756 individuals receiving their bachelor's degree and 748 receiving their master's degree. You represent 47 states, Canada, the District of Columbia, and military installations overseas. Thank you for being here. It is our privilege to be among you. [Applause]
And now, for a few facts about our graduating class. Thirty-nine percent of you are the first in your families to earn a college degree. We extend a special congratulations to you. [Applause] Your average age is 39. The youngest is 18 and the oldest is 86. [Applause] Ninety-one percent of you are over the age of 27 and among you receiving your bachelor's degree on average it took two years and four months. That's quite impressive. [Applause]
Rituals and ceremonies play an important role in our lives. They separate extraordinary moments from the daily flow. Moments that have special meaning and should always be remembered. It is an inspiring and uplifting moment to look out and consider your achievement, despite the many priorities and challenges that you had to juggle to attain it. You are the reason why we are gathered here today. Today’s commencement ritual is an emphatic punctuation that you, our graduate, have set and accomplished a significant goal and are moving on to a new stage in your life.
Since you join only about 33 percent of adults in the U.S. who hold a bachelor's degree, much will be experience expected of you as you continue on your life's journey. Taking leadership roles in your businesses and communities. It has been said that the door of history swings on small hinges. You have made the choice and put forward the effort to attain milestone that will change the course of your personal history. You have set an expectations for yourself, your family, and your loved ones. You have lifted your gaze and aspired to greater things. Never forget the privileges and responsibilities of your education. And finally, a sincere thank you for letting all of us at WGU be part of your journey. We are proud of you and know that great things await you. [Applause]
I'm pleased to introduce Helen Thayer, our commencement speaker today. Recognized as one of the great explorers of the 20th Century by the National Geographic Society and NPR, Helen is truly a pioneer and trailblazer. In a career that spans the planet and several decades, she travels without guides or support teams in an effort to push herself to reach her goals through dedicated planning and problem solving.
A best-selling author, an award-winner, Helen shows through example that age is no barrier to achievement, at 50 years old, she became the first woman to travel alone to any of the world's poles when she skied the magnetic North Pole without dogsled, snowmobile, resupply, or support.
At age 63, she walked 1600 miles across the Gobi Desert. And in November of last year, she became the first person to walk the entire length of Death Valley alone. Today Helen and her husband Bill are still walking hundreds of miles in the remote corners of the world developing educational programs for educa-, for Adventure Classroom, a not-for-profit organization that inspires K-12 students to explore the world, embrace integrity, demonstrate courage, and assume responsibility for their actions. Please help me welcome Helen Thayer. [Applause]
Helen Thayer: Well good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for the privilege of allowing me to speak here today. And graduates, congratulations. You made it. And I know that some of you -- many of you have had to overcome many difficulties and along, along this road to your -- your degree, but you made it. And now you can look ahead for future that will -- you'll benefit from what you have already achieved.
And I'm sure as you traveled your journey, you probably learned a lot of life's lessons that you had not learned before. And for me, I, I began learning my life's lessons at a very young age. I come from New Zealand, where I was born and educated. And, uh, when I was nine years old, my parents finally, after a lot of pestering, allowed me to start climbing mountains with them. And one of our very close friends, a family friend, was Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first person to summit Mount Everest.
And my parents told me, "Well, you can start climbing with us." It was to be Mount Teranaki in the center of the North Island of New Zealand, eight and a half thousand feet high, but it was in the wintertime. And they told me, "But you've got to carry your own pack. Nobody else is gonna carry it for you." And I came from a household that was quite strict on rules. So I knew that would be that. And so as you can imagine, halfway up that mountain, my legs -- my nine-year-old legs turned to lead. I was so tired I could hardly stand. I thought I could not take another step, but my father kept saying, "You don't have to climb this mountain in one long step. Just one step at a time will do it."
