CEDAR CITY – More than 1,700 students at Southern Utah University were all too excited to wrap up their final exams this week to don their caps and gowns and walk into the Centrum for SUU’s 117th commencement ceremony Saturday.
SUU President Scott Wyatt presided over the 2016 graduation exercises, kicking off the event with a list of successes the school enjoyed this year.
“I do think this has been a year of titles. It’s been a very successful year at Southern Utah University. Let me just give you a few. This is our 5th year on the president’s (U.S. President) honor roll and the second year in a row with distinction. Our students have reported performing more than 200,000 hours of documented community service,” Wyatt said. “Our T-bird football team and men’s track team both won Big Sky titles. Outdoor Nation crowned us the ‘Outdoor Nation National Champions.’ And we secured the designation of the “University of the Parks.'”
Wyatt paid the students the highest honor by congratulating them on their graduation numbers that he said were some of the highest in the region.
“Our highest honor is your personal success,” Wyatt said. “You and your fellow students here at Southern Utah University graduate at the highest rate of any regional public university in the eight intermountain western states.”
In total, the university conferred 1,712 degrees; 325 master’s degrees, 986 bachelor degrees and 382 associate’s degrees, along with 19 certificates.
The Class of 2016, comprised of students ranging in age from 17 to 69, comes from 34 states, one U.S. territory and 16 countries. There are 959 females and 753 males, along with 48 married couples.
The commencement lasted about two hours with afternoon convocations geared toward students who were graduating from a particular set of degree-granting academic units.
The keynote commencement address was given by the former Ukrainian President and First Lady, Victor and Kateryna Yushchenko, who shared their message of freedom and challenged the graduates to take what they have learned to make a difference in the world.
Victor Yushchenko served as president of Ukraine from 2005 to 2010. He was responsible for bringing free elections to the country and greater integration into global economic institutions, reduced government debt and navigated the tumultuous transition from totalitarianism to equality and justice, according to a news release from the university earlier this week.
His wife, Kateryna Yushchenko, was born and raised in Chicago, Ill. She is the chair of the Ukraine 3000 Foundation, an organization that addresses difficult social issues for children. Over the last 10 years it has raised and distributed more that $50 million in assistance to the citizens of Ukraine and their children.
Victor Yushchenko received an honorary doctorate degree of public service from SUU Saturday while Kateryna Yushchenko was given an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
In an interview with Cedar City News following commencement, Wyatt said he felt the Ukraine President and First Lady gave powerful speeches that resonated a message the students will remember.
“They got to get a glimpse of something most graduates will never see, that is a former head of state who has risked his life, fortune and family in search for freedom,” Wyatt said. “And they got to hear a little bit of inspiration from him and from his wife, who is equally impressive. To be able to experience this as they head out and to remember the comfortable lives they have had are not the lives that everyone in the world feels or has experienced. These students have never wanted for food, they have never worried for peace or security. And to be reminded that there are many people in the world dependent on them for their food and security, future, love and dreams is the one of the most powerful messages anyone could ever hear.”
SUU graduate Logan Staheli, from Cedar City, said he really enjoyed the speeches by President Victor Yushchenko and his wife, Kateryna Yushchenko.
“We just had the commencement ceremony where the former president of the Ukraine came and spoke, along with his wife, who both gave some awesome messages about God and family and our future lives. It was really good,” Staheli said.
Other honorary degrees were also conferred to Kay L. McIff and Wm. Mark Russell, who both received Doctorates of Public Service.
Graduates were welcomed as SUU’s Newest Alumni by Sandra Lord Thomas, president of the SUU Alumni Association. Thomas graduated with the Class of 1993.
Staheli, who graduated with his bachelor’s degree Saturday, said he plans to come back next year to get his master’s degree. He was still excited, however, for the day’s events and what his future holds.
“I am excited, but not as excited as I will be in a year when I graduate with my master’s degree, so it doesn’t feel all that much different yet because I’m going back in the fall,” Staheli said. “But I’m excited. I’m excited to take the knowledge I’ve learned at SUU and apply it in my life. And hopefully, improve the lives of others and the lives of others in the world through the knowledge I’ve gained.”
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