A President's Reflections

SNHU at its best: Celebrating our 2022 fall graduates

Posted on December 6, 2022

Two weeks ago, we celebrated our Fall 2022 Commencement ceremonies. This fall, more than 17,000 students completed their degrees with SNHU; nearly 4,000 graduates and 20,000 guests attended the ceremonies in Manchester, NH; and this weekend we will celebrate 4,500 in our virtual ceremonies. 

Graduations at SNHU are always particularly celebratory, warm, and personal. They are full of powerful stories and incredible diversity: traditional-aged graduates, but also graduates in their 60s, 70s, and 80s; veterans; parents; graduates in wheelchairs or with service dogs; graduates of every race and ethnicity; and international graduates. Our graduates included:

Woman smiling on campus green space, wearing graduation cap and gown, holding diploma cover

Rose, a sister to 12 and a mother of four who completed her SNHU education under incredible circumstances. After fleeing from the war in Congo with her husband, she started our GEM program in 2018. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Communication, as well as increased computer literacy, English language skills, and an abundance of newly found confidence.

Man smiling on campus green space, wearing graduation cap and gown, holding diploma cover

Ricky, a 30-year-old father of three and a first-generation college graduate. After dropping out of high school, Ricky got in trouble with the law and faced 10-15 years in jail for a serious offense. With a felony on his record, it was difficult finding job opportunities. He decided to enroll with SNHU to help turn his life around and be a positive influence for his kids. In addition to earning his bachelor’s degree, his felony charge will be wiped from his record this year, and he will have an opportunity for a fresh start.

Couple smiling and holding their diploma covers with their son, all wearing cap and gown

Everett and Dorsel, a married couple from Florida who traveled to New Hampshire with their 6-year-old son to celebrate their hard work and cross the finish line together. Their son proudly wore his own cap and gown that said, “they mastered it.” 

Man walking at graduation with accessibility accommodations

Ryan, a campus student, began his SNHU journey 13 years ago when the then 5-year-old was adopted by the SNHU Men’s Soccer team through our partnership with Team IMPACT, a nonprofit organization that matches children facing serious illness and disability with college sports teams. I remember Ryan and the profound impact he had on the soccer team. Ryan bravely battled a pediatric brain tumor, which impaired his vision, and completed his bachelor’s degree at the age of 18. He continues to be an inspiration to the SNHU community.

Hear from some of our newest alumni about how it felt celebrating their accomplishments at SNHU Commencement. 

Also among our graduates were more than 155 SNHU employees who earned their degrees while working hard to support our students. 

Looking out over the crowd, seeing the incredible diversity, and hearing the stories, I kept thinking that this is America at its best. It is certainly SNHU at its best. The day was a powerful reminder of our mission.  

I have done a lot of commencements in my time, but these ceremonies have stayed with me and I’ve been wondering why. Certainly, there was energy, warmth, and joy, but all of our Commencement ceremonies possess those defining qualities. For me, it wasn’t that these commencements were different; I think I’m different and that’s why they felt different to me.  

The pandemic has made me more keenly aware of the emotional and psychological dimensions of our students’ achievements. I’ve always thought about their practical challenges: time, money, inadequate technology, and the curveballs life throws at them. Holding down a job, raising a family, and completing a degree — that’s impressive. But the pandemic exacted a toll on everyone and added new levels of emotional stress for not only oneself, but for all of those one cares for at home and work. So when I saw nurses and teachers standing up at the start of the ceremonies (did anyone work harder in the pandemic?), or met parents after the clap line, or chatted with a Walmart employee who had to work extra shifts when everyone was having goods delivered instead of venturing out, I was so moved by their resiliency and grit. They didn’t just work, take care of family, and study, as our graduates have always done — they did it all during a pandemic. Amazing, really, so their tears and hugs and stories moved me more than ever and reminded me that we all have come through a really hard time. One gift of that ordeal, at least for me, is to be more sensitive to the emotional burdens that everyone carries – our students, my coworkers, and everyone I know. 

A second thing that was different is that I wrote Broken and spent a lot of time thinking about the way our systems of care (including higher education) have failed so many people. Many of those who marched and received their diploma had tried higher education before and I now recognize that for most of them, their earlier struggles did not come from their lack of suitability for higher education, but that the higher education options available to them were unsuitable for them. They did not fail so much as they were failed by a system not genuinely built around students. Our graduates did not get smarter, discover new reserves of grit, or stumble into more accommodating schedules and lives when they enrolled with us. They have always been smart enough, persevering, and remain busy. It’s that we gave them an option that works well for them and they could then prove themselves and earn their degrees. The day made me proud of what we have built here at SNHU, sad that we still lose far too many students, and more determined than ever to improve our systems, focus on persistence, and improve our outcomes. More people deserve a day like the ones our graduates enjoyed. 

Finally, I found myself more closely observing the work our staff volunteers were doing, how they engaged with our graduates, and the genuine joy they took in the day. It takes a village to graduate 4,000 students in person and welcome 20,000 guests. Throughout the day, I saw the moments of connection between staff and students, the way a staffer fussed over people’s gowns, the way our accessibility team guided people to the stage with gentle dignity, the reunions between students and advisors and faculty, and the undiminished energy of the clap line even after three ceremonies. A huge thank you to the scores of faculty and staff who stepped up to help and are there with energy and excitement.

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