Associate Dean Chandra Crudup shared stories with the gathering about the college’s five fall 2021 Outstanding Graduates: Abdulkadir Abdi of the School of Public Affairs, Rachel Henderson of the college’s Interdisciplinary Programs, Abiud Hernandez-Garcia of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Edie Mestas of the School of Social Work and Dana Rowitz of the School of Community Resources and Development.

Crudup also recognized members of the graduating class who had similar experiences to those of the Outstanding Graduates, including being a first-generation college graduate, a military veteran, one raising a family or with employment responsibilities, or one with plans to pursue graduate study.

Lietz also paid special tribute to ASU Online students attending either in person inside the arena or viewing the convocation from other cities, states and nations. Several dozen online graduates rose to the applause of family, friends and faculty as Lietz recognized them.

The ceremony concluded with hundreds of large maroon and gold balloons cascading from the arena’s rafters. Graduates took some of the balloons home as souvenirs.

Graduates interviewed inside the arena talked about special memories of their time at Watts College and the meaning of attending the convocation in person.

Amber Mathews said she will treasure the many relationships she built.

“I met a lot of nice people from different states and different places whom I never would have met,” said Mathews, who earned a Master of Social Work. “I’m excited and so happy that (the convocation) is in person and our families could join us.”

Jacob Woo, who earned a Bachelor of Science in tourism development and management, said college taught him much about himself: “I’m a grown man now, no longer a little kid,” he said.

“I learned self-reflecting,” recalled Tiffany Steinbach, who earned a Bachelor of Science in tourism and recreation management, “taking time to think about what life sends me and how to react.”

Iliana Hernandez, who earned a Master of Social Work, said she graduated in 2020 but missed out on having an in-person ceremony due to the global pandemic: “I never thought I would be able to do this. But we worked so hard. It was important for me to come back.”

“I’m done!” exclaimed Christopher Stole, who received a Master of Arts in criminal justice. Stole said he wants to be a police officer and has applied to the Gilbert Police Department. He said a favorite professor is one of his job references.

Melody Olotu, who received a Bachelor of Social Work, said returning to the arena was a bit sentimental since she had participated in her high school graduation ceremony there. “I learned empathy, the first thing you learn,” she said of her academic experience. Olotu said she intends to pursue a master’s degree in social work.

For Tricia Rodriguez, who earned a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, this week’s commencement and convocation ceremonies came at just the right time. Her twin daughters are also ASU students.

“My goal was to graduate before them,” she said.

She barely made it, as one daughter has only one class to go before graduating in May 2022. Rodriguez said she ordinarily wouldn’t have attended the convocation, but her daughters felt otherwise.

“I’m here because they’re excited for me,” she said.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions