Order of Events: Processional; National Anthem sang by Amy Ballweber Allen; Welcome and Opening Remarks by WGU Washington Chancellor, Dr. Tonya Drake; Commencement Address delivered by Bill Stainton; Graduate Speakers are Annajean Ramirez and Jacqueline Zappey; Conferral of Degrees by Dr. Marni Baker Stein; Closing Remarks by Dr. Marni Baker Stein; Recessional.
Transcript of video with timecode:
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 65th commencement ceremony for Western Governors University. Graduates, families, and friends, thank you for joining us as we celebrate this special occasion. Our master 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.
Dr. Tanya Drake: Good morning, WGU graduates! Who’s ready to graduate today? [Cheers] Please have a seat. Well, good morning. My name is Tanya Drake and I am the new chancellor of WGU Washington. [Applause] Thank you. And it is my honor to welcome you to the 2018 WGU Masters Commencement Ceremony here in Seattle, Washington.
On behalf of our entire university we congratulate our graduates in completing one of life’s greatest accomplishments, a higher education. Please help me thank Amy Balwebber Allen from Helena, Montana, who’s graduating with her masters of science in special education, who performed our National Anthem. [Applause]
We also extend our warmest welcome to the many family members and friends who are here today to celebrate our graduates. And to the many individuals who are online watching via a live webcast. Give them a wave. Hi. Let me welcome our provost and chief academic officer, Dr. Marni Baker Stein. And my colleagues representing our amazing university leadership with me here onstage, as well as our trustee and Washington advisory board member, Sam Smith. [Applause]
Graduates, let me ask you to take a moment to look around. Soak in this moment, see your family and your friends who are here to support you in your accomplishments. Today would not have been possible without them by your side. We have nearly 7,900 individuals who are here with us today. And we have many more watching online. You are a much-loved crowd. Graduates, let me ask you to put your hands together to recognize the support and accomplishment that they have provided you to get you to this journey today. [Applause]
At WGU we often have family members that graduate together. So let me ask if there are any family members who are graduating together today to stand and be recognized for this special occasion. [Applause] It is truly a special occasion to see family members graduate together. And I know many of you in the audience are also alumni of WGU.
WGU is honored to recognized year after year as a military-friendly university. We would like to recognize the military graduates who are on active duty, reservists, or veterans. If you could please stand, graduates, and be recognized. [Applause] We thank you for your service.
If our students and alumni are the lifeblood of the institution, then our faculty and staff are its heart. With you today are many of our WGU faculty mentors and employees, for whom have prepared and supported you through your journey. I would like to ask those who are faculty mentors and employees to stand, and for our graduates to please recognize their efforts. [Applause]
Last year WGU celebrated its 20th anniversary. Now, 20 years later, we have more than 106,000 graduates representing over 8,400 degrees. Today we recognize the achievements of 1,062 new graduates here in Seattle. Among them are 548 individuals receiving their bachelor’s degree this afternoon. And today 514 receiving your master’s degree. You represent 38 states, Canada, and military installations overseas. It is our privilege to be among you and among those who are here to support you.
To share a few more details, 39 percent are first in their families to receive a college degree. We extend a special congratulations to those who are first generation. [Applause] Combined your average age is 39, with the youngest being 18 and our oldest graduate being 86. [Applause] Among you this morning receiving your master’s degree, on average you completed a degree in one year and seven months, pretty impressive. [Applause] Many of you struggle with work, family, and whatever else life throws at you. But now, as WGU graduates, you ask like, what else do ya got?
Ceremonies, like today, play an important role in our lives. They separate the extraordinary moments from the daily flow. The moments that have special meaning and that you’ll always remember. It is an inspiring and uplifting moment to look upon you and consider your achievements, despite the many priorities and challenges it took to get here. You are the reason we are gathered here today. Today’s ceremonies mark a rite of passage to acknowledge your intellectual accomplishments, and set the stage for the rest of your life.
You join less than nine percent of adults in the United States who’ve earned a master’s degree. Much will be expected of you as you continue your life’s journey. Embrace those expectations, and engage in leadership roles that will make us a better tomorrow. You’ve made the choice and put forth the efforts to attain a milestone that will change the course of your personal history. You have set 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.
