Eighteen local students were recognized on Thursday, April 26 as they celebrated their graduation from the Utah State University-Moab, in addition to ten students who received their high school diplomas.
Featured student speaker Cheila Risenhoover captured this sentiment, saying, “If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the entire world is falling down around us. Many of us, being nontraditional students, have been there and done that. Our worlds at some point have probably fallen apart.” She continued, “We failed, and we persevered.”
USU-Moab’s executive director Lianna Etchberger praised the accomplishments of the graduating students. “To see these students, they’re post-traditional, they’re older than 24 years old and they’re paying their own way,” she said. “They’re doing this to better their lives, or to advance their careers, and it’s a huge challenge for them to do it. They wouldn’t do it at all if it weren’t for the campus.”
This was a particularly emotional graduation for Etchberger, as it is her first as executive director, having been appointed to the position in 2017. “I was a professor for 23 years at the Uintah Basin ... and I know what the regional campuses are all about,” she explained. “It took me no time at all to realize that some people are place-bound, that they wouldn’t be getting their education if it weren’t for this campus.”
This is why Etchberger has been working on facilitating the growth of USU-Moab, especially in the building of a new, larger campus south of town. “Education is important,” Etchberger said. “It can change your life.”
The ceremony’s commencement speaker, Moab City Police Chief Jim Winder, echoed this sentiment in his moving address to the students. Winder told of his time as Salt Lake County Sheriff, particularly the inmate education program at the Salt Lake County jail.
“We would do graduations, in which people would receive certificates from the Utah State University-Extension program,” he explained. “In some instances, that was the first certificate these human beings had ever received ... perhaps the first recognition.
“I remember one gentleman, tattooed from head almost to toe, gang tattoos down his neck. And as he stood there, holding back tears, he looked out at the group, and he said to them, ‘I understand now that I have wasted my life. All of these years behind bars have been a terrible mistake.’ His point is the point of my story tonight. It is not enough in life to learn, because learning just proves that you can absorb material.
“And it is not enough in life to be able to think, because thinking is just another element of learning and understanding the environment you are in. What you need, ladies and gentlemen, is heart, and passion. You need to find that in this life that animates you and motivates you, because this life is short.”
Winder also noted the importance of USU-Moab’s graduation to the city itself, saying, “I am honored to be a part of this community, I am honored to be here as these individuals move forward, and I know that they will make a great difference in our community, and in our world.”