My mother kept saying, "Now look, don't look backward. Look forward. Look at that summit. Visualize yourself standing on that summit. Visualize yourself as being successful. You can do it. Know that you can do it. See that picture. Keep that picture in your mind." And finally I did stand on that summit. And that nine-year-old little girl felt as though she was the most important person in the entire world at that time. But I'd made it.
And those were two lessons that have carr-- carried me through all the way through my education and my, my exploration, and various sports. And then, as, as -- of course of -- then I continued to climb mountains, I learned more and more as Sir Edmund Hillary became my teacher and I learned a lot of technical climbing techniques. And then I decided that I would, um, enter the sport of -- well, after having competed in many other sports, I actually represented three countries in track and field. And New Zealand, the country of my birth, Guatemala, where my future husband was a helicopter pilot, and then, of course, United States once I became a citizen. I also won a world championship in kayaking and skiing.
But one day I had an idea that I would like to participate in the sport of luge. Now don't like to talk too much about my, my career as a luger, because it does put the stamp of insanity on my lifestyle. But it fascinated me. And I thought now I would just love to win that national championship. What an accomplishment that would be in that difficult sport. But I knew it would be a difficult road, because I would have to go -- I gave myself two years, and I knew that I'd have to compete against people who're very, very talented. Very good at this.
And so I'd learned beforehand now along my road through climbing mountains and sports that a goal without a plan is simply a dream. So I knew I had to simply sit down and plan this one out. So I planned the new two years in minute detail. I knew what I had to do if I was -- ever had a chance of winning this championship. Well, I, I continued on according to my plan. And yes, it was basically one step at a time. But in reality it was really one crash after the other and try to forget the last crash and go on to the next one.
And two years later still in one piece, I finally won that championship. And it, it was a great lesson to me in perseverance. [Applause] Thank you. But then as I, of course, mountain climbing was my -- was really my first love. So I continued climbing mountains. Uh, attacking more technical routes as I did. And then I climbed Mount Denali in Alaska. My first mountain over 20,000 feet. After that I went overseas and climbed mountains around the world. But this was actually my first love was mountain climbing. I just really loved the high altitude and just looking out there and that beautiful pristine air.
And of course I live -- I live in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. And this is where I was training for all of these endeavors of sports, and the, and the mountain climbing. Then one day I decided that, you know I've got all these lifetime experiences. The things that I have learned. The saving of goals. The planning for success, one step at a time. Always visualizing myself as being successful. Never looking back Always looking forward. And I thought, "I need to give -- I need to send this message." Get this message in my lifestyle. I need to share it with students K through 12." In, in a program I called Adventure Classroom.
And up -- to date, I've spoken to over a million children, students K through 12, uh, in schools actually in, in schools since 1988. And it's been a very rewarding journey that I've taken. And this is of course is what I intend doing for the rest of my life.
But then I decided what, what should be the first program for the Adventure Classroom? So I decided to ski alone to the magnetic North Pole. And of course I knew that this would be a challenge. I, I really needed to plan on this one, because there was no equipment available. I was really a pioneer of sorts.
And so as I tr-, and I bought an Inuit dog who'd been trained to keep polar bears out of the village. Keep the humans safe, because there're a large amount of polar bears along my route. And so, so, the, the plan was there. The goal was there. I knew what I needed to do. But I found that people were so negative. People would say to me, "Oh, you're, you're not gonna make this. The polar bears are gonna hunt you down and they'll kill you. They'll eat you."
And then they would tell me, "Well, you'll go -- you'll fall through the thin ice into the Arctic Ocean and you'll drown." And the one that really got me was, "Well you're a woman and you're going alone. You can't do that." And I thought, "Well, why not?" Well, first of all I know -- 50 years old. I know I'm a woman. And yes, I can do this alone. [Laughter] There's no mystery here.
And so I, I set out. My family, of course, were very supportive. I set out with my dog, Charlie. I called him Charlie. He walked at my side to protect me from bears. And of course seven polar bear up close encounters later, storms, and, uh, yes, I did have to walk across some very thin ice, but finally Charlie and I made it to the pole. I was unresupplied and unsupported. I'd reached my goal. The first program for Adventure Classroom. [Applause] Thank you.
