Graduate Profile

William Sparkman - Graduate Speaker at February 2008 Commencement

William Sparkman

The faculty and staff of WGU would like to extend our condolences to the family and friends of Bill Sparkman. We were saddened to learn of his death. Bill was an inspirational student and graduate, a single father who overcame illness to earn his teaching degree, even traveling to Salt Lake City from Kentucky to speak at WGU’s 2008 Commencement. He will be remembered as a special student at WGU.

Bill Sparkman's education story is one of thoughtful parental involvement for his son and for himself, personal fortitude in the face of very difficult circumstances, including very serious personal illness. He thought of it as volunteering in his son's classroom. He never imagined it would lead to a career change. Bill began his career path as a sports editor for the Mulberry Press and through various jobs thereafter, it landed him in London, Kentucky, just as his son was entering elementary school.

His son could pass any test but was struggling with completing the required assignments, so Bill thought by volunteering in the classroom that he could help his son's learning situation. Eventually, he was offered the job of a paraeducator. Several years into the job, he realized he was doing many of the same things that the teachers were doing. Talking with several other paraeducators, he learned they were all going to school, working on their teacher certifications.

"Being a single parent, I knew I couldn't quit my job and I would have limited nights to go to school, so it could take a long time to finish," said Bill. "I checked around and discovered Western Governors University. WGU offered everything that I wanted. I didn't have to sit in class and I could go as fast or as slow as I needed to."

Bill was making great progress when a life-threatening brick wall popped up. A cyst had formed on the right side of his neck and it was found to be non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Refusing to let that get in his way, he persevered. He began the necessary medical treatment and continued to do his student teaching. "My mentor provided me great support through this obstacle and continued leading me down the path to graduation," Bill said. "As more people discover WGU, I believe that more great teachers will be there for more students and be able to provide the support everyone deserves."

Bill graduated from WGU in December 2007 with his bachelor's degree in mathematics education. With warnings from his doctor about traveling by plane, Bill attended the actual graduation ceremony in February 2008 in an alternative way-—by driving all the way across the country to Salt Lake City to attend in person to receive the diploma he worked so hard to earn. While Bill is waiting for a math teacher position to open, he is substitute teaching in various school districts in London, Kentucky.