Order of Events: Processional; National Anthem sang by Raquel Crawford; Welcome and Opening Remarks from WGU Texas Chancellor, Dr. Steven E. Johnson; Commencement Address delivered by Elizabeth McCormick; Graduate Speakers are Matthew Brimer and Taylor Crow; Conferral of Degrees by WGU Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Marni Baker Stein; Closing Remarks by Dr. Johnson; Recessional.
Transcription of video (note: transcription starts around the 1:23:00 mark):
Natalie Murray: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 67th commitment commencement ceremony for Western Governors University. Graduates, families, and friends, thank you for joining us as we celebrate this special occasion. Our bachelors ceremony is being recorded and streamed live over the Internet. A special welcome to all our online participants joining us across the country, and around the world. Please stand for the processional and remain standing for the national anthem.
[National Anthem and Processional]
Dr. Steven E. Johnson: Thank you. Everyone please take your seats. We'd like to thank Raquel Crawford from New Braunfels, Texas who is graduating with her Bachelor of Science [Applause] there you go, Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing, for performing our national anthem. Thank you. [Applause]
So first of all, I have to say, good afternoon, ya'll. I hope everyone's doing well. It's my honor to convene the 2018 WGU Commencement in Austin, Texas. On behalf of the entire university, we welcome our honored graduates and congratulate you on completing one of life's great achievements. Congratulations [Applause]
We also extend our warmest welcome to the many family members and friends who are here to support their graduates. In addition, we want to recognize and welcome the many graduates, who, together with their families and friends, are watching this event via our live webcast. Yes. There are many others here to celebrate your success. We're so happy to be joined by our provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Marni Baker Stein. And other members of our university leadership team. Give them a hand. [Applause]
Now standing here, I see the many family and friends of our graduates. It's likely that today would not have been possible without them at your side. In fact, there are more than 7,500 guests attending today's ceremonies and many more watching online to support and celebrate you. You are a much loved crowd, I'll tell you that. Would all of you, the friends and families of our graduates please stand up? Graduates, let's put our hands together and show them how much we appreciate what they've done for you. [Applause] [cheers]
Thank you all so very much. You know, at WGU, we often have family members graduating together. Could we please have these family members stand and be recognized? There's some. [Applause] [cheers] What a special occasion to see families share this moment together. [Applause] [cheers]
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. Would the graduates who are active duty, reservists, and veterans please stand and be recognized? [Applause] [cheers] Thank you for your service.
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. With you today are many of our WGU faculty mentors and employees. If you've been the beneficiary of the time and dedication that they put into their work, please put your hands together one last time and 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 more than 117,000 graduates. Since the beginning of this year, WGU has awarded more than 19,000 degrees. Today we recognize the achievements of more than a thousand graduates who are attending the ceremonies in Austin. Among these, there are 557 individuals receiving their bachelors degrees, and 471 receiving their masters degrees. You represent 43 states, Canada, the District of Colombia, and military installations overseas. Thank you for being here. It's our privilege to be among all of you, and among those who are here in support of you.
Let me share just a couple of additional facts about your graduating class. Thirty nine percent of you are the first in your family to earn a college degree. And we extend a special congratulations to you. [Applause] Your average age is 39. The youngest among you is 18, and the oldest is 86. [Applause] [cheers] That's amazing.
Ninety one percent of you are over the age of 27, and among you receiving your bachelors degree, on average you completed your degree in only two years and four months. That's incredible. [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 upon you and consider your achievements, despite your many priorities and challenges that you've had to juggle to obtain it.
You are the reason that we have gathered here today. Today's commencement ritual is an emphatic punctuation that you, our graduates, have set and accomplished a significant goal and are moving to a new stage in your life. Since you joined only about 33 percent of adults in the United States who hold a bachelors degree. Much will be expected of you as you continue on your life's journey, taking leadership roles in your businesses, and your communities across this country.