And then -- and then of course, um, my husband was a helicopter pilot. He retired from flying so he could join me in my work for Adventure Classroom, because we were both passionate about what we were doing. Just, just getting these messages into the kids in the schools via my, my expeditions.
So we decided to take on the Sahara. So we traveled. We actually walked 4,000 miles through seven countries from Morocco to the Nile River. And this was indeed a very difficult journey. Our camels carried our gear and our water. And at one point, we were kidnapped. At another point, we were stood up to be executed. Another time we walked through 600 miles of minefields. We were robbed twice. But seven and a half months later, we made it, because through all the trials and tribulations, we knew that we could do it. We knew that we would one day reach the banks of the Nile River. If we could just put one foot in front of the other. And we kept seeing that picture in our minds of the Nile and we will be there.
We told each other this. "What's it gonna be -- " we talked about the Nile River. We just -- we urged ourselves on mentally even though some days we -- we were so exhausted we were putting in 18-hour days. And so finally we did reach the Nile River. And it was a tremendous victory for us after all those months. We looked like a couple of scarecrows, but we had made it.
And then we decided to bring the rainforest of the world into the classroom. So after the Amazon, we went and we kayaked 2,000 miles in the Amazon. And as in all expectations, there's always some trial and tribulation to be overcome. And at one point, we were attacked by a swarm of killer bees. And this is not a fun -- not a fun thing to happen to you. It is very bad. We were absolutely swarming with these bees. We were being stung. And we've, we've learned that to deal with the problem of the moment, don't deal with the problems that might -- might eventuate. Might never happen. The only way to get rid of the bees was to dive into the water. This is where the piranha live. So but of course we'll just have to -- we figure the piranha are gonna have to wait until later. We've got to deal with the bees first. [Laughter]
So into the water we went. We -- scraping these bees off. Finally we got them off. We have our epi pens ready, because we really needed it by this time. Back into our kayaks. We're able to get ourselves out to actually -- we're in pretty bad shape. We had to help each other, but the crisis was over. And the piranha didn't find us. So the piranha were good neighbors, at least at that time anyway. But of course the Amazon is fascinating. We were able to bring so much information into the classroom.
And then I decided that, um, I needed to continue of course the expeditions and I will do for the rest of my life. And last November to celebrate my 80th birthday, I decided I would walk the entire length of Death Valley from the extreme north to the extreme south. I would do it alone and I would haul all my gear and my water on a cart behind me, because there is no water in Death Valley. So I had to plan. Now talk about planning. The goal -- remember I told you. A goal without a plan is only a dream. I knew this one -- I really had to plan this one. How'm I gonna get all this water? I only weigh 125 pounds. I had a -- I was pulling a cart starting weight of 185. So that I means I really had to train hard. I really had to be prepared for this.
So then I set off. And about the se-, in the middle of the journey my, my day food went bad on me and I, I was suffering from food poisoning. I had a temperature of 104 degrees. A ranger found me. He said, "You look like death." I thought, "Well thank you for the compliment. You're not too encouraging." But he said, "I need to take you to the hospital." I said, "Oh, no, no, no. I know I can fight my way through this." Because I knew if I quit, I might not restart. But I knew if kept putting one foot in front of the other and keep thinking about my -- the end result, I knew I could fight my way through this temperature. And finally after four days, what I did was just aim for a place about 100 yards ahead of me. Then I'd get there. Then I'd go another 100. And another 100. And another 100.
I kept going. And I knew I could do this. Then finally by Day 6, the, the problem was gone. I was well again. I was able to pick up the march and keep going. And finally I did arrive at the end of Death Valley. And so now next year, I'm going back again. [Applause] Thank you.
