White House Official Praises WGU Grads’ ‘Pioneering Spirit’

In 1997, 19 U.S. governors signed articles of incorporation to create Western Governors University. On Saturday, July 12, U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that "pioneering spirit" could be found in the 5,541 graduates who were honored during our 2014 Summer Commencement.

"Every member of this graduating class, and everyone associated with Western Governors University, is a pioneer, and the world needs you now more than ever," Dr. Mitchell said. "The pioneering spirit—that urge to meet and master the tremendous challenges and opportunities in our world—that's always been a part of our American character."

Mitchell described WGU's disruptive innovation in higher education as "historic."

"It's high time we disrupt the model, it's high time we break the rules, and that's what you're doing here," he said.

Kara Nelson: "I've embraced my fighting spirit"

Kara earned her bachelor's degree in Special Education. She said she never expected to be 38 years old when she finished her bachelor degree online. But "life happened—and not as expected." She had to fight some "major self-confidence demons" to succeed.

"I have learned to embrace my fighting spirit, and discovered my own strength and fortitude to meet my fears head on," she said. "I have been knocked down a time or two—or three—but I've gotten up and tried again."

Kara also said her 13-year-old son, Lucas, taught her how to be a teacher.

"Lucas has a processing disorder that he has struggled with all of his life," said Kara. "Together, we have worked unimaginably hard to help him master the simple things that most people take for granted. Along the way, Lucas taught me to be the teacher he needs to help him succeed. If it were not for this amazing son of mine, I would never have developed the passion to teach."

Jenny Bascos: "I'm setting an example for my children"

Jenny earned her MSN–Leadership and Management. Her journey to commencement included working as a nurse in the Philippines, her native country. She worked as a primary nurse at a rural hospital, where equipment and supplies were scarce.

"Sutures and needles had to be sterilized for use," she said. "Gloves were expensive and had to be washed and sterilized for the next patients."

Jenny eventually moved to the United States. She said her master's degree serves as an important and inspiring lesson for her children.

"More important than my work is my desire to be an inspiration to my young and vibrant boys," Jenny said. "I am showing my kids what it's like to walk across this stage wearing a cap and gown. Young kids are our future, so to lead them early on is a sublime virtue."

Bliss Knight: "Pursuing my goals gave my life direction and purpose"

Bliss, who earned her online MBA, has always valued education, even as a young girl attending a one-room territorial school in Alaska and doing her homework by kerosene lantern at night. But growing up at a time and in a family that offered little encouragement for girls to pursue educations and careers discouraged Bliss, and she ended up dropping out of college without earning a degree.

She then embarked on a remarkable airplane piloting career, the first woman to serve as a smoke jumper pilot for the U.S. Forest Service and one of the first female airline pilots, among many other pioneering career moves.

Still, that college degree eluded her—until the advent of online, competency-based degree programs at WGU. She was able to earn her bachelor's degree 48 years after leaving high school, and her MBA after 52 years, studying alongside a landing strip while teaching flying lessons and running a remote Arizona ranch.

Jeff Rahmlow: "Not just my degree—our family degree"

Jeff, a father of seven, earned his B.S. in IT–Network Administration years after his first two attempts at earning a degree—at a traditional university shortly after high school—failed to result in a degree. He decided it was time to return to school when his job in manufacturing promised no future and he realized "I had only one story to write, seven mouths to feed, and zero opportunity—and that needed to change."

Completing his degree was harder than he expected, and there were times Jeff thought of dropping out. But his faculty mentor wouldn't hear it: "You're never going to stop life from getting in the way of life, but when it does, WGU is going to be the most flexible part of your life because we want you to succeed. We don't succeed until you succeed."

That's when Jeff decided that "my story was going to be a WGU success story."

His education landed him a great job, and he credits the strength of the Night Owl student body and alumni community's reputation for helping him get there. After the job interview, when his future employer proudly declared that his wife was a WGU alumna, he explained that he knew what a WGU degree means: a well-prepared, competent, hard-working student who will make an outstanding employee.

For more video from commencement, including the conferral of degrees and remarks from former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, view the playlist on YouTube.

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