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Largest graduating class in ASU history sets out to make a difference

Sun Devils among world’s most employable grads


Three ASU grads in cap and gown throw their caps into the air in front of a giant 2024 sign

From left: Spring 2024 graduates Dhwarakesh Vandavasi Balaji, Master of Science in mechanical engineering; Sabareesh Karthick Senthilkumar, Master of Science in mechanical engineering; and Natalia Calabrese, Bachelor of Arts in communication, celebrate their impending graduation in front of the 2024 sign in front of Old Main on the Tempe campus. Photo by Sabira Madady/ASU

April 22, 2024

Every commencement is notable for Melissa Goitia. As executive director in the Office of University Events and Protocol, she’s in charge of the army of people it takes to pull off graduation ceremonies at Arizona State University.

This year is extra special, however: Not only is it her 25th year of planning and executing commencement, but one of those in cap and gown will be her daughter, Alicia Werner, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Music in performance (voice).

“I get emotional at every commencement — it really is such a special, purely happy day for graduates and their families,” Goitia said. “My hope is that they’ll walk away having felt honored and recognized for all the hard work that got them here.

“But this year — yes, it’s extra special for me. Like so many parents, I’ve been waiting for this important moment. I’m so excited to see my daughter graduate, and to pass the milestone of 25 years coordinating commencement. I will be crying many happy tears that day. I already am, just thinking about it!”  

A mom and her daughter in cap and gown pose for a photo in front of a giant 2024 sign
Melissa Goitia (left), executive director in ASU's Office of University Events and Protocol, poses for a graduation photo with her daughter, Alicia Werner, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Music in performance (voice). It is Goitia's 25th year planning and executing commencement at ASU. Photo courtesy Melissa Goitia

Werner is one of nearly 20,700 undergraduate and graduate students earning their degree this May — the largest graduating class in ASU history. Their degrees range from astrophysics to English to public service. Of that total, more than 6,900 are graduating with a master’s degree or PhD, a total that’s 17% higher than last spring.

Several colleges in particular are seeing big increases in students graduating. The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering has more than 4,800 students graduating, an increase of 16% over last spring, and the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation will celebrate about 800 graduates, up 18%. Both are helping to shore up key areas for Arizona, such as the workforce needs of the burgeoning semiconductor industry in the Phoenix area and the state’s urgent shortage of nurses.

Of the overall graduating class, more than 9,500 are Arizonans entering the workforce. And the university’s graduates are among the world’s most employable: A recent survey of international employers ranked ASU the No. 2 public and 13th overall university in the U.S., and No. 34 worldwide, for employable graduates

ASU’s spring graduating class includes nearly 14,000 campus immersion students and more than 6,700 who earned their degree online. In fact, it's a milestone year for ASU Online: This summer, the university’s 100,000th online graduate will earn their degree, and 2024 marks the 10th anniversary of the trailblazing Starbucks College Achievement Plan, in which Starbucks offers full upfront tuition coverage for ASU Online bachelor’s degrees for its partners, or employees.

During Undergraduate Commencement, Walter F. Parkes, co-founder and chairman of Dreamscape Learn, will be receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. The degree will be officially bestowed during the ceremony the evening of Monday, May 6, at Mountain America Stadium on the Tempe campus. Graduate Commencement will take place earlier that day at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe.

The two commencements headline a week filled with ceremonies honoring students’ accomplishments. There are also 20 college-specific convocations and 10 special-interest ceremonies in metro Phoenix, including the Hispanic Convocation, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Over 4,100 graduates identifying as Hispanic/Latino will earn their degree this May. Forty years ago at the inaugural Hispanic Convocation, ASU graduated only 49.

In addition to the celebrations in the Phoenix area, ASU’s California Center Grand in downtown Los Angeles will host a Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony for the first time on May 10. 

It’s always important to mark the milestone of graduation, but Goitia pointed out that it’s particularly meaningful this spring as many of the undergraduate students who are completing degrees graduated from high school in May 2020. Because of the early days of the pandemic, many did not get a high school ceremony. ASU is ready to celebrate their achievements with a full slate of ceremonies. Find the schedule at graduation.asu.edu/ceremonies/schedule.

Meet some of those highly employable (and employed!) grads

After graduation, Raquel Lopez Anchia will begin her engineering career at Intel Corp. With Fab Construction Enterprise as the demolition project manager, she will help build Intel's new factory in Ocotillo. She said her time at ASU helped her become more confident and grow into who she is today.