Let me also say a very special thank you for letting WGU be a part of your journey. We are, oh, so proud of you and know that great things now await a new kind of you. Congratulations. [Applause]
We have a special keynote address for you. I’m super excited. During his career as a TV producer, writer and performer, he won 29 Emmy awards, he was the creative force behind Seattle’s legendary comedy TV award Almost Live. Through his leadership, cast and crew that have worked with him have earned over 100 Emmys on their own. Along the way he has worked with people like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno. And he’s helped launch the careers of Joel McHale and Ellen DeGeneres. His work as an entertainer and business leader, he has demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning. A bond he shares with each and every student graduate of Western Governors University. Please help me give a big WGU welcome to Bill Stainton. [Applause]
Bill Stainton: Do you like sitting next to weird people? [Laughter] I don’t like sitting next to weird people. I think that’s true for most of us. I mean, be honest, how many of you wish you could change seats right now? [Laughter] Yeah.
Here’s the problem with that. It turns out that the weird people, most of the time they’ve not truly weird, they’re just different. And when we avoid different people, different experiences, different ideas, we’re really just cheating ourselves of an opportunity for education, learning, and growth. And that’s not what being a WGU grad is all about, is it? Still, it’s an easy trap to fall into.
A few years ago I was flying home to Seattle from New York. I had an aisle seat. And in the middle seat was nobody. [Gasps] I know, right? So I’m, like, doing my little internal happy dance, when, just, just before the doors close, one last passenger gets on the plane. And she was, she was different. I don’t know what Methuselah’s grandmother actually looked like, but this had to be close. [Laughter] And she’s shuffling down the aisle. I’m looking around thinking, okay, Bill, don’t panic, it’s a big plane. What are the odds? I’ll tell you what the odds were, 100 percent. [Laughter]
Yeah, she stops right beside me, pokes me with her bony finger, points to my empty seat, and says, "Please, I am there." Sad dance. So I did what most of you might have done. I put on my headphones. I put on my headphones and I escaped into my music. Music has always been my escape.
Whether I’m playing drums at a blues club, or Chopin on my piano at home, it’s always been about music. So for five hours I escape. Beatles, Beethoven, Miles Davis. And then, because I had just finished a biography of one of my musical heroes, Stravinsky, I cap it off by listening to his magnificent “Firebird Suite”. [Music plays]
As we descend into Seattle, middle seat pokes me one more time. Apparently, it’s time for the obligatory final descent conversation. You know that one? "Is home for you?" "Sorry, what?" "Is, is home for you?" "Oh, Seattle, yeah. How ‘bout you?" "No, I have long way to go. I go to Russia." "Yes, that is a long way." "I have not been there since I was young woman. I was teacher." "What did you teach?" "Music." [Laughter] "Did you teach Russian music?" "Of course." "Okay, now, see, that’s amazing, because I was just listening -- I mean, like just now to Stravinsky’s 'Firebird Suite'." "Oh, Stravinsky, the 'Firebird'. I was with him when he wrote it." [Laughter] [gasps]
And then the plane pulled up to the gate and I never saw her again. I had just flown across the continent, separated by only five inches and a pair of headphones, from possibly the most fascinating person I would ever meet. And I didn’t know it until the last five minutes. I had completely written her off, for five hours, because she was different.
It’s easy to fall into the trap. And when you do that, you’re only limiting your own growth. And that’s not who you are. And you know why I know that? Because you’re here. The people who aren’t interested in growth and learning, don’t graduate from Western Governors University. That’s why you’re here.
When you made the decision to become part of the WGU family, you changed the trajectory of your life. You changed everything. I mean, look at you, you became night owls, whether you wanted to or not. [Laughter] You learned valuable new skills, like Task Stream stalking, that’s a part of your life now. [Laughter] Number 487? Come on! That’s gonna be your nightmare forever. That’s ain’t goin’ away.
Now that you’re graduating you can finally emerge from the demanding university workload, many of you will be surprised to discover that you actually have significant others. [Laughter] Maybe even a spouse. This is the time to relearn things about them, like their name. [Laughter] So much to learn.
I got my pilots license in 1984. When the flight examiner certified me as a private pilot he said something that’s really stuck with me the ensuing 11 years. As he handed me my brand-new pilots' license he said to me, "This is a license to learn." That’s what your WGU degree is. It’s a license to learn. Yeah, it’s a milestone. It’s a big one. It’s a reason to celebrate, but it’s not the end of the journey. It’s a license to learn. And that learning means being open to different people, different experiences, different ideas.
