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More than 1,000 Students to Participate in WGU’s In-Person Commencement in Las Vegas on Saturday

Over 6,000 guests expected to join the university’s first in-person ceremony in almost two years; ABC’s John Quiñones to deliver keynote address

Nov 18, 2021

LAS VEGAS - This weekend, Western Governors University (WGU) will celebrate the resilience and dedication of more than 1,000 new graduates who have earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in recent months with an in-person commencement, the first in nearly two years. These graduates have persevered through a constantly changing environment brought on by the pandemic and have emerged successfully from their programs with degrees in hand. The new alumni will commemorate their well-earned diplomas with more than 6,000 loved ones at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Delivering the keynote address will be ABC News veteran John Quiñones. Quiñones spent his youth as a migrant farm worker alongside his father who encouraged him to pursue his education, leading him to a career in journalism.

Quiñones ultimately broke through many educational and socioeconomic barriers, giving him the opportunity to spend more than 30 years at ABC News, win seven national Emmy awards for his reporting, and become the “face of doing the right thing” from his work on “What Would You Do?”. Today, Quiñones celebrates the life-changing power of education and the Latino American dream in presentations all around the country.

Since the last virtual commencement ceremony in August, more than 11,000 students have completed their degree programs, adding to the over quarter-million alumni who have graduated from WGU since its founding in 1997. Some 500 undergraduate and 594 graduate degree recipients from 46 U.S. states and military instillations overseas are expected to participate in Saturday’s ceremony.

Approximately 76% 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. 

“Since our founding nearly 25 years ago, WGU has served Night Owls: students who work hard and study late, earning their degrees as they continue maintaining commitments to their families and jobs,” said WGU Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Marni Baker Stein. “The pandemic added another layer of complexity, so this milestone represents something truly special–an unprecedented level of dedication, persistence, creativity, and resilience. And for that, we are so proud.”

In addition to the keynote’s address, four WGU graduates will share their stories. They are:

  • Zachary Johnson of Honolulu, Hawaii, came from a traveling military family and served as a firefighter in the Illinois Air National Guard when he was deployed to Iraq in 2010 for flood relief. After he earned both bachelor’s degree from WGU, Johnson sold all his possessions and relocated to Honolulu where he met the love of his life and bought a home near the beach, all while building a successful nursing career. 

  • Adriana Grimes of Long Beach, California, has been a professional dancer since she was 18. Following her passion, she created her own dancing troupe which held residencies at various venues in Southern California. After earning her B.S. in Business Management, Grimes plans to obtain her MBA from WGU to move her career dreams forward to one day owning a business specializing in image consulting, wellness and choreography.

  • Kathleen Fowers of Lehi, Utah, comes from a long line of educators, making it a natural dream of hers to become a teacher. After living abroad in France, working in an art museum and raising a family, Fowers was ready to pursue her passion for literature and art, and earned her master's degree at WGU. Now, she’s able to share her passion with her students as an 11th grade English and Concurrent Enrollment Humanities teacher. 

  • Qu’Teaus Smith from Locust Grove, Georgia, is a first-generation college graduate who aspires to serve as a positive role model for her children, family and those she mentors. When she’s not working as a webinar host, pet rescue volunteer, and diversity and inclusion specialist, Smith enjoys spending time with her family and close friends. 

Saturday’s ceremonies will begin at 9:30 a.m. PST/12:30 p.m. EST and will stream live on our website and our Facebook page. During the ceremonies, graduates and guests will use the hashtag #WGUgrad to share on social media how they’re celebrating.

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