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Secretary of State, state treasurer tell of finding common ground in remarks to Watts College fall convocation

Watts College graduates celebrate their achievement at the college's fall 2019 convocation in downtown Phoenix.

Watts College graduates celebrate their achievement Dec. 19 at the college's fall 2019 convocation in downtown Phoenix.

December 23, 2019

Brightly colored regalia, broad smiles on the faces of more than 360 graduates, their families and friends and inspiring words about those of different viewpoints working together for a better society highlighted the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Fall 2019 Convocation Ceremony.

Dean Jonathan Koppell opened the Dec. 19 ceremony at the newly renamed Arizona Federal Theatre in downtown Phoenix by reminding the audience of the importance of the graduates’ achievements. He assured the honorees that their efforts while at Arizona State University are already helping make a better world.

Koppell said the Watts College ceremony is different from others at which speakers urge graduates to be mindful of the needs of others as they head out on their career journeys. Nothing wrong with that, he said.

“But here’s the thing: At this university there is one group of students that have already answered that call to serve. There’s one group of students that chose to pursue degrees to equip them precisely to serve their communities and take on their most challenging problems. There’s one group of students that does not need encouragement to make the world a better place. That’s this group of students,” the dean said as the audience erupted in cheers.

The Watts College has a diverse group of undergraduates, graduates and doctoral students earning degrees from its schools, he said.

“But they all share a common foundation. The common foundation is they start with the premise that our fates are intertwined, and we cannot operate with the assumption that if I do OK, everything will be fine,” Koppell said. “Rather, our fates are hopelessly intermingled. One of us cannot thrive if the rest of us are not thriving. And if one of us suffers, all of us are suffering. And that unites this college of public service and makes this night so very important.”

Convocation keynote speakers Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, D-Ariz., and State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, R-Ariz., are among three Watts College alumni who were elected to statewide political office in 2018. The third is U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Hobbs’ degree is from the School of Social Work, where one of her internships was at a domestic violence shelter. She underscored Koppell’s message of solutions-oriented service.

“I want to applaud you. You’re making the choice to have an impact in your communities, our state and in the world,” she said. “I also wonder how many of you are sitting there thinking that this career path will lead you to elective office, or have actually thought about running for office?”

Hobbs said that at her graduation 24 years ago, she probably would have laughed at such an idea.

“But here I am, nine years after being elected to the Legislature and just a year after winning statewide office, and I can say with certainty that it was my career in public service as a social worker that led me to running for office,” she said.

She said the political divide she encountered when first entering the state Legislature in 2010 has become greater than ever, more in Washington, D.C., than in Arizona. That’s why people who want to devote their lives to public service and the skills they learn in studying ways to advance change are needed today more than ever.

Hobbs noted the importance of bipartisanship and building bridges.

Even though Democrats held few seats in the House during her first years there, Hobbs said she was able to get two bills passed and signed into law because she built relationships and found common ground with Republicans.

“The bottom line is, I chose to pick my battles. Because when I had a bill that was a good idea that solved a problem, it was an opportunity to build a bridge and get something done. And that creates a win for everybody.”

Yee, whose degree from the college is a master’s in public administration, recalled how her time on the staff of the Senate Education Committee led to her choice of ASU’s MPA program.

“Every class in the MPA program was truly fulfilling and taught me real-world skills that I was already using in the public-sector work I was doing. The classes prepared me to be a leader in public policy and public administration,” Yee said. “I remember that at the end of every semester, I would think, ‘Wow, that semester can’t get any better.’ And then it would.”

Her classes in public budgeting readied her to manage public finance, she said.

“And I never would have guessed that later I would become the state treasurer to manage … $40 billion in the cash flow of public funds for our office and $17 billion in assets,” Yee said.

“I’d say that the investment in (my degree in) public administration was a good thing, and it has come in pretty handy over the years, and I know that you too will see as you enter the endeavors awaiting you today,” she said.

Both Hobbs and Yee served in both the Arizona House of Representatives and the Senate, and in fact simultaneously served in the Senate as minority leader (Hobbs) and majority leader (Yee).

“Work with people and show them respect, even in your differences. When I served as the Senate Republican majority leader, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, here on stage with me, was the Senate Democrat minority leader. While we sat on different sides of the aisle, it was important that we worked together, even when we disagreed,” Yee said. “There may have been deep debates on the floor of the Senate into the wee hours into the night, but with the spirit of respect and camaraderie, we’d leave the floor of the Senate asking what we were going to have for dinner that night.”

Yee recalled having the honor to invite retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to revisit the Arizona Senate chamber. O’Connor is an Arizonan who was the first woman on the court and in the 1970s was the first woman to be Arizona Senate majority leader. Yee, the second woman to be majority leader, led O’Connor onto the Senate floor in 2017.

“I asked Justice O’Connor, ‘What is it that you see that is different in politics today than when you served?’ She looked around the floor of the Senate and said, ‘See? All of these desks decorated with either an elephant to represent Republicans or a donkey to represent the Democrats? Back then, we never paid attention to party affiliation. We just got the good work done.’”

During the ceremony the college honored several graduates for academic and community achievement:

• Outstanding Graduates: Five students — one from each of the college’s four schools plus its interdisciplinary offerings — were honored as Outstanding Graduates: Brittny Dwyer, BS, of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice; Ashley Funneman, MPA, of the School of Public Affairs; Wendi Malmgren, MSW, of the School of Social Work; Atlas Pillar, BS NLM, of the School of Community Resources and Development; and Oliver Silva, MA EMHS, of Watts College Interdisciplinary Programs. Funneman was honored as the entire college’s Outstanding Graduate.

• Barrett, The Honors College graduates: Brittny Dwyer, honors thesis, “Exposure to Sexually Explicit Material and its Correlation to Sexual Offending”; Taryn Malone, honors thesis, “Prison Dogs: A Second Chance for Two Species”; and Jazmyne Landes, honors thesis, “Burn, Baby, Burn: The Centralia Mine Fire.”

• Moeur Award: Ethan Dougherty (School of Community Resources and Development, Community Sports Management). The Moeur Award is Arizona State University’s oldest, continuing honor. It was established in 1901 by Dr. Benjamin B. Moeur and Honor Anderson Moeur, and it is now sponsored annually by the Arizona State University Alumni Association. The award is presented to those individuals who have attained the highest academic standing toward their degrees with eight consecutive fall and spring semesters as ASU undergraduates. Moeur had served on the Tempe School Board, on the Board of Education for the Tempe Normal School (predecessor to Arizona State University) and as governor of Arizona.

• Doctoral graduate: Virginia Coco, whose doctoral dissertation was titled, “Identifying Barriers to Field Based Environmental Education in K-8 Public Elementary Schools in Arizona.”

Serving as college marshal during university undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies earlier this week was Maria Napoli, associate professor in the School of Social Work.

In the lobby after the ceremony, Molly Wagge, who received her master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and management, said she felt “a mixture of emotions” upon graduating. “I feel ready to take on the world,” she said.

Now that the years preceding his receiving his bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice are over, Jeremy Pierce said it still didn’t feel real. “It’s kind of awe-inspiring that it’s over,” he said.

Graduate school — perhaps law school or studying intelligence analysis — is a probable next step for Bailey Nielson, who also received her bachelor’s degree from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. But that’s in the future. Right now?

“I feel pretty good — I’m done,” she said.

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