So you heard that I used to be a TV producer here in Seattle, which is true. January 10th, 1987, it’s a Saturday, it’s a show night for Almost Live, my TV show. And we are pumped, we are pumped! Because we’ve got a genuine big-name star to be a guest for our show. Our guest this night, is this guy. [Photo of Johnny Depp] Johnny Depp! Okay, in fairness, he did not look like that then. [Laughter]
Did any of you, like, in your teens and twenties go through that awkward stage? Well, Johnny was going through his awkward stage, too. And we’ll see that in just a moment. [Photo of young Johnny Depp] Yeah. I know! [Photo of a train wreck] [Laughter] You guys in the audience, can you imagine having to go through your teens and twenties looking like that? [Laughter]
Well, Johnny was shooting a TV series just up the street in Vancouver, B.C. called 21 Jump Street, and we got him! Happy dance! Until the morning of the show, I get a phone call, "Bill, it’s Johnny Depp. Uh, listen I’m not gonna be able to make it tonight. No, they scheduled reshoots for Jump Street and I can’t get out of it. I’m really sorry, but I have to cancel." [Photo of young Johnny Depp] String of bad words! [Photo of a train wreck] Remember that? String of bad words.
And now, now we’re in a panic. Now we’re in a panic. We’re trying to come up with a guest for tonight’s show -- how ‘bout one of them Seahawks? No, they’re out of town. Uh, what about that cute new anchor at COMO TV? No, she’s in rehab. Ugh. [Laughter] She was. And then she got fired.
And on and on it went and we’re starting to get desperate, when all of the sudden one of my writers -- in fact, my lowest paid writer -- pops his head up and says, "Uh, I might be able to do something with liquid nitrogen." [Laughter] Clearly, he did not understand the situation. I mean, we’re trying to come up with a guest for tonight’s show and he’s talking about liquid nitrogen. By the way, this was my lowest paid writer. [Photo of Bill Nye on Almost Live] [Laughter] His name was Bill.
Well, naturally, my first reaction to Bill’s suggestion was, "Shut up, Bill, you’re scaring us all." Not my proudest moment. But why was that my first reaction? Because had blinders on, didn’t I? I wasn’t open to something different. But then Bill started painting a picture for us, "Hey, guys, no, this could work. I mean, liquid nitrogen, it’s very cold. You take an onion, throw it in the liquid nitrogen, take a pair of tongs, pull the onion out, hit it with a hammer, it shatters like glass." Ahh, cool!
"No, guys, it gets better. You can take a marshmallow, throw it in the liquid nitrogen, I take those tongs pull the marshmallow out, pop it in my mouth, bite down, smoke pours out of my nose and mouth." [Photo of Bill Nye on Almost Live] Cool! And that night, this happened. [Video of Bill Nye with the marshmallow]
And that’s the moment when this guy became this guy. [Photo of Bill Nye the Science Guy] [Applause] Who now hangs out with these guys. [Photo of Bill Nye, President Barrack Obama, and Neil deGrasse Tyson] [Applause]
Why? Because he was different than us. We were all writers and producers. Bill Nye was, and is, a science guy. When Bill Nye the Science Guy got his own TV show he taped a list of objectives to the wall of his studio -- this is true -- do you know what objective number one was? "Change the world." The power of different people, different experiences, different ideas, is the power to change the world.
So, congratulations, night owls, you did it! You made the hard choice, you made the brave choice, and you saw it through. Most people don’t. You’ve proven your commitment to education. So take the blinders off. Put the headphones away. Be open to the new, the different, and, yes, even the weird, because the journey’s not over. Your diploma is a license to learn, it’s a license to grow, it’s a license to change the world. Thank you. [Applause]
Dr. Tanya Drake: Please give it up one more time for Bill. [Applause] I’ve heard many, many keynote speakers at graduation, that was fantastic. One to remember. Thank you so much.
We have the privilege of hearing from a couple fellow graduates, as well. Please help me welcome two new students who are graduating today who will be telling their stories. The first will be Anna Ramirez. She’s graduating with a Master's of Science in Nursing Education. And second you’ll hear from Jaqueline Zappi, who’s receiving her Master's of Science in Curriculum and Instruction.
