Chilly night air fails to keep Watts College grads from enjoying the warmth of their academic success at fall 2022 convocation

College honors 678 expected to receive diplomas from its 4 schools


Graduates of ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions wear graduation regalia and stand at their graduation ceremony.

Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions graduates look up toward the podium as they are recognized at the college's fall 2022 convocation. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU

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On Dec. 13, during a chilly winter night, warm expressions of congratulations, optimism, hope and appreciation for new graduates of Arizona State University's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions heated the atmosphere inside Desert Financial Arena in Tempe throughout the college’s fall 2022 convocation.

Cold air from outside temperatures in the 40s had flooded into the arena before the convocation started as nearly 400 grads dressed in maroon caps and gowns arrived through its west entrance. An enthusiastic group of faculty, staff and college leadership also participated, joining families and friends to celebrate the hard work of 678 Watts students expected to receive degrees.

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice had the most fall 2022 graduates, 241, followed by the School of Social Work with 209, the School of Public Affairs with 193 and the School of Community Resources and Development with 34.

Online graduates totaled 442 during fall 2022, while in-person graduates totaled 236. The university officially conferred four doctoral degrees, 307 new master’s degrees and 367 bachelor’s degrees upon Watts College graduates.

The convocation began with a procession of Watts College faculty, led by college marshal Richard Knopf of the School of Community Resources and Development, who is retiring after 36 years at the university, the last 12 as director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU.

The college’s five outstanding graduates of fall 2022 also entered at the head of the procession. Each carried a colorful gonfalon representing the college’s academic units: Kevin Brown-Kaufman (social work), Tatjana Carranza (criminology and criminal justice), Alexandra Ghiozzi (community resources and development), Aviel Waxman (Barrett, The Honors College) and Ty’Lesha Yellowhair (public affairs). Associate Dean Chandra Crudup later introduced the outstanding graduates with individual stories of their academic journeys.

‘Truly an honor’ to celebrate students’ success

Watts College Dean Cynthia Lietz welcomed guests and graduates to the celebration.

“Many of you have worked to complete your degrees under particularly difficult conditions and we could not be more excited that we are here to recognize your accomplishments tonight,” Lietz said. “This is truly a special moment for you, but you should know that it is for us as well. It is truly an honor to celebrate your accomplishments with you and your families and loved ones.”

Lietz also complimented the graduates’ guests, family and friends for playing key roles in each student’s successes, because “completing a college degree is not something we do alone.”

The graduates waved, applauded and cheered loudly when Lietz invited them to acknowledge the parts played by those closest to them in reaching their goals. Lietz also asked the crowd to acknowledge contributions by the faculty and staff, and from benefactors Mike and Cindy Watts, as mentions of each were met with applause and acclamation.

Grads are ‘dramatic contrast to the things that we fear’

Each director of the college’s four schools presented graduates of the schools to Lietz, who welcomed all into “the company of scholars, with all its rights, honors, privileges and obligations.”

Lietz then told the gathering that this semester’s class was particularly meaningful to the college faculty.

“There is no question that we are confronted by many problems in our world today. It is easy to get discouraged by implications related to the pandemic, by an ongoing attack against the ideals of democracy and by acts of discrimination and violence that are both personal and systemic,” Lietz said. “With that said, I can say with great confidence that the graduates of this college are a dramatic contrast to the things that we fear.”

This semester’s graduates did not hesitate to take on tough challenges, Lietz said.

“Instead, you face the very things that discourage us head on, with an unwavering commitment to a simple goal — to make the world a better place. So whether you aspire to elected office, work in local government or will serve as a first responder during natural disasters; whether you will keep our neighborhoods safe, preserve our parks, advocate for social justice or meet the needs of vulnerable populations; your mission is complex, important and impactful,” Lietz said.

“Your success matters to us, because the ability to build more vibrant, healthy, equitable communities is now in your hands. And I can tell you that when I start to feel discouraged, you all provide a sense of hope that we all need today.”

Graduates look back at their time at ASU

As a native of the White Mountains community of Show Low, Arizona, Tuesday’s temperatures were no hardship for Sara Watkins, an online student who earned her Master of Social Work. A mom who is a former fourth grade teacher, she said before the ceremony that she plans to become a counselor who works with children.

“I feel really proud to be an example to my kids,” she said, remembering how they saw their mother leave several times to drive to the Valley for her internships.

“They’d see me stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. doing schoolwork,” Watkins said.

Randy Hopkins had an opposing view to Watkins' about the weather. The Honolulu, Hawaii, resident said he couldn’t wait to return to the islands and their balmy climate.

Hopkins, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in tourism and recreation management from the School of Community Resources and Development, said he felt eager to “move on with life.” He said he will return to running a soccer store in Honolulu, where he moved from Arizona after starting at ASU.

Eric Villega is staying at ASU now that he has his Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy from the School of Public Affairs.

“I’m excited and eager to start my master’s degree program in project management” at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, said Villega, a military veteran who is planning a career as a federal agent. He said he’ll miss fellow veterans he met at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center the most.

“All of us have a shared experience of doing something new here at the university,” said Villega, who is from the southern Arizona city of Sierra Vista.

Giselle Prado of Mesa, Arizona, has her eyes on law school. Both an online and in-person student, she earned her Bachelor of Science in criminology and criminal justice from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, where next year she’ll have also earned her master's degree.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity that I was given to do both (degrees) at the same time,” said Prado, who currently works as a paralegal and hopes to one day practice immigration law.

When asked what made her feel the happiest that day, Prado pointed into the arena’s stands, to where her mother and father were sitting.

“I’m so happy to see them there,” she said, adding that her parents’ support for her academic career started long before Tuesday. “They were there for me.”

Balloons from the rafters

The roughly one-hour ceremony ended with what has become a convocation tradition at the arena: Hundreds of maroon and gold balloons were released from the rafters to cascade over the happy graduates and their families and friends, who tossed them about as they departed to “Maroon and Gold,” ASU’s fight song.

Brown-Kaufman, the School of Social Work’s outstanding graduate, sat with his daughter, Zarina Brown, a 2020 ASU graduate who put on her cap and gown a second time to sit in solidarity with her graduating father. Brown-Kaufman said he thought about skipping the ceremony, but was glad he decided to attend.

“It was so worth it,” he said.

A recording of the livestream of the Watts College fall 2022 convocation may be viewed here on ASU Live.

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