And I, I discovered in my work in the schools that children don't know very much about the national parks in this country, which I think is somewhat appalling because they're such beautiful treasures. So I have decided that I will walk the length of every national park in the United States and I will take the information into the classroom and you will learn about your national parks, whether you like it or not. You will learn, because I'm gonna go there. And I will bring it to you. And so those are my future plans. And so Adventure Classroom, I continue on and keep on going.
But, but I, I know that you have set your goals and you -- you've made your plans. And now, you can look ahead at your life and think about the, the, the, the, uh, goals that you want to set in your future. Your education's gonna make a big difference. Now you can go ahead. You know that you've reached this very important goal in your life and you can go ahead and you can inspire others to do the same that you have one. That you can always -- you can always teach other people, "This is what I did. You, too, can do it." Because we're all very special. Every single one of us are special. We're all the same way. We are special. We have special gifts. We have special talents. We just have to find those talents, go after them, and always think of success. Look ahead. Never look back. Well thank you very much for listening to my story. [Applause] Thank you.
Dr. Spencer Stewart: Truly inspiring. Thank you, Helen. And now, we have the privilege of hearing from two graduates who kept putting one foot in front of the other. They are Jerlenny Perez, Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Amanda Chavez, Bachelor of Science in Business Management. Following their speeches, provost and chief academic officer, Dr Marni Baker Stein, will confer your degrees. Please join me in welcoming first to the lectern, Jerlenny. [Applause]
Jerlenny Perez: I just wanna start off by saying that I love the camaraderie here. This is exactly why I love this school. Never felt like an online school. I feel like I've known you guys since I started day one. So, congratulations to us. [Applause]
Good afternoon graduates, WGU faculty, family, friends. Today, we celebrate a huge milestone in our lives that wouldn't be as sweet or in some cases even possible without your love and support.
Years ago my parents immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in search of a better life. Today I stand in front of you as the first in my immediate family to hold a bachelor's degree. [Applause]
To Mami and Papi, without your unwavering support, this would not have been possible. I look so ugly when I cry. Wait. [Laughs] To my love, thank you for being the gasoline and jump-start to my battery for when I lose my drive. I have walked, talked, lived, and breathed nursing as my career choice, but anybody that can tell you some of the things that're most, most worthwhile do not come without some challenges to overcome.
At one point I almost threw in the towel when I was told by the director of another college, "Ms. Perez, maybe you should change your major. I don't think nursing is gonna happen for you in your lifetime." And after I initially walked away from school in tears, collected myself, I wiped my face, and I said, "Who does she think she is to diminish my dreams?" [Laughter] You know what? Challenge accepted. [Applause]
I graduated with my practical nursing certification in 2012 and in 2015, I graduated with my associate's degree. When it was time for me to return to school for my bachelor's, I needed a school that could work around my schedule, not the other way around. And Western Governors University educational approach was a perfect fit. It fit like a glove.
Shortly after I was paired with my program mentor, Tom, and we started on my journey to my bachelor's in October of 2016. I had a great start until May 12, 2017, when I received the call that my father was in the hospital. Once I arrived I was informed that my dad's life was practically hanging by a thread. For his last 12 hours, I stood by my father's bed in the intensive care unit. I watched as nurses, doctors, and surgeons worked relentlessly and did every human effort to save my father's life. But the injuries he sustained from a three-story fall in the accident were too great. And my dad flatlined, I kissed him goodbye.
A month later, a disgruntled ex-physician came to the hospital where I work and opened fire, killing a fellow physician while injuring numerous others. My emergency room worked tirelessly to save those injured and I am so proud to say that I work among some of the most talented nurses and doctors who prevented further loss of that -- further loss of life that day. Looking back at these two events, I came to a point where I felt lost.
For a while, I lost my purpose, I lost my fire, and the desire to complete the educational journey that I started with WGU. At times, I felt like I was drowning, but my weekly check-ins with Tom kept me afloat. The course instructors, and this is a special thanks to Dr. Sharon Brown and Amy Forbes - served as my life jacket at a time in my life where I felt like I could barely keep my head above water, much less breathe.