Following their speeches we will hear from our provost and chief academic officer Dr. Marni Baker Stein who will confer your degrees. But first, please help me welcome to the lectern Anna. [Applause]
Annajean Ramirez: Thank you, Dr. Drake. I know you’re expecting a young, smart, charming individual, like myself, to dole out a sappy speech. That’s only half of the truth. I’m here because of you, because I can’t think of a more vivid, more courageous graduating class. I mean, look at all of us wearing our robes. Usually when you’re wearing a robe at ten in the morning, it means you’ve given up. [Laughter]
Good morning, WGU faculty, students, alumni, family, and friends. Thank you for being here. I am Anna Ramirez, and I’m honored to have been chosen to help celebrate our commencement day. My story, I’m sure, is like many of yours. I am a girl from a small town who has big dreams. I was raised by a single mom who worked her bum off to make ends meet. I am a first-generation college graduate. [Applause] I am blessed to be able to homeschool my two children. I am a loving wife and a labor nurse. My life, as all of yours, is dedicated to caring for others. I would not have made it through this program if it weren’t for my faith.
As a nurse, I can truly say that we see miracles daily. We help bring life into this world and we help life leave with dignity. We are the people who care for minor injuries, hold the hands of worried loved ones, cry tears of joy with positive outcomes, and tears of grief with negative ones. All while maintaining a full bladder for 12 hours. [Laughter] Nursing is not easy, but it is worth it. Behind any successful nurse is the strong sense of self and an even stronger support system.
I’d like to recognize some important people in my life starting with my husband, Jesus. Thank you for distracting our kids when I needed to do homework and for all the times that you’ve taken our kids to taekwondo to let me study. I reluctantly thank you that despite me mustering up my best puppy dog eyes and asking you to write my papers for me, you told me no. [Laughter] As broken hearted as I may have been, I know it was the right thing. Thank you. I love you.
To my amazing children, Gabriel and Natalie, I love you. You are my best friends. If there is anything you learn from my I hope it is to love, to respect yourselves, to learn, and to give. Most of all, I hope you never want to leave home because Dad and I have already drafted up blueprints for a basement apartment. [Laughter]
Also, please allow me to offer a quick thanks to my parents, family, friends, and mentors who have believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. Let’s take a moment to applaud WGU. Competency based, self-paced, online education? Please, and thank you. [Applause] Not to mention, the awesome mentor system WGU has in place. I do not know how I would have made it through if it weren’t for my mentors. Their compassion and enthusiasm have inspired me to want to be that go-to person for future students.
Fortunately, with the master’s degree that I have earned from WGU, I can do just that. I look forward to being able to teach and mentor future nurses. I’m excited to be able to remind students that they are stars, without focusing on the darkness that surrounds us. I am going to make a difference by reminding others that they make a difference. After all, practicing selflessness is the best thing we can do for ourselves.
You guys, we did it! Please be proud of yourselves. Please never doubt what you are capable of. Be as compassionate as the night nurse that administers seven o’clock meds before the end of their shifts. Moving forward and leaders and educators, remember what it was like to be a student. Continue to grow and never stop seeking opportunities to learn.
Graduates, I want to congratulate each one of you. And I’d also like to offer a small piece of advice, even though as a class we are smart, we are still allowed to say I don’t know. And just because we are in high demand, doesn’t mean we can’t say, "Let me get back to you." This will come in handy on our next day off when our family askes us when we’re getting out of bed. "I don’t know. Let me get back to you." [Laughter] Congratulations, Western Governors University Class of 2018. [Applause]
Jacqueline Zappi: My theory is about moments, moments of impact. My theory is that these moments of impact, these flashes of high intensity, that completely turn our lives upside down, actually end up defining who we are. This is a quote I reference a lot from my favorite movie The Vow.
I want to begin by thanking everyone who’s here to celebrate this momentous occasion with us, family, friends, and faculty. A special thank you to those who made my one of my defining moments possible, my husband Jacob, our parents, our children, best friends, students, and WGU mentor Nichol, who believed in me even when the going was tough and I wanted to give up.
My name is Jacqueline Zappi. Some of my defining moments were when I became a mother to four beautiful children, a teacher, joined the Navy, and married my husband who is a Navy veteran. Also, as of today, along with my fellow peers, a master’s graduate.
This is one of those moments of impact in all of our lives. I know I’m not alone when I say I will never forget all of those days and nights after submitting my work to Task Stream, where I sat and refreshed the screen for what felt like the 100th time to see if I passed. Any other person might have thought I was crazy, but my husband Jacob knew this process all too well, as he is also a WGU alum.
