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Starbucks graduation forum full of emotional stories about the path to a degree

Interim CEO Howard Schultz, ASU President Michael Crow speak at reception, held in the fall for 1st time

Graduate tearfully talks to group at event
December 12, 2022

At one special Arizona State University commencement event, a little bit of bright green joined the maroon and gold.

The Starbucks Partner and Family Open Forum on Monday celebrated its graduating partners and their families at an event hydrated with caffeine and more than a few happy tears.

Those graduates are part of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), through which the coffeehouse and roastery company provides full tuition coverage for its benefits-eligible employees, or partners, to earn their bachelor’s degree through ASU Online.  

SCAP, established in 2014, is approaching nearly 10,000 graduates, including more than 850 this fall. More than 100 of those new graduates were in attendance at Monday’s event, held for fall commencement for the first time.

Interim Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz spoke at the forum, during which graduating partners — wearing stoles edged with Starbucks’ signature green — shared their educational journeys.

“I am overwhelmed, just overwhelmed with the pride that we all have at Starbucks in congratulating everyone here for what you’ve accomplished,” Schultz said.

He was joined by members of the Starbucks team, incoming Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Laxman Narasimhan, ASU President Michael Crow and a range of ASU leadership, including Phil Regier, CEO of EdPlus, which houses ASU Online.

“Of all the things Starbucks Coffee Company has done over a 51-year history, there is nothing, nothing, more gratifying than this moment for everyone at Starbucks,” Schultz said.

Through an entrepreneurial partnership with ASU and the leadership of Crow, Starbucks was the first company in America to provide 100% upfront college tuition, Schultz shared.

“Starbucks shares our belief in the power of education and our driving desire for individuals to be successful, which is why we wasted no time in coming together to create the Starbucks College Achievement Program,” Crow said. “We are thrilled to have helped nearly 10,000 learners through the program, and we are excited to see what they — and future generations of learners — will achieve.”

Crow and Schultz had the same vision: Provide educational access and build a path for individuals who didn’t have access to a college education.

“We have demonstrated that college can be pursued while working and you can be successful, and that stopping out of college can create new opportunities for personal development on the return to college,” Crow said. “ASU is very proud of our Starbucks graduates, their determination, their commitment to each other and their drive for self-enhancement.”

Offered through ASU Online, SCAP students have access to the same ASU expert faculty who teach on campus, learning tools that enhance learning and student services equipped to support students through their academic journey. 

“We couldn’t have done this project with just any company,” Crow said. “We had to do this with a company that values the person, that wants its individual people to be successful.”

On Monday, student after student stood to share the journey that led to them earning their degree. 

Accompanied by her almost 2-year-old daughter, Maria Enriquez from Los Angeles spoke about starting her job at Starbucks in 2020. Not prepared to pursue a degree, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and finding out she was pregnant, Enriquez found her ASU Online success coach to be her biggest supporter. 

With the support and flexibility the ASU Online programs offered, it allowed her to achieve what she thought was impossible.

“When I was giving birth, I was able to take my final,” Enriquez said. 

The comment was greeted by laughter and cheers.

“It was a really big day,” she said. “Thank you, Mr. Schultz. Truly from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and my family.”

The event, marked with stories of first-generation college graduates, homelessness, learning disabilities, military deployments and starting families all while pursuing a degree, was full of expressions of relief and gratitude to Starbucks and ASU for the opportunity.

Jyni Wyse, a four-year partner, shared her story leading up to this day, including her struggle with a disability. 

“A lot of schools don’t accommodate or know how to teach disabilities because they’re not taught how to work with us,” Wyse said. “So, me being able to go to school was a privilege because not everyone has that opportunity.”

She found SCAP after joining Starbucks. Through ASU, she was able to find the accommodations to thrive and finish her degree.

“I want to say thank you for providing an opportunity for people like me,” Wyse said. 

Schultz turned that goodwill back on the new graduates.

“The story is not about Starbucks or ASU. It’s about you.” 

Top photo: Starbucks College Achievement Program graduate Annie Romano shares her education journey during the Starbucks Partner and Family Open Forum at the Westin Hotel in Tempe, Arizona, on Dec. 12. Photo by Deanna Dent/Arizona State University

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