You know, it's been said that the doors of history swing on small hinges. You have made a choice and put forth the effort to obtain a milestone that will change the course of your own personal history. You have set an expectation for yourselves, your families, and for your loved ones. You have lifted up 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 a part of your journey. We are proud of you, and know that greater things now await you.
Now it's my distinct honor to introduce your commencement address speaker. Our keynote speaker is the host of a new TV show in development. She is currently number five on the list of leadership experts to follow online, and is a best selling author with more than 18 published books on entrepreneurship and leadership topics.
In 2011, Elizabeth was awarded the U.S. Congressional Veteran Commendation. While serving in the U.S. Army, Elizabeth flew command and control, air assault, repelling and top secret intelligence missions, and also transported high level government VIP's, including the Secretary of Defense. Let's see these missions, Elizabeth in the awe inspiring Black Hawk in action.
Male: So strap into your seats. It is our pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker. Former U.S. Army Black Hawk pilot, Elizabeth McCormick.
Elizabeth McCormick: I was eight years old. Do you remember when you were eight years old? Did the whole world revolve around you, right? I was eight years old. It was the middle of the night when I heard a noise. Something woke me. And I crept through the dark, down the hallway. And as I went to the kitchen to get a drink of water, I realized another light was on.
And as I snuck down to see what was going on, I saw my mother. My mother hunched over a card table, a table covered with books, papers, and a typewriter. She had gone back to school. She was 32 years old. She worked at K Mart full time and had gone back to school in the evenings and then was staying up until the wee dark night studying, trying to better things for herself, and for herself, by extension, her family. She did a lot more than talk. She took the action like you all have.
You see, the thing you might not realize is the difference that you've made to everyone else around you. The impact, the influence, that you might have had. You see, you don't even know it. How many of you have kids? Okay? Yeah. How many of you have seen a kid? [Laughter] Right? You've made an impression upon them. You have shown them by your actions what perseverance is. You have shown them more, and they are learned more from you every single day.
And whether it's your own child, or it might be a niece, a nephew, a brother, a sister, a family member, a co worker, you've had an impact and an influence on the others around you that will last for the rest of their lives. I needed that. I needed that because when I decided to become a helicopter pilot see, there's me at eight.
When I decided to become a helicopter pilot, and I went into the recruiting station, the recruiter said, "You can't do that. You can't do that." And I had a choice. I could believe him or I could believe me. We always have a choice what we can believe. We can believe in someone else or we can believe in our potential of that situation. So I looked at him, and with curiosity, I said, "Why not? Why not? What is standing in my way? I need to know. I need to know what is standing in my way." And he said, "Well, well, well, you need perfect eyesight." I have that. "Why not?" "Well, well, well, you need perfect physical condition." I used to have that. [Laughter] I was a lot younger then.
"Why not?" "Well, well, you need a college degree." "Ha, I almost have three. Why not?" "Well, you need leadership." I said, "Yeah, I got that too. Why not?" "Well, well, because... uh... uh... uh..." Go ahead, say it with me, it's fun. You can do this at home, it's okay. Uh... yeah. And I asked him, what did I ask him? And he said, what do you think he said?
How many of you think it was because of my gender that he said you can't do this? Yeah. Here is what he said, "I don't know how to do that paperwork." [Laughter] Yeah. He didn't know how to do his own job. I mean can you imagine if I had walked in and I had believed in him instead of me? Would I have become a helicopter pilot? Would I now be a motivational speaker? I travel all over the world speaking. I've been to New Zealand just recently. Hold on. Yeah.
Would I be here today? No. My entire future changed because I was willing to believe in myself, my abilities, my potential more than anybody else's lack of belief. Our beliefs are a choice. We get to choose. We get to persevere in those. I needed all that. And I'll tell you what I did. I'll tell you what you can do when you're faced with a situation like that. I sat in his office. I read the regulations and I did the paperwork for him. [Applause] Thank you.
I did his job. Because when it really comes down to it, graduates, family, friends, those online, listen, your future is your responsibility. It is up to you. No one else could do it for you. You are in the pilot seat of your future right now and there's no autopilot is there? Is there an autopilot? Was there an autopilot to help you get through the last few years? No. You are in the pilot seat every single day, every single late night to make it happen.
