Southern Utah University graduation preview; valedictorians

Southern Utah University by St. George News
Southern Utah University commencement and college convocation ceremonies will be held Saturday on campus in various locations. Cedar City, Utah | Stock image, composite, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University will hold its 117th commencement ceremony Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Centrum Arena, conferring degrees upon 1,712 graduates in the Class of 2016. The university’s individual college convocations will follow throughout the afternoon.

The Class of 2016 comprises students from 34 states, one U.S. territory and 16 countries. There are 959 females and 753 males, along with 48 married couples. The graduates range in age from 17 to 69 years old.

Degrees conferred will include 325 master’s degrees, 986 bachelor’s degrees and 382 associate’s degrees, along with 19 certificates. Diplomas and diplomas will be awarded students during their respective college convocations throughout the afternoon. 

Victor Yushchenko, third president of the Ukraine, will deliver the keynote commencement address. The university will also confer honorary doctorates in public service and human letters, respectively, on Victor Yuschenko and his wife, Kateryna. Read more about the Yuschenkos in Thunder University News report here.

Honorary doctorates in public service will also be awarded Kay L. McIff, former member of the university’s board of trustees and state 6th District judge, and Mark Russell, former president of the university’s national alumni board.

Centrum doors open at 7:30 a.m. A graduation celebration will be held following commencement at 10:30 a.m. in the Multipurpose Quad. 

Alex Nielson, who will serve as Southern Utah University's Class of 2016 valedictorian. Cedar City, Utah, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News
Alex Nielson, who will be recognized as Southern Utah University’s Class of 2016 valedictorian. Cedar City, Utah, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News

University class valedictorian

Alex Nielson, from Holladay, has been named Class of 2016 valedictorian. Her studies have included a major in biology and a minor in chemistry, suited to her aspirations to one day be a medical professional. Nielson graduates with a 4.0 GPA. 

Inspired by two trips she has taken to Nicaragua with SUU’s Rural Health Scholars, Nielson hopes to lead her own medical missions once she is a practicing medical professional – a dream that is well on its way to becoming a reality.

Nielson comes from a family of medical practitioners in a variety of capacities. She grew up hearing her mother say, “Your hard work will pay off.”

Nielson recently received her letter of acceptance to the University of Utah School of Medicine, Thunder News reported.

“I realized all my hard work is paying off,” Nielson said.

College valedictorians

Southern Utah University said in a news release that this year’s college valedictorians are among the university’s best and brightest. These five outstanding students are the epitome of excellence.

The valedictorians are the highest academically ranked students in their respective colleges and were recommended by professors for their dedication and commitment to academic integrity and success.

(report continues below)

Southern Utah University's College Valedictorians for the Class of 2016. Front row L-R: Danikka Johnson, Kelli Christiansent; back row L-R: Clay Crozier, Josh Kariya, James Wilcken. Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News
Southern Utah University’s College Valedictorians for the Class of 2016. Front row L-R: Danikka Johnson, Kelli Christiansen; back row L-R: Clay Crozier, Josh Kariya, James Wilcken. Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News / Cedar City News

College of Education and Human Development

Kelli Christensen will be recognized as valedictorian for the College of Education and Human Development at its convocation, which begins at 2 p.m. in the Centrum Arena. She graduates with a Bachelor of Science in family life and human development.

Representing “the helping college,” as she coins it, Christensen, a St. George native and family life and human development major, said her education has been focused on teaching and serving others. She wants to work in early intervention with children and families.

“I believe the greatest changes and growth can take place in the home,” says Christensen. “Anyone can be a successful parent if they are taught the proper skills and tools.”

In the future, Christensen wants to volunteer with Help International on a humanitarian trip to Nepal where she can help fight poverty and empower people by creating socially responsible change.

College of Humanities and Social Science

Clay Crozier will be recognized as valedictorian for the College of Humanities and Social Science at its convocation, which begins at noon in the Centrum Arena. He graduates with a Bachelor of Science in political science.

