ST. GEORGE – Staff Sgt. Todd L. Allen of the Utah National Guard stood in uniform Tuesday evening, the American flag gently though strongly clasped in his hands, waiting for the commencement ceremony of the 2015 graduating class of Stevens-Henager College St. George Campus to begin.
Allen was doing double duty at the ceremony that was held in the ballroom at the Dixie Convention Center as both a member of the color guard and a graduate.
Graduating with his associate degree of occupation studies from the Stevens-Henager School of Healthcare, Allen, a husband, father, stepfather and full-time employee at Costco, is a busy man with ambitious goals for his future – he hopes to continue his education and get a pharmacy degree, he said. Allen is also a successful example of what Stevens-Henager College is all about.
The St. George campus of the college opened in 2011 and has seen significant growth over the following years. This year boasted the college’s largest graduating class since its on-ground campus opened; of approximately 64 graduates, 54 walked at Tuesday’s ceremony, Director of Student Services Miranda Gubler said.
The students, who came from a wide variety of backgrounds, received associate, bachelor’s and even master’s degrees, a fact which Gubler said was a really big deal for their school.
In addition to the conference of degrees, the students who attended the ceremony were given a healthy dose of motivation and encouragement as they take the next steps in their future paths.
Four chosen student speakers, as well as the class valedictorian, addressed the assembly first. Among the speeches were common threads such as time, possibility, the reward of hard work, goals, the future, success and, of course, gratitude to those who helped them on their journey.
Another commonality that most of the graduates shared is that they were not what you might expect a typical college student to look like. Many were older and just barely taking the opportunity to get an education; others, like Allen, were trying to balance life with bettering their futures.
Katherine P. Britt, an imigrant from the Phillipines and the first student speaker, said that she never thought this day would come, especially after all the hours of balancing work and school. But, she said, she stood there Tuesday, about to receive her degree, as a testament that nothing is impossible.
Britt said in her address that she made a goal, acted on it and stayed the course finishing with not only her degree, but no absences or tardies, she said.
The keynote speaker for the evening was Jeffrey T. Sherman, a motivational speaker and chief executive officer of ShermanSpeaks LLC. Sherman interwove his thoughts with an analogy of a rose and said to the audience that a rose isn’t any less beautiful because it has thorns.
Sherman compared the thorns to the trials the students faced as they worked toward their degrees. Trials such as the printer that didn’t work, the car that didn’t start, the child that couldn’t be consoled and many more difficulties both small and large.
“Isn’t is wonderful that those little thorns didn’t obscure your beauty?” Sherman asked the students.
Sherman encouraged the graduates to think of the first person they could recall who was there for them and how they were influential in their lives. He asked them to think of the name, and then he asked them to imagine that question being asked at another time in another setting and having that name, the name of that someone who was the source of inspiration and strength, be theirs.
“Excellence is within us,” Sherman said, adding that if they first looked for the excellence within they would find it so much easier to find the excellence without, thus blooming like the rose for the benefit of others.
Sherman extolled the virtue of education and the importance of never giving up, adding that “excellence” and “can’t” cannot coexist.
“Your greatest failure will be to fail to try,” Sherman said. “When we fail to try, we only see the thorns.”
After the graduates received their diplomas, Greg Stanfield, executive director and dean of education for the St. George campus, gave the concluding remarks. Following his speech, the students were asked to stand and ceremoniously move the tassle on their caps from the right side to the left, which they did to roaring applause.
As the ceremony closed, Allen, along with his classmates, filed out of the room with beaming faces and the knowledge that they had achieved an incredible accomplishment.
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