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February 18, 2021

More than 1,300 Students to Participate in WGU’s Winter Virtual Commencement on Saturday

Ceremony will celebrate the accomplishments of graduates from all 50 states; more than 7,500 guests are expected to join the live event

SALT LAKE CITY – This weekend, Western Governors University (WGU) will highlight the work and dedication of more than 1,300 new graduates who have earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They have persevered to complete their degrees while facing the uncertainties brought on by the global pandemic and economic disruption. Instead of walking across a traditional stage, the new alumni will showcase their diplomas and wave to their friends and family in videos they’ve submitted for the commencement. At least 7,500 loved ones are expected to join the livestream for the virtual event. 

Since the last ceremony in November 2020, more than 13,200 degrees have been awarded by WGU. Most of these graduates completed their programs while working full-time jobs and raising families. Since its founding in 1997, WGU has awarded more than 218,000 degrees. In the past, these achievements were celebrated with in-person commencement ceremonies held across the country multiple times per year. In-person commencement ceremonies for 2021 are not yet scheduled but WGU plans to resume the events when it is safe to do so. 

“The journey our graduates have taken to obtain their degrees has been challenging, and we are so proud of their dedication and perseverance to overcome those obstacles and expand their opportunity through higher education,” said Scott Pulsipher, President of WGU. “We are grateful for the technology that is available to us, which allows graduates the celebration they deserve with their families, friends, and faculty members. We look forward to celebrating their rigor with their loved ones this weekend.” 

Saturday’s ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. MST/12:30 p.m. EST and will be streamed live. During the ceremony, graduates and guests will use the hashtag #WGUgrad to share on social media how they’re celebrating.

Delivering the keynote address will be former NFL player, author, and executive coach Marques Ogden. Ogden played five years of professional football before founding a construction company where he was awarded the African American Subcontractor of the Year Award for the state of Maryland in 2010. Unfortunately, Ogden later experienced great hardship as his company went bankrupt in a matter of 90 days from a single project. But Ogden refused to let this define his life. Through perseverance and hard work, he became an inspirational keynote speaker, best-selling author, and marketing leader, helping to build the success of others. 

In addition to Ogden’s address, two WGU graduates will share their stories. They are:

  • Sarah Talarico of Euclid, Ohio, who has been on an extensive educational journey, earning multiple associates and bachelor’s degrees from various institutions, which now includes WGU. Talarico serves as a member of Shared Governance, a professional nursing practice model, and is the safety coach for the perioperative department at her hospital. She will receive her diploma on Saturday for her Master of Science in Nursing with an emphasis in Leadership and Management. 
  • Nisreen Karktoli of Sugar Hill, Georgia, knows struggle more than most. She fled Syria at the start of a war and left the life she knew and loved behind. Upon entering the United States, she struggled to find a job despite having a master’s degree in Economics from Syria. After witnessing her husband’s WGU experience, she decided to enroll. Just a week after completing the coursework for her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting, Karktoli was offered a position as an accounts payable team lead. 

Some 691 undergraduate and 665 graduate degree recipients from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are expected to participate in Saturday’s ceremony. Approximately 71% 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.

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