The Fiery Furnace Marching Band performed at the 2019 USU-Moab commencement ceremony on Thursday, April 25, surrounded by a sea of graduation caps. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

Caps, gowns and smiles were in abundance on Thursday, April 25, at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Moab as crowds gathered for the Utah State University-Moab commencement ceremony for the graduating class of 2019.

In a press release on April 25, Utah State University (USU)-Moab announced that 27 students were graduating, including those earning master’s, bachelor’s and associate’s degrees, as well as career training certificates. Nine students from the Arches Education Center were receiving their GED as part of the commencement ceremonies.

“This year’s number of graduates increased from the previous year, continuing the upward trend of students graduating from USU-Moab,” the press release stated. 

An open area on the ground floor of SpringHill Suites barely contained the number of commencement attendees, with later arrivals squeezing in to get a view of the event.  

All stood to honor the processional of graduates and a presentation of the colors by the American Legion. This was followed by a joyful, jazzy rendition of the National Anthem by Moab’s Fiery Furnace Marching Band.  

USU-Moab Associate Vice President Lianna Etchberger then welcomed the graduates and audience, and introduced the 2019 student speaker, Donna Metzler.  

Metzler was graduating that evening with a bachelor’s degree in English. She earned the distinction of graduating Summa Cum Laude, which means her grade point average was between 3.95 and 4.00.

Metzler’s speech interwove themes of destiny, the benefits of taking chances and the “divine spark” of “genius” inside every person.

She said that destiny is not something preordained, but rather “something you create,” and that missing the “call” of destiny is why, as the saying goes, “most men live lives of quiet desperation.”

She spoke of her own life’s journey, which included applying for the Moab City manager position in 1994 when she was only 27 years old and had just become a mother, after her husband encouraged her to apply. She got the job, though she said that many people initially told her she was “too young, too naive” and would fail. And, Metzler said, the first few years were very hard.

“But I persisted,” she said, and with others at the city built roads, municipal buildings and had accomplished other achievements.  

[Disclosure: The author of this article and Moab Sun News Co-Publisher Heila Ershadi was a member of the city council during Metzler’s tenure as city manager.]

Metzler said that after 20 years with the city, she began to feel she had fulfilled her dream of being the city manager of a small town and had a new calling: becoming a high school English teacher.  

This meant going back to school.

“My first time at college, we wrote our papers on typewriters,” Metzler noted.

She took classes while continuing to work full time as city manager and delivered the commencement speech for USU-Moab as a student after she completed her first semester.

While still early in her educational path toward becoming a teacher, an English teaching position opened up at the Grand County High School, and several persons encouraged her to apply. She got the job.

“In March of 2014, with no teaching experience, I begin teaching English at Grand County High School,” Metzler said, adding that she continued taking classes while working full time as a teacher, taking six years to complete the program.

Metzler also said she was “grateful to the people around me who saw what I didn’t see. My husband, the city council, all the people who saw the teacher in me before I did.”

Metzler said people say to her, “You’re amazing, how do you do it?” But she demurred, saying she is “no more amazing than anyone else.”

She said that the Romans believed that each of us has a genius that is “a guiding spirit with us throughout our lives.”

“Genius isn’t something reserved for extraordinary people; everyone has it,” she said.

“You notice genius in people who have uncovered their divine spark,” Metzler continued. “I have uncovered my divine spark.”

She encouraged all those in attendance to take chances in uncovering their own divine sparks.  

“Great things may come to those who wait, but wondrous accidents happen to those who do not,” she said.

Following Metzler’s speech, Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff gave the address to graduates.  

Sadoff said that prior to becoming a hospital CEO, her work history included employment as a telemarketer for lawn chemicals, a manager and crust-maker of a pizza restaurant, a harvester at a culinary herb farm, a home health aide, an accounts payable clerk at an outdoor company, an outdoor educator teaching climbing and mountaineering in Colorado and internationally, a wilderness therapy instructor, a landscaper, a waitress, and director of the Moab nonprofit the Youth Garden Project.

“It’s really an honor to celebrate your achievements,” she said to the graduates, adding that she recognizes many of the faces because they work in or own businesses in town.

Sadoff also thanked the friends and family of the graduates for their crucial support, as well as the professors, who she said “change lives and open doors.”

Sadoff said she was the first in her family to graduate from college, and that it was a challenge at times as she switched majors and occasionally struggled in a class. After attending a fiber arts show, Sadoff said she decided to major in art, even though it wasn’t the most “practical” degree.

She said art school meant having a lot of other people critique her work, and that it was difficult at first to learn to accept criticism, but that the ability to be vulnerable and open to critique has become a great life skill, one she uses these days in her role as hospital CEO.

She encouraged graduates to appreciate people in their lives who will offer honest feedback.

“I encourage you to embrace the opportunity to grow,” she said.

Sadoff also drew an analogy between holding on to bad art and holding on to “personal hurts.”

“It’s important to relentlessly cull the things that no longer bring us value and serve us,” she said, adding that this holds true for both art and life in general.  

She offered the advice to create a “museum of joy, of gratitude and inspiration” rather than “a collection of personal hurts,” to walk through it daily and to give friends and family “lifetime passes” to enjoy it, too. She said this was key to avoiding the burnout that can plague hardworking professionals.

“We have the responsibility to be the artists of our own life and our own careers,” she said.

USU Executive Vice President and Provost Francis D. Galey then conferred the degrees, and Etchberger presented the USU-Moab diplomas. Trisha Hedin presented the High School Completion Diplomas.

As one woman stepped forward to claim her degree, a young boy in the audience called out, “Yay, mommy!”

With ceremonial cap tassels moved from right to left to signify they were now official graduates, USU Vice President for Advancement Matthew White gave the greeting to graduates, welcoming them to the “USU alumni family.”

“Congratulations on this wonderful achievement,” he said. “And go Aggies!”

USU says number of graduates ‘continues upward trend’

“Congratulations on this wonderful achievement. And go Aggies!”