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Families, friends join Watts College faculty, staff to recognize spring grads

College honors nearly 1,000 who received diplomas from its four schools

A graduate holds his diploma cover over his head at the spring 2023 Watts College convocation.

A graduate triumphantly holds a diploma cover at the spring 2023 convocation of ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions on May 9 at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU

May 11, 2023

Nearly a thousand new graduates celebrated their first full day as Arizona State University alumni on May 9 as the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions honored them at its spring 2023 convocation.

Representatives of the college’s leadership, faculty and staff, along with families and friends, gathered to celebrate the hard work of 997 graduates from the Watts College’s four schools at an afternoon ceremony at ASU’s Desert Financial Arena in Tempe.

The School of Social Work presented the most spring 2023 graduates, 357, followed by the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice with 349, the School of Public Affairs with 214 and the School of Community Services and Development with 77. An estimated 800 graduates participated in the ceremony.

The college’s online graduates totaled 306 during the spring, while 691 immersion, or in-person, learners also earned diplomas. ASU officially conferred 12 doctoral degrees, 408 master’s degrees and 577 bachelor’s degrees upon Watts College graduates at university commencement ceremonies held a day prior in Tempe.

The convocation began with a procession of Watts College faculty, led by college marshal Eric Legg, a School of Community Resources and Development associate professor. Legg was chosen for the role in recognition of his outstanding commitment to undergraduate education.

The college’s four spring Outstanding Graduates also entered at the head of the procession. By carrying a colorful gonfalon behind Legg, each represented their schools: Charles Cooney for the School of Public Affairs, Cassie Harvey for the School of Criminology and Crinimal Justice, Lauren Kuhman for the School of Community Resources and Development, and Makiyah Murray for the School of Social Work.

Associate Dean Chandra Crudup later introduced the Outstanding Graduates with individual accounts of their academic journeys. Read more about them in the college’s spring 2023 convocation program.

In addition to Crudup, other members of the college’s leadership formed the core of the platform party: Dean and President’s Professor Cynthia Lietz, Senior Associate Dean Joanna Lucio and associate deans William Terrill, Gyan Nyaupane and Megha Budruk. Joining the deans were the directors of the Watts College’s four schools: the School of Community Resources and Development's Christine Buzinde, the School of Criminology and Crinimal Justice's Beth Huebner, the School of Social Work's Elizabeth Lightfoot and the School of Public Affairs' Shannon Portillo.

Dean recognizes grads’ ‘passion for making a positive impact’

Lietz welcomed guests and graduates to the celebration and praised the graduates for their dedication to careers in public service.

“You chose to pursue your studies in an academic program from one of our four schools, because of your commitment to serve, your desire to build stronger communities and your passion for making a positive impact in the world,” Lietz said. “This moment is indeed worthy of celebration, so, in that spirit, it is my distinct pleasure to be the first to congratulate this year’s graduating class of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.”

Lietz also complimented the graduates’ guests, family and friends for their important roles in each student’s achievements, pointing out that no degree is realized only through the efforts of the student alone.

Graduates acknowledged the dean’s invitation to recognize the contributions from families, friends, faculty and staff with enthusiastic applause and cheers.

Lietz also asked the crowd to acknowledge contributions from college benefactors Mike and Cindy Watts with more applause and acclamation.

‘Great confidence’ expressed in graduates

Lietz welcomed the graduates into “the company of scholars, with all its rights, honors, privileges and obligations,” as each school director formally presented them to her as degree holders.

Lietz then directly addressed the graduating class, noting the difficult times the world is facing, and that many of the ideals that the graduates highly value are under attack. Nonetheless, Lietz said, she has “great confidence that the graduates of this college are a dramatic contrast to the very things that we fear.”

“When people try to divide us, you bring us together. When others feel discouraged, you inspire. When some might be defeated, you persevere. When others lead with anger, you lead with respect and civility,” Lietz said. “You remind us that higher doses of empathy and courage are needed to respond effectively to the challenges we face.”

Lietz highlighted the graduates’ commitment to meet society’s most difficult challenges head on, with a powerful focus on making the world a better place, which she found personally inspiring.

“Whether you aspire to elected office, work in local government or will respond 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 so much to us, because the ability to build more vibrant, healthy, equitable communities is now, in many ways, in your hands. I can tell you that when I start to feel discouraged, you provide a sense of hope that we all need today.”

Hundreds of maroon and gold balloons fell from the rafters at the end of the roughly 90-minute ceremony, a convocation tradition. The band played ASU’s fight song, “Maroon and Gold,” as the balloons floated down upon the gleeful graduates and their friends and families, who tossed them about as they departed the arena.

Graduates look back at their time at ASU

Before the ceremony, four graduates shared their thoughts about the importance of their achievements.

School of Criminology and Crinimal Justice graduate Samantha Jo Perez said she was excited to receive her Bachelor of Science. Her future plans include studying for a master’s degree, before attending law school. Wherever she goes next, Perez said she’ll always remember her ASU community. “They were so inclusive,” she said.

With her Master of Social Work, Andrea Mendoza plans to go into providing hospice care. She said her internship in a hospice environment, one of her ASU journey’s most cherished memories, helped influence her career decision.

“It’s closing a chapter in your life,” Mendoza said about receiving her MSW degree.

Graduating also meant the closing of one chapter, as well as the start of a new one, for School of Public Affairs graduate Ian Higgins, who received his Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy.

“It’s a launch pad into something else,” said Higgins, who also plans to study for a master’s degree.

Higgins said he knew life in the public sector was for him after he and his roommate, with whom he was sitting at the convocation ceremony, both completed a policy internship in Washington, D.C.

One activity involved a visit to the White House for a Fourth of July barbecue, which he said cinched his decision.

School of Community Resources and Development graduate Christopher Joseph said his path to his diploma included having to drop out during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I worked really hard,” said Joseph, whose Bachelor of Science is in tourism development and management with an emphasis on sustainable tourism. “I came back to finish my last year.” Joseph helped new and prospective students while working part time as a student recruiter for the Watts College.

Joseph said he’ll always remember a moment that occurred while he was leading a Downtown Phoenix campus tour for incoming first-year ASU students. One of the participants asked about the local population of people experiencing homelessness.

“I said, ‘This is why I’m in school. I want to work on the real-life problems.’”

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

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