A President's Reflections

Celebrating the Work of the Heart 

Posted on May 31, 2023

This spring, Southern New Hampshire University proudly welcomed nearly 17,000 graduates to the SNHU alumni community. We marked this incredible achievement through a combination of in-person and virtual commencement ceremonies. With four memorable in-person events held over a single weekend and a subsequent virtual ceremony for those unable to attend in New Hampshire, we took great care to ensure that our graduates had the opportunity to bask in the joy of being celebrated. By the end of the weekend, I was basking in Advil and an ice pack for my sore right hand after thousands of handshakes (totally worth it!).

During Commencement weekend, someone asked me about my favorite part of Commencement. My answer: it is often in the quiet moments of conversation before and after the ceremonies. It’s in those moments I get to hear stories. The stories of working parents, many of whom manage to squeeze in their studies late at night often while everyone else is asleep. Sometimes it’s a service member who worked on their studies across the globe on deployment. Or a truck driver who did homework at rest stops on the highway (see below for more). Other times it’s a first-generation graduate looking to break generational barriers and create opportunity for their family. Our students are from all walks of life, have overcome unimaginable obstacles, and it is always amazing to celebrate the achievements of our diverse group of graduates. 

Meet some of our incredible spring 2023 grads. I hope you enjoy their stories as much as I do. 

  • Sharla Kaleihua Kahale-Miner, 61, traveled to Commencement all the way from Hawaii’s big island. A grandmother of 9, Sharla is a former Polynesian dancer and current hula studio owner. After seeing the disparities in her community, she decided to go back to school and become a voice for locals. Upon graduation, she plans to go to law school to become an attorney and fight for the social unequitable injustices often lacking in our country.
Sharla Kaleihua Kahale-Miner proudly wears a Hawaiian flower lei on her head while holding her diploma, with the SNHU campus as the backdrop.
  • Tamica Matos, 40, a mother of three and military spouse, was left legally blind after an extensive brain surgery. She decided to return to school after coming to terms with her new disability. While navigating her vision impairment, raising her kids, and helping her husband transition to civilian life after being medically discharged, she worked on her program and graduated with her bachelor’s in human services.
  • Cedric Parker, 50, a truck driver from Mississippi, took his SNHU education across the country with him during his 14-hour shifts in his 18-wheeler. He used to work on his assignments at various stops along his cross-country route, sometimes even working in the cab of his truck. Equipped with his psychology degree, he has already successfully transitioned into a new role at a rehabilitation center, embracing a fulfilling career change.
Cedric Parker proudly holds his diploma at his Commencement ceremony.
  • Robert Heckinger, a 77-year-old Army veteran, started his college journey in 1969, after returning home from the draft. He always planned to earn his degree, but life got in the way. He earned a degree nearly 55 years in the making, and rather than retiring, he plans to use his education to teach history.
Robert Heckinger, adorned in cap and gown, triumphantly holds his long-awaited diploma on the SNHU campus, radiating pride and achievement.
  • Tiare Hazen is a 25-year-old firefighter from Michigan and first-generation college graduate. While working hard on her degree program and raising three boys, she simultaneously completed EMT school and the firefighting academy. With her education, she plans to open a small business, using the skills she learned in her SNHU courses.
  • Remus Figueroa’s military career became uncertain when he was diagnosed with cancer. Fearing for the family’s future if he were to be medically discharged, Remus began his college journey online with SNHU after his first day of chemotherapy. At age 26, he graduated from SNHU with his wife Marlene, who is expecting their third child.
Remus Figueroa proudly accepts his diploma, shaking hands with SNHU President LeBlanc at his Commencement ceremony.
  • Nelson Manohar Bachalakura, 34, an on-campus student, grew up in a small village in India with little access to high-quality education. Determined to pursue his degree in the US, he persisted through his challenges and graduated with his master’s in IT.
  • Jereme West, 43, a pre- and post-9/11 veteran, tried seven other schools before finding the right fit at SNHU. Jereme works at the Department of Veteran Affairs and will use his education to help other service members transition to civilian life. He earned his bachelor’s degree alongside his service dog Lillie.
Jereme West, accompanied by his loyal service dog Lillie, holds his diploma at SNHU Commencement.

Our students put in tremendous effort, and while that is the work of the head, I believe graduation truly celebrates the work of the heart. When I inquire about the motivations behind pursuing their degrees, our graduates often respond with heartfelt sentiments, sharing reasons such as seeking new opportunities or fulfilling long-awaited aspirations. But often, in the very same breath, they reveal that their pursuit of a degree is driven by a profound desire to create a better future for their children or to honor a promise made to a loved one. This heartfelt dedication extends not only to our exceptional students but also resonates with our staff and faculty here at SNHU. 

Our staff and faculty truly love our students, and I don’t use that term lightly. If love is the giving of your time, being invested, really knowing someone, and making them feel like they matter, then I’d say SNHU loves its students. My hope is that every learner and graduate has felt that in their experience here at SNHU. 

Congratulations to the spring Class of 2023! 

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