Well, in order for you to understand what flight school is like, I need to teach you how to fly a helicopter. Would that be okay? Yeah, would you like to fly a helicopter? Can we get the house lights on a little brighter? Thank you.
All right, in order for you to learn how to fly a helicopter, I need you to have both hands and both feet if you're able. Go ahead. Families and friends participate too. Online, please do.
So in order to fly a helicopter you have your right hand is on the cyclic. The cyclic is a stick. It's a stick that goes down to the floorboard, up into the rotor system and it controls the rotor blades. So it controls the pitch of the rotor blades. So if you want to go forward, you're going to push take your right hand, stick it straight out, don't hit the person in front of you. All right? That's where your cyclic will be. If you want to go forward, you're going to push and lean forward. Go ahead. There you go.
And if you want to go to the side, it's the whole arena, we're all going to go to the side. We're going to push and lean this side. There you go. And if you want to go to the other side, very good, you're flying. And if you wanted to go back. Whoa, whoa, whoa, you have a tail back there. You pull that too far back and you hit your tail... that's bad. Don't do that.
Now, while you're doing that, okay, did I just say there's no autopilot? Ya'll all flying the helicopter, keep your arm up there. You're not on the controls you're crashing, right? So while your right hand's there, your left hand, imagine your elbow's pined the floorboard. All you can move is the front part of your hand. That's the collective. The collective is the power. The higher you pull it, the more fuel it puts into the engine, and more speed or altitude you can get. So go ahead and pull some power. Because that feels good, right?
So while we're flying straight like this, and we pull the power like this, here is what happens to the helicopter. We're flying this way, I pull power, the tail gets powered too, ask the tail does this. So I'm flying straight. My tail's off to the side oh, sorry. My tail's off to the side. Is this aerodynamic? No. So with your feet, independently of each other, while you're doing everything else, you're going to push on the foot pedals to get your aircraft, the tail, behind you in trim is what it's called. All at the same time.
But wait, there's more. Because you have a center console of avionic and navigation equipment to tell you who to talk to, and where to go. And while you're monitoring that, you have four feet of instrument panel that you're scanning to make sure you stay in your system limits. Because even though we are in the air, there are speed limits. Yup. There's just no signs.
You have to have every single limit on every single gauge memorized. And while you're doing all that you're also scanning through your windows. You have a front window, a door window, and a chin bubble window down at your feet. In fact right now, I want you to look down at your toes. Yup. Because when you lose your engine, that's where you're going to go. There's no glide in a helicopter, you're going to go straight down.
But wait... because you also have a microphone on your helmet, and you're talking internally to your crew, and externally to air traffic control, all at the same time. And if you're sitting there thinking what does that have to do with me? Well, it's part of our life now, it's multitasking isn't it? The email's dinging, the phone is ringing, we're doing many things at many times. And most of you already have to get this far haven't you? You've already multi-tasked in your life. You've been the aviator. You've got the wings to fly.
Well, flying a helicopter, maybe it is like something else. Do we have any roller coaster fans here? Yeah? We have some roller coaster fans? I think we have we'll go to the next one yeah. Roller coaster. Let me see, who is a roller coaster fan here? Yeah? Yeah? I okay, I don't believe you. Because no true self respecting roller coaster fan would have only one arm up. [Laughter] Let me see ya, where are the roller coaster fans? Yeah, two arms always, right?
Well, I want you to imagine you're in the front car of a roller coaster. You know how when you're in the front car of a roller coaster you could see everything that's coming? And I want you to imagine there's no track. There's no track. You get to decide where it goes. How high, how low, how fast, or how slow. To the right, or to the left, which way it should go. Just like your future. You are in the pilot seat. You get to decide where you go.