“At ASU I was able to find what I love to do,” said Lopez Anchia, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “Holding leadership positions in student organizations and meeting so many new people, I found that leadership is not only something I enjoy, but it is also my passion.” 

Dominique Joseph, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in fashion, followed her passion to ASU. She said she has always loved putting outfits together and how fashion allows you to “express yourself nonverbally through clothing,” but she wanted to explore the industry beyond designing and styling — which is why she chose the fashion business management track offered at ASU FIDM.

Thanks to her education at ASU and an internship last summer, she is headed to a position as an assistant buyer at the Ross Stores Inc. corporate buying office in Los Angeles this fall.

“Honestly all the knowledge that I learned throughout the program — just being aware of what the fashion industry is doing, like reading articles all the time and having to analyze them in class, was really helpful to be able to speak to certain things throughout the internship and put everything together,” she said.

Another impressive graduate, Charmaine Chien-Yu Chui, will be the youngest in the history of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at just 19 years old. After externships at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Arizona, the Central District of California Bankruptcy Court, the Arizona Court of Appeals and the U.S. Department of Justice, she will take on a new role as a judicial law clerk at the Arizona Supreme Court after graduating with her Juris Doctor.

“When I was applying to law schools, I knew I wanted to attend a school where I could get to know my professors and would not be stuck in giant lecture halls as a student ID number,” she said. “The smaller class sizes at ASU Law meant that I always felt welcome talking to my professors. … I'm so glad to have been able to enjoy the community of a ‘smaller’ school while still having access to the courses and externship opportunities that allowed me to pursue a public service career.”

Get ready to attend the ceremonies

More than 42,000 guests are expected for the two main commencement ceremonies, Goitia said. Graduates and loved ones alike should allow plenty of time to park and enter the venues to find seating. Students should arrive one hour before the ceremonies begin.

Find out where to enter and exit the different venues, along with information about parking, what not to bring, food and beverage options and more, at graduation.asu.edu/know-before-you-go

ASU has a clear bag policy at venues. Attendees can also carry in clear, factory-sealed bottles of still water (1.5 liters or smaller); empty water bottles to use at water stations; sealed, single-use juice boxes; and baby formula or baby food. 

In the unlikely event of rain, there is an inclement weather plan for ceremonies at Mountain America Stadium, which includes Undergraduate Commencement. 

Honorary degree recipient 

Walter F. Parkes of Dreamscape Learn will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters (Honoris Causa), an honorary degree given in recognition to those who have made significant contributions to society through humanitarian and philanthropic work, during the May 6 Undergraduate Commencement.

Headshot of Walter F. Parkes
Walter F. Parkes

As a screenwriter, producer and former studio head, Parkes has been responsible for some of the most iconic motion pictures in film history — movies that span popular genres while demonstrating a commitment to artistic and intellectual integrity. Following a four-decade career punctuated by critical acclaim and commercial success, Parkes turned his attention to education and is the co-founder and executive chairman of Dreamscape Learn, an education technology company that combines advanced pedagogy, virtual reality technologies and the power of emotional cinematic narrative to meaningfully improve learning outcomes.  

Films produced or executive produced by Parkes with longtime partner Laurie Macdonald have garnered numerous awards and grossed more than $6 billion worldwide, including “Gladiator,” “Minority Report,” the “Men in Black” series, “Flight,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Amistad,” “He Named Me Malala,” “Free Solo” and others. As a screenwriter, Parkes is widely acknowledged as a pioneer, along with writing partner Lawrence Lasker, in the development of the "tech-thriller" genre beginning with “WarGames,” an Oscar nominee for best original screenplay, and “Sneakers,” starring Robert Redford. 

As the founding co-heads of DreamWorks Studios, Parkes and MacDonald were responsible for the development and production of the studio’s diverse slate of films that included, for only the second time in Motion Picture Academy history, three consecutive best picture Oscar winners: “American Beauty,” “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind.”

Beyond serving as executive chairman, Parkes is also creative director of Dreamscape Learn and is responsible for overseeing the creation of its educational content. His experience in education includes serving on the Yale University Council for 10 years, and as the council’s president for four years. He is a director for Para Los Niños, a service organization that operates three charter schools in downtown Los Angeles. 

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