ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University graduates received their diplomas Friday during a one-of-a-kind commencement ceremony featuring 2,273 degree candidates, former Gov. Gary Herbert as speaker and the university’s first international student as valedictorian.
The ceremony was also unique from years past due to COVID-19 regulations, including the requirement of all guests to wear face masks. Students who graduated in spring and summer 2020 were invited to walk on Friday with their peers from the fall 2020, spring 2021 and summer 2021 semester classes. In his address to the graduates, president Richard B. Williams talked about the unprecedented school year.
“As we have been navigating the uncharted waters of a global pandemic, we are especially thrilled to be able to honor the accomplishments of our graduates in person,” he said. “This year is no different; but yet, as we all know, it’s certainly very different.”
Friday’s commencement ceremony was special for many reasons, he added. In the past year, Dixie State’s enrollment has increased by 42%. Graduates ranged in age from 17 years old to 72 years young. This is also the second year Dixie State has graduated more baccalaureate degrees than any other degree. The university also awarded its first master’s degree to an international student.
Friday was also Herbert’s 74th birthday, which he said added to the spirit of celebration that he felt. Herbert gave graduates three pieces of advice during his speech: be grateful, make a commitment to work hard and give back.
“I promise you that today is the best time in the history of the world to be alive. Be grateful for that blessing in your life,” he said. “I can promise you that effort is the biggest determinant for success, and that is true for everything in life … . I challenge you to dare to do great things and to give it your best effort.”
He also spoke about his experiences of bringing people together while serving as Utah’s governor, particularly during the 2013 government shutdown when all national parks were closed and Herbert was told there was nothing to be done about it.
“Rather than take this as the final answer, I personally contacted then-interior secretary Sally Jewell and said, quote, ‘Let’s not talk about what we can’t do. Let’s talk about what we can do,’” Herbert said. “We do a lot of things well in Utah, but doing nothing is not one of them.”
Friday’s valedictorian was Leonardo Lupiano, an international student who was born and raised in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Lupiano traveled to the U.S. on his own at the age of 16 to pursue his dream of studying at an American university, and he received his associates degree in criminal justice in fall 2020 and his bachelor’s degree in business management Friday, provost Michael Lacourse said.
While at Dixie State, he worked as a resident assistant, worked with the Dixie State Office of the General Counsel and the Atwood Innovation Plaza and helped implement Dixie State’s legal clinic. Lupiano said he hopes to go on to law school and specialize in criminal law.
Lupiano said in his address that through working on campus at Dixie State, he met many different students, some of whom seemed to have everything figured out, and others who didn’t, but felt that they needed to have everything figured out all the time. Lupiano said he used to feel that way too.
“By meeting and becoming friends with so many amazing people with different stories at DSU, I finally realized that every journey is incomparable,” he said. “Everyone’s trail is different, and each person’s steps are unique. Your trail may not be as clear as the next person’s, but that is OK.”
He added that the fact that his class graduated during such difficult times is proof that they can overcome any future challenges in their way. He encouraged his classmates to continue blazing trails, embrace the unknown ahead, take risks and enjoy their unique journey.
After the hour-long program of speakers, 25 master’s candidates, 1,212 baccalaureate candidates, 773 associate candidates and 263 certificate candidates crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.
In closing his address, Herbert reminded the graduates about the power of gratitude and looking toward the future.
“I believe we need your good work and your dedication now more than most any other time in American history,” Herbert told the graduates. “So today you’re thanking your families and mentors, and when you’re 74 years of age like me, and sharing your own life experiences with younger friends and loved ones, they will be thanking you for making the future brighter.”
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