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Watts College celebrates graduates at fall 2023 convocation

Nearly 500 students earned degrees online; four Outstanding Graduates honored

Graduate wearing robe, cap and stole holding up a diploma with a victorious expression.

Holding a diploma cover aloft, a graduate gives out a happy yell at the Dec. 12 fall 2023 convocation of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU

December 14, 2023

A few more chairs were needed this year on the floor of Desert Financial Arena in Tempe on Dec. 12, as Arizona State University’s fall 2023 Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions celebrated its graduates, who outnumbered those from fall 2022.

An estimated 400 out of a total of 701 graduates from the Watts College attended the fall 2023 convocation. The overall number of graduates tops the 678 who earned their diplomas in fall 2022, according to university statistics. This semester, 490 online students received ASU degrees from the college, up from the 442 last fall.

A procession began the evening event, led by the convocation marshal, Professor Karen Mossberger of the School of Public Affairs, and the college’s four Outstanding Graduates. They held aloft five gonfalons, representing the college and each of its four schools.

Representatives of the Watts College faculty and hundreds of graduates followed, all to the strains of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance No. 1.”

The number of Watts College bachelor’s degrees presented this fall — 381 — also surpassed the fall 2022 total of 367. There were also 317 Watts master’s degrees, up from 307 a year ago. And the college conferred three doctoral degrees this semester, compared to four in fall 2022.

Of the college’s four schools, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice had the most graduates this semester at 267, followed by the School of Social Work at 212, the School of Public Affairs at 132 and the School of Community Resources and Development at 80.

Associate Dean of Inclusive Design for Equity and Access Chandra Crudup introduced the four Outstanding Graduates: the School of Criminology and Crinimal Justice's Noor Alhakeem, the School of Social Work's Mutumwinka Rose, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice's Ciara Ruiz-Earle and the School of Public Affairs' Christopher Weddigen. Crudup described to the gathering the challenges and triumphs each graduate faced on their way to personal and academic success at ASU.

In remarks to the graduates, Watts College Dean and President’s Professor Cynthia Lietz said that as the world is beset with many problems, “it is easy to get discouraged by an ongoing attack against the ideals of democracy or by acts of discrimination and violence that are both personal and systemic.”

Still, Lietz said she has great confidence that the Watts College’s graduates stand in “dramatic contrast to the things that we fear.”

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

Lietz said she observed that this semester’s graduates do not shirk from tough challenges and are firmly committed to making 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 so much to us, because the ability to build more vibrant, healthy, equitable and sustainable communities is now in your hands. I can tell you that when I start to feel discouraged, you all provide a sense of hope that we all need today.”

During interviews before the ceremony, graduates shared memories of their ASU experience and about their futures:

  • Fantasia Thomas, who earned a Bachelor of Science in criminology and criminal justice, said she was thinking about her first day at ASU, standing in a line at the university bookstore, when she suffered an embarrassing fall in front of about 15 or 20 other students. “I thought about quitting school,” she said. Thomas, who plans to become either a police officer or a teacher, said she’s come a long way since then. “And I have better memories than that one.”
  • Bryson Weinberg said the day was special because both his parents are ASU alumni. He said he hopes to use his Bachelor of Arts in parks, recreation and sport management to benefit others. “Hopefully I can help other people,” Weinberg said.
  • Jacob Talabi said he thought he’d never earn his Master of Social Work. He said he’ll most remember “learning, working with my classmates and making friends along the way.”
  • Brittany Carney, who earned her Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy, didn’t have specific post-graduation plans, saying only with pride, “I plan to be a public servant!” Carney said she appreciated her professors. “They helped me get through to the end."

A video recording of the Watts College fall 2023 convocation is available here. 

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