As time marched on, I immersed myself in my work in the emergency room. Patients and colleagues reminded me of why I started this journey in the first place, why I sacrificed sleep, missed holidays, parties, and get togethers with family and friends so that I could progress and help others.
At some point I also remembered the challenge that I accepted. How I can almost hear my father's voice in my ear telling me, "Jerlenny, no way did this family raise you to be someone who gives up." Toward the end of 2017, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and saw myself on the other end of the patient care experience. As someone who suffers from asthma, I had to rely on oxygen, IV antibiotics, and round-the-clock asthma treatments just to breathe.
While going through this, I realized what kind of nurse I wanna be. I wanna get all the education that I can from a university whose faculty believe in me, even when I didn't believe in myself and pushed me when I needed pushing. What also helped with this is the WGU Facebook community that made me feel like I was sitting next to each and every one of you who were cheering each other on.
Every graduate sitting here today has a vision for themselves. You enrolled in WGU because you wanted to be a better version of yourself, because the career opportunity a degree affords you will help you provide for your family, contribute to the workforce that makes our country great, and hopefully somehow in the process play your part in making the world a better place.
I'm not going to stand here and tell you that the sky is the limit if there's footprints on the moon, but do not ever let anybody's doubts limit your potential or stand in your path to making dreams a reality. You are the author to how your life is written. Do not relinquish that power to anybody else. Do not ever give that power up. [Applause]
Today is just one of many successful days to come. Armed with our education and experiences, we can push through any challenge thrown our way. Let your knowledge be the light that leads the way. Congratulations WGU graduates of 2018. Guess what, guys? We did it. [Applause] Thank you. [Cheering]
Amanda Chavez: Hello, I'm Amanda Chavez. And my WGU journey started in 2013, which was the toughest year of my life. Sharing openly about the trials I endured is still tough for me, because it was filled with agony as my married and world came crashing down.
First my father, hero, and role model, was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Seeing his health deteriorate before my eyes was devastating. Simultaneously, I was facing my own physical pain at the hands of my abusive ex-husband.
Because of that fear, I dared not speak a word from it. Separated from my family in another state, I had married my high school sweetheart and uprooted my life to be with him when he joined the Army. His drug use, adultery, and theft from my personal bank account plagued our marriage. He became extremely violent, possessive, and controlling.
In this midst of this, I discovered I was pregnant. My survival instincts kicked in and after failed attempts to get him help, I started trying finding ways to get me home. Unfortunately this would soon prove to be an uphill battle as my ex-husband depleted my accounts and was keen on seeing me starve. [Applause]
A few weeks earlier my dad had helped me sign up for WGU. I had been hiding emails and papers, but this was my shiny beacon of hope. Unfortunately things do not always pan out as we hope. The first day of my semester, my mentor, [Tasha Vatka?] called me while my ex-husband was in a violent fit of rage. The call went to voicemail, but as our mentors do, she called back. This time, I answered, and broke down, and told her of the hell I'd been living through. I'm so blessed to know her, because she has been a strong advocate for me since that day. Thank you, Tasha. [Laughs] [Applause]
Next I garnered enough courage to let my family know. Finally the Army and my family were able to get me home safely. Penniless I returned home with one suitcase and my dog. My ex-husband sold my laptop, desktop, my wedding rings, but I felt a mix of bravery, strength, and brokenness all at once.
I began to think I would never finish school, but then miraculously, WGU rushed me a laptop, and financial services helped me get money for a desktop. The semester carried out, but I was struggling with my mental and physical health. I was pregnant, depressed, suffering extreme migraines, and my own kidney disease diagnosis seemed too much to bear.
Worst, my ex-husband held my WGU welcome kit webcam hostage until I would see him. I didn't have any money to replace it, but once again, WGU showed their unwavering support and sent me a new one. [Applause]
I felt as though every step forward was followed by three back. My dog that had been with me through my abusive relationship, died, and my dad was hospitalized. Each time I was offered a term break, I refused. I needed to stay strong. I had always thought of strength in the physical sense of the word. Little did I know that being strong isn't only physical, but it's also the ability to start over.