Flying a helicopter, the first maneuver you must learn is how to hover. Hovering is when you're eight to ten feet off the ground, the wind whips off the rotor system, it comes down and hits the ground, now comes up underneath the helicopter and above the helicopter, and it makes it aerodynamically unstable. [Gasps] I mean it's so aerodynamically unstable it's like the bumblebee that shouldn't fly and doesn't know any better and flies off anyway. It is aerodynamically unstable. And hovering requires a very soft touch on the controls. A soft touch is best.
But what happens to that soft touch when a flight instructor is screaming at you! "You're stupid, you don't deserve to be here. You're wasting my ?" Somebody has said that to you before. Yeah. He didn't get to decide though, I got to decide. And even when things got hard week over week or week, when I wasn't learning and I was failing on how to hover because that soft touch doesn't stay soft when someone is yelling at you. The soft touch didn't stay that way.
And at the very end of that portion of the course, when I was failing I had a flight instructor who came in and taught me instead of yelling. And he taught me. And he taught me how to hover in one day. Have you ever been so close to something, you make one little tweak, one little shift, one little change and everything falls into place? Has that ever happened to you? If it has, say yes. Yeah! Taught me how to hover. Would you like to learn how to hover?
Raise your right hand up. Raise it up high. The person next to you won't know your deodorant has worn off. All right. Stretch it a little higher. You're going to bring your elbow down against your ribcage with your elbow braced against your ribcage, pivot your hand forward. That's where your cyclic would really be. If you have it braced against your ribcage, how smooth and stable is your wrist? Try it without the brace. Created a stable platform. Isn't that what you've done? Isn't that you're celebrating today is your foundation, your stable platform for your future.
He taught me how to hover in one day and I went on to pass that portion of the class. But it was ugly. If you've had the ugly pass do not raise your hand. We don't want to see that. Right? Because practice makes? Really? Because I had lots of practice doing it wrong. We need to shift our paradigm on this today. Practice makes permanent. What you practice every day determines how you perform, how you live your life, how you work in your job. Everything you do today impacts your tomorrow.
It doesn't stop here. This is the celebration, not the ending. Because you're in the pilot's seat. Did I teach you how to fly? Was that pretty cool? Well what "fly" really means is to first lead yourself so that you can better lead others. Even that eight year old little girl that you might have impacted or influenced, you are leading others by your example, by what you've accomplished and what you have done. But it doesn't stop here. Continue to fly and you will soar. Thank you. [Applause] [cheers]
Dr. Steven E. Johnson: Thank you, Elizabeth, thank you so much. And now we have the privilege of hearing from two graduates, two amongst you. They are Matthew Brimer, Bachelor of Science in IT Security. And Taylor Crow, Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies. [Cheers]
Following their speeches, Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Marni Baker Stein will confer your degrees. Please join me welcoming first to the lectern, Matthew. [Applause]
Matthew Brimer: Thank you faculty, staff, fellow graduates, course mentors, student mentors, to those that studied and worked on assignments into the early hours of the morning, to the wives, husbands, partners, children, various family members and anyone else I may have missed to help us get to this stage today.
To all the military veterans, and to all of my Army brothers and sisters, Whoop! And finally, to all the precious moments some of us may have missed so we could work towards our dreams, we say thank you. And I say "we" because they say it takes a village to raise a child. And apparently to help a grown one graduate too.
Everyone in this room has a story of how they got here today. I'm humbled to be able to share mine. I'm a disabled Army veteran. I joined the Army towards the end of my junior year of high school. I spent six years in the U.S. Army until I was injured and couldn't be a soldier anymore.
With my body used up, I decided I needed to start working with my mind instead. I was lucky enough to get a job at the Department of Defense where I became a lead database administrator and information security specialist. After eight years I parlayed these skill sets into a security and database manager position at a pharmacy services company.
Now, up until this point, I had prided myself for getting as far as I had without a degree. Fast forward a few years later, and the Director of IT position, what I had viewed as my dream job, becomes available. I applied for this position, and I made it to the final two candidates. It was between me and another gentleman outside the company.
