Meet the Graduating Class of Winter 2014

Across the country, Night Owls are packing their bags, arranging pet-sitters, double-checking that they locked the door and turned off the stove, and heading out of town to take Atlanta by storm.

And when they arrive in ATL, they'll be part of the biggest contingent of Night Owls ever to converge for a WGU commencement ceremony—more than 500 graduates and more than 3,500 family members, friends, faculty, and staff are expected to attend the February 8 event, traveling to Atlanta from at least 46 states and Canada!

No surprise that this will be the biggest commencement yet—it celebrates the biggest graduating class to date: 5,585 graduates from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. military bases around the world!

Here are some fun facts about the Class of Winter 2014:

  • Of the 5,585 graduates, 3,306 undergraduate and 2,279 graduate degrees will be recognized.
  • Since its inception, WGU has awarded more than 30,000 degrees.
  • The graduate traveling the farthest to participate in commencement is coming from Kodiak, Alaska.
  • Degree distribution by college:
    • College of Business – 1,494
    • College of Health Professions – 1,852
    • College of Information Technology – 677
    • Teachers College – 1,562 (1,465 of them are degrees leading to licensure as a teacher.)
  • The average age of the graduates is 39. The youngest grad is 20; the oldest is 70.
  • 66% of graduates are female; 34% are male.
  • 40% represent the first generation in their family to complete college.

For graduates, family, friends, and supporters who are not able to attend commencement in Atlanta, the entire program will be broadcast live via streaming video, beginning at 9:45 a.m. EST Saturday, February 8, at At that link, you will also be able to see a video listing the names of all 5,585 graduates.

Our commencement speaker will be Frank Alvarez, former president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. You'll also hear from four amazing graduates who will share their inspiring stories:

Crystal Howard, MSN—Leadership & Management – Zuni, New Mexico

Commencement Speaker Crystal Howard

Crystal is a military nurse living and working on a remote Indian reservation in Zuni, New Mexico. She chose WGU because it was recommended to her by one of her nurse officers, despite her initial uncertainty about attending an online university for a graduate-level degree. During her time at WGU, she was deployed to help with the relief effort for Hurricane Sandy. During that busy and hectic time in her life—in a place with severely limited Internet access—she worried about falling behind in her studies. But working with her mentor, she was able to stay on track toward her graduation goals. And the things she had learned in her WGU program served her well through the challenges of working with the Russian-speaking community devastated by the hurricane, despite the language and culture being completely foreign to her. Today, she is the second-youngest nurse on her staff, but she's one of only two with an MSN degree. She's also the first in her family with a bachelor's degree, let alone a master's.

Merit Sowards, B.S. Health Informatics – Bradenton, Florida

Commencement Speaker Merit Sowards

Merit was recovering from melanoma and looking to take a major step to make the most of her life when opportunity came knocking. The accountant advising her parents' medical transcription business recommended that, for tax purposes, they consider sending Merit to school—a dream she had always held but never achieved. But because the expense would fall to her parents' business, finding an affordable college was critical. What she found at WGU, though, was more than affordability—it was personalized and relevant support at exactly the moment she needed it. She thrived in courses that she originally struggled with, and she stuck with her program despite the pressures of being a full-time employee, mother, and wife. And immediately upon completing her professional practice experience (PPE) as a WGU student, she was hired by the hospital where she had done her PPE work.

Marvin Perkins, B.S. Business Management – Santa Clarita, California

Commencement Speaker Marvin Perkins

Growing up in a poor area of upstate New York, Marvin received no support or encouragement from teachers and counselors to attend college. However, a college education was his dream, so while on vacation in Southern California he decided to stay there and go to school. It was there where he met a woman and became a father—but three years later, they divorced, and he was awarded custody of his young son. A single father with heavy work responsibilities, he decided his dream of college would have to wait. Over the years, he managed to grow in his career and become very successful, achieving a six-figure salary and ultimately deciding that he may not need a degree after all. Then the economy crashed and he found himself unable to get a job without a degree. Today he has a successful career and travels the nation as a professional speaker.

Tracy Anderson, B.A. Special Education – Petersburg, Virginia

Commencement Speaker Tracy Anderson

Tracy was a para-educator for more than 16 years before earning her bachelor's degree in special education. She had always planned to go to college, but life soon got in the way and her dream was put on hold. Several years later, as a single mother and caretaker for three elderly family members, she decided to return to school to fulfill her dream. She chose WGU because it allowed her to use her work experience in her schoolwork. Three days after graduating from WGU, Tracy was hired as an eighth-grade special education teacher. She is continuing her education at WGU and started the M.Ed. in Learning and Technology program this January.

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