Student speaker and master's degree candidate Katherine Sullivan speaks during the USU-Moab commencement ceremony on Thursday, April 24. [Photo by Eric Trenbeath / Moab Sun News]

Student speaker and master’s degree candidate Katherine Sullivan shared words of wisdom with other candidates at the Utah State University-Moab commencement ceremony on Thursday, April 24.

“The most valuable thing you can receive from school is not a good job, or a fancy car, but the ability to live a better life,” she said. “Through education, we can become better members of our family, our community and our society.”

The ceremony was a significant milestone for the assembled candidates, many of whom had chosen to return to school later in life. This year, 11 candidates graduated from USU-Moab with college degrees, and five candidates received their high school diplomas from the Arches Education Center.

“This year’s graduating class represents a diverse group of students from all walks of life who will be earning degrees at different levels, representing several different majors,” said Steve Hawks, the USU-Moab Dean and executive director.

Hawks addressed the candidates and the audience as an administrator, a member of a hometown community, and as the father of a graduating student.

“I encourage fellow community members to take a class or send your kids to USU-Moab,” he said. “I’m not telling you to send your kids anywhere that I wouldn’t send my own children.”

Commencement speaker and Grand County School District superintendent Scott Crane continued to express the belief that a person with a well-rounded education can better serve society.

“Use your education to creatively influence your chosen vocation and contribute to society,” he said.

Crane also spoke about what it means to live in the age of information when everyone has an iPad, smart phone, and continuous access to the internet. He said that although there are many advantages to living in this era, there are disadvantages as well.

“It is important to be able to analyze, judge, evaluate and discern information,” he said. “The problem with extra growth and knowledge is improper information and propaganda. Do not get caught up in propaganda, and continue to seek out the truth.”

Crane also advised candidates to be life long learners.

Janice Radcliff, master’s degree candidate, grandmother, and USU-Moab staff assistant, knows what it means to be a life long learner. She went back to school to get her G.E.D. in 1977.

“I initially went back and studied to lose myself and escape the real world,” she said.

She then discovered she had a passion for people and for learning. She continued on with her education, earning first her associate’s degree, then her bachelor’s degree, and finally a master’s degree in instructional technology and learning science.

“I’m a geek,” Radcliff said. “I speak the language.”

In his closing remarks, associate director and advisor Sam Sturman congratulated Radcliff, both as a student, and as a fellow USU-Moab employee, on her accomplishments.

“How do we get a college degree?” he asked, “The same way that we eat – one bite at a time.”

Associate degree candidate Caleb Dooley was initially not happy about having to go back to school. He already had a good job as an appraiser and was raising a family, but the requirements for his position changed.

“But then I saw that education was opening doors for me,” Dooley said. “I also realized that I was more open to learning now that I was older.”

Dooley now plans to return to USU-Moab for his bachelor’s degree, and he praised the school’s long-distance education program.

“We are lucky to live in a time period with the technology that enables long-distance education – without uprooting your family or putting your life on hold,” he said.

Other candidates were equally happy about having a local college. Deborah Winters, a mother and candidate for an associate’s degree, wants to pursue a career in criminal justice.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to further my education and to be able to set an example for my children,” she said.

Five candidates received their high school diploma through the Arches Education Center, which is now housed in the USU-Moab facility. Director of adult education Trish Hedin said this has been a great thing for the adult education program, and that it instills confidence in her students.

“I am really proud of my students,” she said. “This program allows people to step back and complete their education. I get to see people up here in black gowns that once wore white in my program.”

Anazella Morrison, an artist and stay-at-home mother of three, lives in a rural area outside of Moab, and is grateful for the program, though she said it was a lot of work. Morrison received her G.E.D, and she hopes to pursue a career in the medical field.

“This is a good local opportunity,” she said.

Enrollment at USU-Moab grew to 160 students this year, and a number of new programs have been added to the curriculum. Administrators hope to see this trend continue as they move towards breaking ground on a new regional campus on the southern end of town.

“We want to design something that is going to accommodate 500 students in phase one,” Hawks said.

This spring, USU committed funds for planning and designing the first phase of the new campus. The first phase will include classrooms, faculty and administrative space, and a student commons area. A 30-year, seven-phase master plan predicts that the campus could accommodate up to 3500 students.

Hawks acknowledges that growth is dependent on students from outside the Moab area, but said the university will always be committed to serving the local community. He has also noticed a new trend with enrollment.

“We are beginning to see more college-aged students stay close to home and pursue their degree locally rather than take on the expense of going somewhere else to study,” he said.

This is in contrast to the general student body of working adults who need to go to school at night while they work on their degrees.

The development of a regional campus in Moab currently has the support of the City of Moab, and Grand County, though the county has yet to set aside funds. There is also the support of a local advisory board.

“The community really realizes the value of higher education,” Sturman said. “USU-Moab is looking toward the future with more programs and offerings. I still think the best is yet to come.”

Ceremony was a milestone for “diverse group of students”  

“How do we get a college degree? The same way that we eat – one bite at a time.”