SALT LAKE CITY – This weekend more than 1,200 new graduates of Western Governors University (WGU) will celebrate the major milestone of earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree. These graduates have persevered through a pandemic and severe economic disruption. Rather than walking across a traditional stage, videos of the new alumni will play as they wave to friends and family in celebration of their new degrees. At least 7,400 of graduates’ loved ones are expected to watch the virtual event.
Since March 1, 2020, 32,377 individuals have earned degrees from WGU, most of them while working full-time jobs and raising families. In its 23-year history, WGU has awarded more than 206,000 degrees and has celebrated with ceremonies held multiple times per year, usually in cities across the country. This weekend’s virtual ceremony is being held in place of previously planned in-person celebrations in Philadelphia and St. Louis, which would have been the university’s 81st and 82nd, respectively.
“We’re grateful to give our graduates the opportunity to celebrate this accomplishment with their family, friends, and faculty members,” said Marni Baker Stein, WGU’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer. “The path to their degrees over the past several months has been difficult, but each of them has overcome these challenges to expand their opportunity and education. We are excited to join them in celebrating their perseverance with their loved ones.”
Saturday’s ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. MDT/12:30 p.m. EDT and will stream live at wgu.edu/virtual. During the ceremony, graduates and guests will use the hashtag #WGUgrad to share how they’re celebrating on social media.
Some 605 undergraduate and 666 graduate degree recipients from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are expected to participate in Saturday’s ceremony. Approximately 73% of the graduates come from at least one of the following historically underserved populations: first-generation college students, students of color, rural residents, and/or low-income earners. Graduates earned degrees in business, K–12 education, information technology, and health professions, including nursing.
Inspirational educator and author Stacey Bess will deliver the keynote address. Bess, a cancer survivor and Utah native, has had much success with “hopeless” children, such as those dealing with houselessness and unstable family lives. Her work has awarded her the National Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service. Bess continues to be a leading advocate for educational rights of impoverished children and a powerful speaker.
In addition to Bess’s address, two WGU graduates will share their stories. They are:
- Mario D. Mejia of Alexandria, Virginia, who, after suffering a life-threatening injury that required him to relearn basic functions, found himself at WGU to further his education. Mejia is a leader in his community, dedicating his time to philanthropic projects relating to children, and he is the first in his family to earn a master’s degree. He is graduating with his Master of Business Administration.
- Kathryn Fadenrecht of Sacramento, California, had many obstacles in her way but never lost sight of her dream of becoming a teacher. A teen mom who had to work several jobs to make ends meet, Fadenrecht eventually found her way to WGU and fulfilled her passion to teach. She is now pursuing a new dream: to work with Sacramento’s inner-city students and their families with her new Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education degree.