Utah State University’s Tooele Regional Campus celebrated 124 new Aggies on Saturday afternoon.
USU-Tooele held its graduation ceremony on April 23 in Stansbury High School’s auditorium.
The regional campus awarded 124 degrees this year. The 2016 graduating class included 70 associate degrees in general studies, 48 bachelor’s degrees, and 6 master’s degrees.
“Your degree is a recognition of readiness to progress into life and life’s journey,” USU-Tooele Executive Director Jennifer Van Cott told the graduates.
James Morales, USU’s vice president for student affairs, traveled from Logan to address the Tooele Campus graduates.
Morales commended the students for their hard work, sacrifice and focus. He said he has firsthand knowledge of the effort they put forth to graduate.
Morales related his personal story of growing up in a family of eight children that immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.
His family initially landed in the farm fields of Missouri. His father, who was only allowed a first-grade education in Mexico, picked cotton, hoed soybeans and harvested onions and strawberries. Morales also worked in the fields.
Evicted from the Missouri farm after his father was disabled, Morales’ family moved to southern Idaho where he spent summers working in hot sugar beet fields.
“One day as I rested my head on my hoe, I determined that I was not going to spend the rest of my life doing this,” Morales said.
But he didn’t get out of the beet fields without help, he said.
Later, while stocking shelves in a grocery store in Buhl, Idaho, a resident of the town came in and handed Morales an envelope.
“Inside was a letter that said I had been accepted to Brigham Young University,” Morales said. “It also said I had a scholarship.”
Morales went on to complete his college education while raising a family of his own and working full time.
“Today all of your hard work, sacrifice and focus have paid off,” he said. “And nobody can take that away from you.”
Regina Nelson, lieutenant over Tooele County’s 911 dispatch center, was a student speaker at the graduation ceremony where she received an associate degree.
After graduating from Grantsville High School in 1985, Nelson said she was afraid of attending a college with a big campus and big classrooms with lots of students.
Instead she went on to a military career. She eventually retired from the Utah Air National Guard with 25 years of experience.
After being appointed the lieutenant in charge of the dispatch center, Nelson said she headed to USU-Tooele to get an education so she could better help the people that she supervises.
“The USU-Tooele campus is the perfect size for me,” Nelson said. “My education has already enabled me to help others in my profession and to better support my staff.”
Melinda Palmer, who grew up in California and moved to Tooele in 2006 with her family, received a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She was also a student speaker at the graduation.
Palmer said she initially attended college after graduating from high school, but eventually dropped out, returned home and got married.
She kept her dream of graduating from college, but as time went on it seemed like it wouldn’t be possible.
Finally, in the fall of 2013, she walked into the USU-Tooele campus and started college again.
“Slowly and surely I noticed the impossible was beginning to become probable,” Palmer said.
She said her time at USU-Tooele changed her in many ways.
“There are changes that no one can see that mean more to me than the degree,” Palmer said. “My world has expanded beyond myself and my paradigm and perceptions have changed. My children have learned how important a college education is to Mom. My perception of myself has changed. I have faith that I can do hard things and do them well. My confidence has expanded and I believe in myself.”
David Clark, USU associate vice president of advancement and alumni relations, greeted the students as new alumni after the conferring of degrees.
“You now have a degree from USU,” Clark said. That means you are now and forever will be Aggies.”