I decided no matter what the odds were against me or my baby who too had endured the abuse, I was gonna start over. After a difficult pregnancy, my daughter was born. She was tiny, sick, but alive. And things began to look up. I was awarded a restraining order against my ex-husband and full custody over my daughter. [Applause]
My parents and family have been such a blessing with their encouragement and guidance. WGU stood by my side even when society said, "A single working mother cannot achieve degree." I'm thankful to have been accepted and refer everyone to WGU. My younger brother is now even enrolled thanks to my referral code. [Laughter]
I had lost everything: My job, friends, marriage, money, my dog, my health, my car, my good credit, and everything that goes into a home. I thank God and WGU for turning this nightmare into many blessings. I now have my bachelor's degree and have found the -- have married the love of my life, Dallas, hi, who has shown me how love should be. [Applause]
We have two happy and healthy daughters and I just wanted to share my journey because of my empathy for those like me who come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, or who have been rejected, or lost everything. I learned that strength is epitomizing by taking back the power and ultimately deciding who you want to be. I know many of you have your own -- have had your own struggles and obstacles, but today we celebrate the triumph and give thanks for the love and support that helped us along the way. Congratulations graduates of 2018. We made it. [Applause]
Dr. Marni Baker Stein: Thank you, Speakers. So inspiring. We will now recognize each of our bachelor's degree graduates. Would the candidates for bachelor's degrees, post-baccalaureate degrees, and teacher preparation endorsements please rise, including those of you watching this by webcast, wherever you may be? Please rise. [Applause]
Upon the favorable recommendation of our faculty and the authority vested in me by the board of trustees and the member governors of the Western Governors University, I hereby confer upon you the bachelor's degree or endorsement you have earned to include the Bachelor of Arts, the Bachelor of Science, or the Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Preparation Endorsement with all rights and privileges thereto appertaining.
You may just sit down just for a moment. [Laughter] The following are the leaders from each of our colleges who will now present the diplomas to each of our graduates. Deb Eldridge, Academic Vice President, Teachers College. [Applause] Rashmi Prasad, Academic Vice President, College of Business. [Applause] Darren Upham, Vice President, Academic Operations, College of Health Professions. [Applause] And Elke Leeds, Academic Vice President, College of Information Technology. [Applause]
Dr. Marni Baker Stein: All graduates, please rise. [Applause] All family and friends, get out your cameras. [Applause] You may now move the tassel from the right to the left side of your mortarboard. Congratulations on this -- [Applause]
Congratulations on this important milestone in your lives. If you could have a seat just for a minute more. [Cheering] That's right, Suzanne. And all of you. Please accept our sincere congratulations. All of us at WGU are very, very proud of you and we welcome you to our community of alumni, now 110,000 strong. [Applause]
For many of you, earning your diploma is the fulfillment of a lifelong goal. The academic degree you have earned at WGU will open doors for you and allow you to explore new opportunities. But it’s important to remember that commencement is not the end. It represents a new beginning. I encourage you to explore your dreams, dare to discover, and follow your passions. Whatever you choose to do, do it as well as you can, and great things will follow.
Learning is a lifelong journey and one that’s now a habit of both your mind and your heart. I urge you as you continue your journey, to reach out to others in pursuit of their dreams, identify meaningful ways to contribute to your communities and to your neighbors, and help us find our way as a united country to a brighter pathway for our children and our children’s children.
Now, slightly corny, but I have to do this. Let's take one moment and celebrate with a selfie. [Laughter] My 14-year-old thinks this is so corny. Okay. Here we go. [Applause] As you celebrate your accomplishment on social media, and at scale please remember to use the hashtag #WGUGrad so we can find you. This now concludes our commencement ceremony. Please remain seated until our graduates have filed out. Thank you so much. [Applause]