Growing up on his family’s farm in Neola, Crozier was taught the value of hard work, responsibility and perseverance. A transfer student from Colorado, Crozier began his collegiate career studying animal sciences but switched to political science after participating in an intramural mock trial at Southern Utah University.

“Work hard and learn, but make time to have fun,” Crozier said as his message to other undergraduates. “Surround yourself with really good people. Making those relationships is one of the things I have found to be the most beneficial to my success.”

After graduation, Crozier will head to Washington, D.C., and intern with U.S. Sen. Mike Lee. In the fall, he will begin law school at the University of South Dakota.

Danikka Johnson. She has been named valedictorian for the College of Performing and Visual Arts at Southern Utah University's Class of 2016. Cedar City, Utah, date not provided | Photo courtesy of SUU Marketing and Karl Hugh; St. George News
Danikka Johnson. She has been named valedictorian for the College of Performing and Visual Arts at Southern Utah University’s Class of 2016. Cedar City, Utah, date not provided | Photo courtesy of SUU Marketing and Karl Hugh; St. George News

College of Performing and Visual Arts

Danikka Johnson will be recognized as valedictorian for the College of Performing and Visual Arts at its convocation, which begins at 1 p.m. in the Randall Jones Theatre. She graduates with a Bachelor of Science in dance.

“I am a firm believer that there are so many people in the world that will tell you no; you cannot be the first one,” Johnson said in a university news release relating her story. “Throughout my degree I adopted the motto ‘She believed she could, and so she did.’ There were several times I wanted to quit. … Look for positivity in all situations and you will have a happy and successful future.”

Johnson’s fierce love of dance has carried her through lessons of discipline and teamwork. While her course curriculum focused on prenursing studies, the Tooele native has successfully balanced a full academic load and various extracurricular activities.

“SUU awarded me a talent scholarship as a freshman dance major,” Johnson said, “and I took a leap of faith. … I wanted to be a pediatrician, but I needed the financial support of my dance scholarship. I came to SUU as double major in Dance and Pre-medical studies (later switching to a major in Nursing).”

Johnson plans on continuing her studies and attaining a second Bachelor of Science in nursing. A bright light to those in her sphere, she has many more goals and aspirations to achieve.

“As I leave SUU, I will continue to teach dance and am also happy to announce I am starting a family of my own,” Johnson said. “There is so much in store for my future and I feel so blessed to have had my experiences at SUU mold and shape the person I am and who I will become.”

College of Science and Engineering

James Wilcken will be recognized as valedictorian for the Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science and Engineering at its convocation, which begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Centrum Arena. He graduates with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics.

As a math major with an emphasis in actuarial science, Wilcken said he has a love of numbers and solving problems.

“I have a sincere interest in how things work,” Wilcken said. “That’s probably why I like math as much as I do. I love understanding how things fit together and how different subjects connect. Being able to make those connections in my brain is one of my favorite things about learning.”

This Enoch-raised math major hopes to work for an insurance company, helping to set rates by using probabilities and statistics in the effort to maximize profit.

School of Business

Josh Kariya will address the convocation for the School of Business, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Centrum Arena. He graduates with a double Bachelor of Science in accounting and finance.

While balancing books and sports, Kariya not only earned a double bachelor’s degree but also maintained a 4.0 GPA.

From Kaysville, Kariya was recruited to Southern Utah University to play football, but after two years on the team, a wrist injury cut his football career short. While leaving the team was disappointing, Kariya said he believes it gave him an opportunity to focus on his academics. He credits most of his success to his professors.

“I really appreciated how (my professors) placed the responsibility to learn on us,” Kariya said. “It helped me grasp the material better and prepared me to work in the field of finance.”

Kariya completed his degrees in December 2015 and has been working at Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators in Salt Lake City as an investment analyst.

• • •

In its news release, Southern Utah University stated it is proud of these accomplished representatives of the Class of 2016 student body. Bright futures and outstanding achievements await these five individuals and the entire Southern Utah University graduating class.

Infographic courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News / Cedar City News
Infographic courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News / Cedar City News

Email: jkuzmanic@stgnews.com

Twitter: @JoyceKuzmanic  @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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