You see, two years ago I sat in these very stands that you’re sitting in today and heard a commencement speech that forever changed my life. A speech that led me here. My moments of impact began when I was a young child. My mom, Christy, was a single mother of three, all of us one year apart, and we grew up very poor. Despite us not having a car or very much money, my mom pushed my two younger siblings in a stroller when I walked alongside them. She would drop us off at daycare a mile away in the hot Phoenix sun every day. She’d then cross the road to get to her job where she worked as a caregiver in a hospital.
I can still remember that moment as a six-year-old girl when my mom was finally able to buy a car. We crawled in through the windows, as the doors didn’t work. And although it didn’t have heat or A/C, we had each other and we had a car. Thanks to my mom my life motto has become, when there’s a will, there’s a way. Then around the time I was seven she met an amazing man who loved us as his own and taught us that hard work eventually leads to success.
Since I was little I’ve always had the dream of giving my university’s commencement address, but that meant I actually had to go to college and the parents that I grew up with in my house did not have a college degree. I’m a proud first-generation graduate. [Applause]
At 17, I decided to enlist in the United State Navy. Graduating boot camp at 18 was another defining moment in my life. I knew then I was destined to do great things and make an impact on others the way that my parents and teachers had on me. Because of the values instilled in me while I was in the Navy, I was able to overcome my adversities with honor, courage, and commitment.
During my time in service I met my husband on the U.S.S. John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier here in Washington. After serving our country honorably we both pursued our bachelors and master’s degrees, respectively, in education, and became teachers. We wanted our children and students, our future generations, to know the importance of education, and that they, too, can make their dreams come true with hard work and determination. We want them to know that earning a degree can really pay-off.
Fast forward to 2013, I was working on my bachelor’s degree at a traditional brick and mortar school and I was pregnant with my son Brock. I gave birth to him on a Thursday and four days later I was back in classes so I could graduate on time and not have to wait to finish them a year later. In contrast, in 2016 I enrolled with WGU after hearing that commencement speech that lead me here today.
Last April we welcomed our fourth child, Bronson. Because of WGU’s flexibility, I was able to take as much time as I wanted to bond with him. I was able to work on my courses while he was napping or in bed for the night along with the other three children. With WGU I didn’t have to worry about making those sacrifices I had to make the first time, because the flexibility allowed me to a mother, a wife, teacher, and student all on my own schedule.
As you can tell, I’ve had many of these moments of impact that I spoke about earlier. All of us here today have had our own defining moments of impact, and yet, we have all overcome our adversities to make our dreams come true.
Fellow graduates, I want you to remember that this is just the beginning for us. The knowledge, challenges, and experiences we have gained from our past will allow us to move forward with our future journeys. We should all be proud of the hard work, grit, and determination we put in to get to this point.
Remember, we have two options in life, sit down and let the world pass us by, or get up and show the world who we are meant to be. Congratulations, Class of 2018, we did it! [Applause]
Dr. Marni Baker Stein: Thank you so much commencement speakers, those were awesome speeches.
Okay, we will now recognize each of our master’s degree graduates. Would the candidates for master’s degrees please rise, including those of you watching this by webcast, wherever you may be? [Applause] I must say, that is a beautiful sight.
Upon the favorable recommendation of our faculty and the authority vested in me by the board of trustees and member governors of Western Governors University, I hereby confer upon you the master’s degree you have earned, to include the Masters of Arts, Masters of Arts in Teaching, Masters of Business Administration, Masters of Education, or Masters of Science, with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining. Congratulations, and welcome. [Applause]
Our master’s graduates wear a hood bearing the color of their discipline. Please be seated for the moment.
The following are the leaders from each of our colleges who will now present the diplomas to all of you. Heather Rosche, Senior Manager Program Faculty, Teacher’s College. Mitsu Frasier, Vice President Academic Operations, College of Business. Jan Jones-Shenck, Academic Vice President, College of Health Professions. And John Balderree, Vice President Academic Operations, College of Information Technology.
[Awarding of diplomas]
Dr. Marni Baker Stein: Graduates, please accept our sincere congratulations. All of us at WGU are very proud of you and we welcome you into our community of alumni now 106,000 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 possibly 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 to 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.
This now concludes our commencement ceremony. Please remain seated until our graduates have filed out. Thank you so much. [Applause]