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American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell to Be Honored at WGU's Anaheim Commencement, Astronaut Jose Hernandez to Deliver Keynote Address to 1,700+ Graduates

WGU deepens its commitment to serving students of all ages and backgrounds: Nearly half of graduates being celebrated are first generation students, 62% are students of color

Mar 14, 2024

ANAHEIM, CA, MARCH 15, 2024 — Western Governors University (WGU) is gearing up to honor the accomplishments of 1,700 new graduates during its upcoming commencement ceremony. The ceremony will take place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, marking the first WGU commencement in California since 2019. The new alums will celebrate their well-earned degrees with more than 11,000 family members and supporters at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Rick Benbow, WGU Regional Vice President, expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming event, stating, "Commencement is a momentous occasion where we celebrate the remarkable achievements of our graduates. It's a testament to their hard work and dedication, showcasing the transformative power of education at WGU."

WGU, a nonprofit online university, is committed to expanding access to higher education for working adults and traditionally underserved student populations. Research indicates that many adults enroll or re-enroll in postsecondary education to improve their socioeconomic circumstances, seeking career changes, advancements, skill updates, or personal growth opportunities. 

Notably, the upcoming Commencement will spotlight the diversity and resilience of WGU's student body. Of the graduates being celebrated, 62 percent are students of color, with 45 percent being first-generation students. Their average age of 37 underscores the university's commitment to serving students of all ages and backgrounds.

Special recognition will be given to Davon and Juel Copeland, a married couple who overcame significant obstacles, including Juel's battle with stage 3 breast cancer while pursuing their master's degrees. "The WGU experience was vital for us. Despite juggling jobs, five children, and a relocation, WGU's flexibility was invaluable. Transitioning from teaching to a dean role was possible due to WGU's program. Throughout my battle with cancer, my husband's support and WGU's community sustained us. Working part-time and full-time, we navigated challenges with resilience, highlighting the effectiveness of WGU's approach,” said Juel Copeland. 

Jose Hernandez, a NASA astronaut and accomplished aerospace engineer from the University of California Regent, will deliver the keynote address. Dr. Hernandez journey from a migrant farmworker in California to space was propelled by the notion that education would lead him and his family to a better life. His story epitomizes the transformative impact of education.

Furthermore, Dr. Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education (ACE), will receive an honorary degree from WGU in recognition of his tireless advocacy for higher education accessibility, which aligns closely with the university's mission. “Students chose to partner with an institution that approaches higher education differently, meets them where they are, and allows them to excel at their pace,” said Dr. Ted Mitchell. Their presence is a testament to the transformative value of higher education—and to their hard work and dedication.”

Additionally, four graduates will speak during the commencement festivities:     

  • Terrance Cooley; Lincoln, CA; MBA, IT Management
  • Arteja Stamps; Benton, AR; Master of Business Administration

  • Eddie Cruz; Rosemead, CA; Master of Healthcare Administration

  • Marianna Sanchez; San Antonio, TX; M.S. Curriculum and Instruction

Two ceremonies are set for March 16: 9:30 a.m. PST for graduates from the Leavitt School of Health & School of Education and 1:30 p.m. PST for the School of Business & School of Technology.

During the ceremonies, graduates will use the hashtag #WGUgrad to share on social media how they’re celebrating.

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