NCU Community Gathers
in Phoenix for 2016 Commencement Activities

Written by Judy Tierney

In mid-July, NCU trustees, professors, staff, students, friends and families came to Phoenix from around the globe to celebrate NCU’s class of 2016. More than 450 of the 1,717 graduates – many of whom had not yet met any of their classmates or professors in person – attended the festivities, which were held at the Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa.

NCU kicked off the weekend by hosting its annual Faculty Symposium on July 7 and 8. At Northcentral, where classes are 100 percent online*, it’s not only the students whose interactions are primarily virtual. Because most of NCU’s diverse, highly-educated school Deans and professors, key operational leaders and members of the Board of Trustees work remotely, this is the one time each year that the group gathers to collaborate. With a packed agenda including faculty research presentations, addresses from President George Burnett and Provost David Harpool, faculty senate meetings and a demonstration of the Learning Management System, the group made the most of their time together.

As always, graduates were the main focus, and there were plenty of events to keep them busy and highlight their achievements. On Friday night, honor society members attended a special recognition reception. The next morning, 39 graduates were invited to a poster presentation to share their work with attendees.

From there, it was on to the doctoral hooding and academic recognition ceremony, acknowledging more than 220 NCU doctoral students in attendance. This hooding tradition, where Deans and faculty members place a doctoral hood over the head of the graduate, represents the attainment of a doctoral degree and symbolizes the passing of the guard from one generation of doctors to the next.

At the ceremony, Dr. Patricia Henry, Associate Dean of the Graduate School, announced the winners of the Dissertation of the Year Award and the Poster Session of the Year award, Dr. Melinda Riccitelli from the School of Education and Dr. Sarah Nava Magnes from the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, respectively. Henry noted that the Dissertation of the Year Award was based on the significance of the research to society, the discipline, and the student’s profession. “Riccitelli’s dissertation, ‘Science Identity’s Influence on Community College Students’ Engagement, Persistence, and Performance in Biology,’” she said, “will guide educators’ techniques for preventing student attrition and perhaps promote science as a career for a diverse student population.”

“Today, I begin my commencement address with love and it is my hope that with your degrees, you begin anew with love.”

Michelle Bernard

Keynote speaker: Michelle Bernard

Magnes won the award for her study, “Gratitude and Well-Being in Veterans Participating in a Peer-Provided Service in a Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Program.” “You can’t imagine the sense of joy and elation we all felt when my name was called,” said Magnes, whose parents and sister from Israel and brother from Australia all flew in to celebrate with her.

Of the 1,717 members of the Class of 2016, more than 450 attended the main event – the commencement ceremony – on Saturday afternoon. “The oldest graduate this year is 77 and will be receiving her Education Specialist degree,” Burnett told the gathering. “There is a three-way tie for the youngest: all are 24 and earned a Master of Business Administration.”

The graduating class was 60 percent female and represented all 50 states in the U.S. and 29 other countries, including Bermuda, Italy, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. The graduate who traveled the furthest to attend came from Singapore.

Harpool introduced this year’s commencement speaker, political and policy analyst, television commentator and author Michelle Bernard. Reflecting on the news of the Dallas police shootings, which coincided with the celebratory atmosphere of NCU’s commencement events, Bernard told the audience that she struggled on her flight to Phoenix trying to find words of wisdom she could share in her speech. “Today, I begin my commencement address with love,” she told the graduates, “and it is my hope that with your degrees, you begin anew with love.”

Bernard challenged the class to ask each and every person they know to go back and get a degree. “Education is the great equalizer,” she said. “With the degrees you have earned today, you are now some of the most blessed people on earth.”

“I am so inspired by what you all have accomplished as non-traditional students.”

Michelle Bernard

Bernard then went on to provide a nonconventional suggestion to the new graduates about how they could begin to help heal our nation. “I will not impart words of wisdom from any of the great philosophers of our time,” she told them. “My words of wisdom are as follows. I wholeheartedly encourage you to go out there and try to make some money!”

“It seems almost taboo to say these days, and certainly I would encourage everyone out there to think beyond money and never choose your profession or job solely based on the number of dollars you are going to earn,” she continued. “Make a commitment to yourself that you will do well financially, because then you will be in a position to help those starting out and to support charities and organizations that provide assistance to those in need.”

Bernard told the crowd that she was awestruck by the mission of NCU. “I am so inspired by what you all have accomplished as non-traditional students,” she said to the graduates. “I am honored to speak at a University that not only understands the importance of a university education, but also understands that men and women of all ages should have an opportunity to obtain a degree at any point in their lives.”

Harpool and the deans of each of the schools concluded the ceremony by presenting diplomas to the graduates. Ninety-six percent of the class of 2016 completed a graduate or doctoral degree; 46 percent finished a degree in education, 38 percent in business administration; 12 percent in psychology; and four percent in marriage and family therapy.

Faculty, staff and members of the board of trustees joined graduates and their families for a dessert reception following the ceremony. Northcentral University congratulates all the 2016 graduates and wishes them personal and professional success now and into the future.

*Marriage & Family Sciences courses are primarily online, however, practicum/internships/clinical supervision activities include traditional engagement in the communities in which our students live.