This weekend, Western Governors University (WGU) will celebrate the resilience and dedication of more than 1,500 new graduates who have earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in recent months. These graduates have persevered through a constantly changing environment brought on by the global pandemic and have emerged successfully from their programs with degrees in hand. The new alumni will showcase their well-earned diplomas in videos they submitted for the virtual ceremony, while over 9,000 loved ones celebrate with them during the livestreamed event.
Since the last commencement ceremony in May, more than 14,000 WGU students have completed their degree programs, joining more than 240,000 alumni who have graduated from WGU since its founding in 1997. Some 816 undergraduate and 720 graduate degree recipients from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are expected to participate in Saturday’s ceremony.
Approximately 70% 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, and many work full time and raise families while completing their programs.
“The journey our graduates have taken to obtain their degrees has been especially challenging this year, and we are so proud of their dedication and perseverance as they have overcome obstacles to pursue greater opportunity through higher education,” said Scott Pulsipher, president of WGU. “We are grateful for the technology available to us, which allows graduates to experience the celebration they deserve with their families, friends, and faculty members.”
Delivering the keynote address will be Walmart executive Carmen Kingston. Born in Mexico, Kingston came to the U.S. at age 18 with her life savings and a goal to achieve her dreams, including becoming an American citizen. After working in the cotton fields of Oklahoma, Kingston attained U.S. citizenship and eventually joined Walmart, a longtime WGU partner and founding funder of the Open Skills Network. In her 25 years with the company, Kingston has received many accolades and recognition, including the Sam M. Walton Award of Excellence, the highest award given to Walmart and Sam’s Club associates. Kingston is an advocate for diversity and inclusion efforts and serves as the executive sponsor for the Sam’s Club LatinX Associate Resource Group.
In addition to Kingston’s address, two WGU graduates will share their stories. They are:
- Laura Wilson of White Bluff, Tennessee, whose passion for agile design methodology, audio books, and lifelong learning has led her to become a manager of instructional design at HCA Healthcare, the largest private healthcare provider in the U.S. She serves as a member of the Creative Collaborative, the Digital Accessibility Champion Core team, and is an independent voice actor. She is also the founder of Strings for Hope, a 501c3 non-profit in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Pixley Rickman of Silver Spring, Maryland, is a BigFix Administrator for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). A 20+-year veteran in the information technology industry, Rickman has worked in both government and private sectors, including as AVP of Desktop Support at Bank of America. In his spare time, Rickman enjoys traveling, spending quality time with family, outdoor grilling, and is an avid New York Jets fan.
Prior to the global pandemic and the restrictions it created, these graduates 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.
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 on social media how they’re celebrating.