We were told that we would be graded on our interviews, and whoever had the highest interview score would receive the job. I went to through the interview process, and I felt really good about how well I'd done. About two weeks later I was called into the COO's office and I was asked to sit down. He went on to explain to me that even though I scored higher than the other person on every other category, I scored a 0 on education because I didn't have a degree. Therefore, it wiped out all of my other scores.
I was crushed, angry, and a little bit embarrassed. And the first time in my career, not having a degree was holding me back. Now I will admit that the reason I came to WGU was strictly out of sheer anger and spite. And I'll also admit that at 32 years old, with a wife, a daughter, and another daughter on the way, I was terrified of going back to school.
A few months after getting rejected, I started my first semester at WGU. And then something happened that I didn't expect. I found my passion for learning again. I finished one class, and then another, and then all of the sudden my first semester was over. And as I looked at the little donut chart showing me how much progress I had made towards my degree [laughter] and I realized I was closer than ever I was before.
However, after about a year or so into my WGU journey, I received a job offer for what I would soon learn was my actual dream job. But, this job didn't care if I had a degree or not. The clients I would soon be working with, with Ivy League degrees, advanced degrees, and at major companies in Silicon Valley, they didn't care if I had a degree.
So I came to a crossroads. Should I continue my journey with WGU or should I drop out? After talking to my wife, and my mentor at the time, Bob Curtis, I realized that while I no longer needed the degree for my current career path, I wanted the degree. [Applause]
I came this far, and thinking to myself as a father and a husband, I realized that my family sacrificed just as much, if not more, to get me to this point. I decided I had to finish. Not just for them, but for me. I need to earn this for me. And here we are. [Applause]
Because I decided to finish what I started, and the superb knowledge that I gained at WGU, I was able to help start the security decision of my company. I was able to consult with clients and speak at conferences for the Air Force and the FBI. I'm also proud to say that I'm now pursuing my masters degree in cyber security at WGU. [Applause]
The last thing I want to say is, as you leave here today and go forth with your lives and your careers, I can remember applying for jobs while I was still working towards my bachelors degree, and sitting in interviews across from those with "traditional" degrees. And they were remarking, "Well, you're going to a non traditional college." When you hear those words I want you to smile and say, "You are correct, I am non traditional." We no longer live in traditional times and I'm well prepared. Thank you. [Applause]
Taylor Crow: Good afternoon ya'll! Welcome faculty, distinguished guests, family, friends, and the most important welcome of all, welcome WGU graduates, class of 2018. [Applause]
We did it! It's okay, you can give a sigh of relief now. As I reflected on my time at WGU, one word stuck out to me the most: Motivation. By definition, motivation is the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. However, to me, motivation represents so much more. To me, motivation was having parents who instilled a drive for good grades in me at an early age. My motivation was having grandparents who reminded me that to push through what seems impossible, and that this too shall pass.
Motivation was having friends who never give up on you, even when you feel like giving up on yourself. Motivation is having teachers who realized your worth long before you did, and didn't consider their job done until you realized it too.
To me, it was to be more than a statistic of single mothers who did not finish school. Motivation was ignoring all the people who told me I couldn't or wouldn't succeed. Motivation is putting all doubts and odds that were placed against me to rest. Motivation is working hard and dreaming bigger because from the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
And lastly, for those of you parents out there, my greatest motivation is and always will be the angel that was sent to be my daughter, [Asummry?]. [Applause] Sorry ya'll.
When I thought about all of the things in my life that motivated me to get to where I am today, it required me to think a lot about the challenges and obstacles I had to overcome to get here. And man, is that a long list. From a short period of homelessness to working two full time jobs and school, to sleepless nights filled with a baby crying and what seemed like an endless amount of homework assignments, I made it. And because just like you all, I'm not defined by my challenges, mistakes, poor choices, or misfortunes. I am defined by my ability to seek motivation on my darkest of days. I am defined by my ability to persevere through every obstacle placed in my path.
The way I see it, we have two choices. One, we give up or two, we muster up all our motivation and we decide to go always forward, never back.
