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Advice to ASU spring grads: 'Put people first'

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy speaks to more than 13,000 students at Undergraduate Commencement

Confetti and ribbons fall on graduates at ASU commencement
May 08, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2023 year in review.

Thousands of Arizona State University students celebrated their new degrees with “Pomp and Circumstance” and fireworks during the spring 2023 Undergraduate Commencement at Sun Devil Stadium on Monday night.

Overall, about 19,700 ASU students earned a total of nearly 20,500 degrees during the spring semester. Of that total, about 68% are undergraduate, 30% are graduate and 2% are law degrees.

MORE: Spotlighting ASU's notable grads for spring 2023 

ASU President Michael Crow told the happy graduates at the undergraduate ceremony to disregard the overwhelming messages of divisiveness they’ve heard.

“Since you’ve been in college, you’ve been bombarded by force after force of all of these negative things that divide us, these things that separate us and these things that we argue about constantly,” he said.

“What you don’t realize hearing all of this is that there are many things on which we are united.

“More than 90% of the people in Arizona agree on the concept of sustainability. They believe we need clean water and clean air and a safe place to raise their children and grandchildren.

“What I’m asking you to do is find people where there’s agreement. Work together to achieve those agreements.”

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy was the guest speaker for the Undergraduate Commencement. Murthy, the “nation’s doctor,” was the 19th surgeon general of the United States under President Barack Obama and is currently the 21st, under President Joe Biden. As the vice admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Murthy leads a uniformed service of more than 6,000 public health officers. 

In his address, Murthy told the graduates to focus on three things: finding clarity to know what fulfills them, finding the courage to act on it and, most importantly, connecting with other people.

“None of us, no matter how skilled we are, can navigate the world alone. Put people first,” he said.

“The relationships you build and sustain will be your greatest source of strength in the years ahead.”

Murthy said he was urging the graduates to nourish their relationships because of his own experience facing loneliness after his first term as U.S. surgeon general ended abruptly in 2017. He had let his relationships with family and friends wane.

“At this point I wanted to call them, but I was ashamed to ask for their support when I hadn’t been a supportive friend to them when I was in office,” he said.

“I had a deep sense of loneliness. And loneliness paved the way for self-doubt as I came to question my own self-worth.”

With the help of family and friends, he gradually healed.

“At a moment when my soul felt like it had a tear in it, they patched me up,” he said.

Murthy asked the graduates to put their hands over their hearts and think about their loved ones.

“You are deserving of this love and know that this love is always there with you, whether they are there or not as it resides in your heart.

“Love is the world’s oldest medicine. It’s what I wish for you today.”

On Monday morning, broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent for “PBS NewsHour,” was the guest speaker at the Graduate Commencement at Desert Financial Arena. Both she and Murthy received honorary degrees from ASU.

Woodruff told the graduates that she was dismayed by the increased polarization of Americans.

“There have always been partisan gaps, but now they are so much wider than they used to be,” said Woodruff, who is working on a reporting project called “America at a Crossroads” to better understand the country’s political divide.

“There are gaps on immigration, abortion, gun policy and the size of government.”

Woodruff, one of the first two women to co-anchor a national news broadcast, noted that many people view those with opposing views as immoral.

“We cannot address the great challenges facing this country that affect every single American unless we can sit down and work together, and I hope you will be a part of that,” she said.

“Spending time talking with just some of you earning graduate degrees today gives me renewed confidence in what is exceptional about America.”

Some facts about ASU’s spring 2023 graduates:

  • About 15% of the total, or nearly 3,000, are international students — nearly twice as many as in spring 2022.
  • The highest number of degrees awarded are in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, both with nearly 4,200.
  • About 4,100 graduates, or about 21%, are Hispanic or Latino.
  • About 70% of the graduates attended ASU in person, with the rest taking ASU Online classes.

From May 6 through May 12, ASU will hold a total of 30 special-interest and college convocations. Find the full schedule at

RELATED: Spring 2023 grads ready to make a global impact 

Top photo: Graduates celebrate with confetti and ribbons during Undergraduate Commencement at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe on Monday, May 8. Photo by Deanna Dent/ Arizona State University

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