Utah Valley University said goodbye to its largest graduating class in history, not with a whimper, but a bang.
After an evening of convocation drive-thrus and a commencement drive-in, the 6,410 spring and summer graduates joined by the 1,638 that will graduate this fall, were honored with a UVU student air flyover, green carpet runways, a pre-concert by local artists The National Parks, a keynote address by businesswoman and philanthropist Gail Miller, words from President Astrid Tuminez all topped off with fireworks.
It is the school experience itself that most graduates will remember, according to Ruth Carlton, 41, from Sandy. Carlton graduated with a degree in elementary education Wednesday.
“I absolutely loved UVU,” Carlton said. “It was the best education and the teachers cared.”
Carlton said it’s kind of frustrating not to be able to march with pomp and circumstance, but she got the robe and mortar board with tassel anyway — the full regalia, because she earned it.
For international student Jessica Marinho 29, from Portugal, graduating with a degree in communications is bittersweet.
Marinho’s family was planning to come see her graduate and then she would go home for a visit. Marinho is the first in several generations in her family to attend a university. With the pandemic closing borders in and out of countries, it was impossible for her family to make the trip.
“UVU gave me a 100% good education,” Marinho said. “I have grown so much. I got a good education I didn’t even know I needed or wanted.”
Marinho drove through her convocation in her roommate’s convertible, walked the green carpet and videoed it all for her family.
At age 36, graduate Anna White said she decided to go back to school to get a degree in bio technology, hoping one day it will help her down the road to become a family physician.
“I have gone to school before, but with smaller classes at UVU I felt my teachers knew me and were invested in me,” White said.
White was supposed to walk in May, but the ceremony was canceled. Now her whole family can ride in the car and be up close as she gets her diploma. She said she was going to take in the whole experience and is kind of glad graduation was a bit out of the box.
“I’m super excited,” White said. “This is even better than the standard graduation. My husband would be wrestling five kids, this way we are all together.”
The pinnacle point of the evening was hearing from Miller, who was given an Honorary Doctorate of Business degree during the proceedings.
“While no one could have predicted the life-altering events that happened in late February and early March, we also didn’t recognize the strength, wisdom and tenacity we would deploy to not only cope, but to also thrive,” Miller said.
“You will always remember your graduation year because of the unusual challenges you’ve faced,” Miller told graduates. “In addition to school, throw in a pandemic, social justice issues, economic challenges and a lot more. But remember too, so far, you have adjusted, persevered and triumphed.”
This is the pattern of real life, Miller said.
“Challenges fill our present, make us long for the past, and help shape our future. How you decide to apply the lessons you’ve learned with the toolboxes you’ve assembled here will drive your successes.”
While no one could have predicted the life-altering events that happened this year, Miller asked if this was the graduates’ year.
“What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for? A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw, that it finally forces us to grow,” Miller quoted from Leslie Dwight.
She continued, “A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber. A year we finally accept the need for change. Declare change. Work for change. Become the change. A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.”
So 2020 isn’t canceled, but rather the most important year of them all, Miller added.
Miller shared four things she has learned through her lifetime.
Listen and Learn: “What you must remember is that the rest of your life is an educational journey. There won’t be a finite point in time when you’ll be able to say you are finished learning. Even Michelangelo, at the age of 87, said, ‘I am still learning’,” Miller said.
Courage vs. Fear: “After 44 years of marriage, my husband passed away. His death left me with a difficult decision. Should I sell our business, or should I roll up my sleeves and step into a new role?” she said.
“It was courage that allowed me to believe that I could do anything I put my mind to. I was smart and what I didn’t know, I could learn,” Miller said.
“If you let it, courage will always triumph over fear.”
Respect: “No one wins when respect goes away,” Miller said.
“What we can’t ever afford to support is racism, hate speech, intolerance and bullying,” Miller said. “When we look at others as individuals worthy of our time and respect, we’ll have the opportunity and the ability to influence others, to inspire change and to innovate.”
Service: “Over the course of my lifetime, I have learned that serving others is essential to true happiness,” Miller said.
Miller added, “Right now, our nation is focused on social justice, equality, fairness and inclusion. In order to break through the systemic issues, our efforts and commitments must be sustainable. Now is the time to step out of yourselves and work to serve others.”
Tuminez told graduates, that all of them share a common history of hard work, tenacity, persistence and the achievement of their goals.
She left them with three thoughts: Celebrate, Innovate and contemplate.
“You are making your way in a world of tension and contradiction. Some of us have massive computing power in our hands, but 3.7 billion people in the world have no access to the internet,” Tuminez said.
“We produce more food than ever before, but malnutrition is the main cause of death and disease globally. Social media connects us to hundreds and thousands of friends, but loneliness is an epidemic,” Tuminez added.
She asked graduates to think differently, critically and creatively.
“Use your learning and experiences at UVU to help you think through these problems and tackle them in new and effective ways,” Tuminez said.
Tuminez ended by telling graduates to be courageous. Never give up and to remember they are gritty Wolverines.