I remember receiving my associate's degree from Lone Star College and having mixed emotions. Proud because I had finally done it, and yet concerned because what was next. I had a taste of what broadening my education could do for my future, and I wanted more.
It was then that I stumbled upon WGU and what their program had to offer. I stay "stumbled" but I know now that it was not by accident, but grand design. I was skeptical and self doubt consumed me. How would I pay for school? How would I find time to get my homework done with a hectic schedule? Could I really handle adding another thing to my plate? What if I fail? Is it worth it? The answer to all of those questions is to take one day at a time. One task at a time. One challenge at a time. And before you know it, there's enough challenges in your rearview mirror to give you hope for the road ahead.
This degree is a testimony to our ability to beat our failures, conquer our fears, and defeat our doubts. WGU is the epitome of not allowing your failures to halt your journey. Every single mentor I encountered, especially Amy Mayfield during my time at WGU motivated me to follow my dreams and execute each task before me with perseverance that I hope to one day pass along to my daughter.
I want to leave you with a question: What is your motivation and how are you going to stay motivated beyond your degree? What is going to motivate us to not be bound in bitterness from our past failures and mistakes, but instead tackle every day given to us as we enter this new stage of life?
Maybe your motivation is your children, a loved one, a good friend, or maybe it's the desire to utilize all those long hours of lesson planning, essays, APA format, and reference lists that we all love and are going to miss so much. [Chuckles] Whatever it is, I know one thing is for sure: We have come this far and there's nothing we cannot accomplish with our sheer motivation and downright stubborn will to succeed.
Therefore, I challenge you to channel your motivation and be confident that you can and you will achieve your wildest dreams with a little faith and a lot of coffee. [Chuckles] Thanks ya'll! Let's graduate! [Applause] [cheers]
Dr. Marni Baker Stein: Thank you speakers for those powerful stories of transformation and inspiration. They're really awesome. [Applause]
Okay. Are we ready for the big moment? [Cheers] We will now recognize each of our bachelors degree graduates. Will the candidates for bachelors degrees, post-baccalaureate degrees, and teacher preparation endorsements please rise, including those of you watching this by webcast from home. [Applause] [cheers]
Upon the favorable recommendation of our faculty, and the authority vested in me by the board of trustees, and the member governors of Western Governors University, I hereby confer upon you the bachelors degree or endorsement you have earned to include the Bachelor of Arts, the Bachelor of Science, the Post Baccalaureate Teacher Preparation Endorsement, with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining. You may now get ready you may now move the tassel from the right to the left side of your mortarboard. [Applause] [cheers]
Congratulations on this important milestone in your lives. Congratulations everybody.
Okay, so now please be seated for the moment. The following are the leaders from each of our colleges who will now present the diplomas to our graduates. Mitsu Frasure Vice President, Academic Operations, College of Business. [Applause] Dr. Jan Jones Schenk, Academic Vice President, College of Health Professions. [Applause] Dr. Elke Leeds, Academic Vice President, College of Information Technology. [Applause] And Dr. Becky Johnston, Director of Course Faculty, Teachers College. [Applause]
[Reading of names]
Dr. Steven E. Johnson: Graduates, please accept our sincere congratulations. All of us at WGU are proud of you, and we welcome you into our community of alumni, more than 117,000 strong. For many of you, earning your diploma is a fulfillment of a lifelong goal. The acumen 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 possibly can, and great things will follow.
You know, learning is a life long journey, and one that is now a habit of both your heart and mind. I urge you, as you continue your journey, to reach out to others in the pursuit of their dreams. Identify meaningful ways to contribute to your communities and 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, let's take a minute and celebrate, my favorite part, with a little selfie. Everyone get your phones out, let's get the house lights up. Please tag it to #WGUGrad. Marni, you want to come join me? [Cheers] All right! Everybody look over here too. All right. This now concludes our ceremony. Thanks for visiting us here in Texas. And as we like to say, "All ya'll are welcome anytime." [Cheers] [Applause]
Now please remain seated until our graduates have filed out. Thank you all so very much.