Diverse Journeys, One Destination: Celebrating SNHU’s Spring Graduates
The end of April brought showers to Manchester, New Hampshire, and an outpour of excitement and festivities. Nearly 4,200 Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) graduates made their way from near and far to participate in long-held and much-awaited graduation traditions.
Across four ceremonies at the SNHU Arena, graduates sat in anticipation, dressed in black gowns with cords, stoles and decorated caps that represent their achievements, heritage, military experience and more.
This spring, more than 16,700 graduates completed their degree programs:
- 1,900 with associate degrees
- 11,000 with bachelor’s degrees
- 3,800 with master’s degrees
- 36 doctoral degrees
During a Commencement address, SNHU President Dr. Paul LeBlanc spoke about the many reasons why graduates earn their degrees. In conversations with LeBlanc, they've shared the opportunities a degree can unlock — and how their degree sets an example for or fulfills promises to loved ones.
"You studied hard, and that's the work of your head," LeBlanc said. "But I actually think this is a celebration of the work of the heart."
A fifth ceremony is scheduled for May 20, 2023, where more than 4,800 graduates are registered to celebrate the completion of their college degrees virtually. Deborah Signa ’23, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, will serve as the ceremony’s student speaker.
A Moment Years in the Making
For many, the transition from student to degree holder was a long time coming.
As a child, student speaker Andreas Galatis ’23 heard he had potential. But when personal and financial hardships filled his life, his aspirations fell to the wayside.
“I went on to work minimum wage jobs, and for the next 20 years, that word, ‘potential,’ became a smoldering wick within my soul longing to be reignited,” he said during his Commencement speech.
During the middle of a global pandemic, he knew it was time to move closer to his dream of becoming a software engineer. And in 2023, with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and the highest academic honors, he addressed his fellow graduates, congratulating them on reaching a major milestone.
“And now, our journey continues, but this time it's from a whole new realm of possibilities, a new level of success and expertise, where the world will recognize our accreditation and will need our ideas,” he said.
But before the graduating class considered their next steps, student speaker Sonnecia Williams ’23 asked the graduates in her ceremony to sit in their success for a moment. “Do you feel it? Look around you; take it all in,” she said. “This feeling is what you get when your ‘try’ ends in success.”
For Williams, whose Bachelor of Arts in General Studies was also 20 years in the making, graduation day was an extra-special achievement — for her and her family.
"As a first-generation graduate, daughter of six, and one of 11 grandchildren, generations in my family are celebrating today,” the student speaker said in her Commencement address. “This is not just for me.”
Having experienced the tremendous loss of her sister soon after she decided to go back to school, Williams struggled to find motivation. But she continued moving forward, adhering to the familiar Thursday/Sunday deadline structure of each online class.
"Slowly I’d completed one week, a month, the class, and kept going,” she said.
And the support, encouragement and reassurance she received along the way from her advisors, instructors and family helped.
“Resilience is in you to accomplish the impossible,” she said. “My impossible was getting out of bed and graduating summa cum laude, and on today I have done just this."
A Shared Experience on Different Journeys
With graduates hailing from all 50 states and 51 countries, taking classes online or on campus, and balancing all sorts of commitments — jobs, family, extracurriculars — it’s unlikely any two paths were exactly the same.
“My fellow graduates, right now in this room, diversity, inclusion and belonging are alive and present,” said student speaker Melody Young ’23MBA. “We have graduates from all walks of life. Graduates from different countries, different backgrounds, different beliefs, different values, different faiths, different opinions and even different households."
Yet, they all share some important factors that brought them to the end of their programs at SNHU.
“The common thread that pulls us together is success and a strong determination to finish the race that we started,” Young said. “Many starting points happened at different timelines for everybody, but as they say, it's not how you start; it's how you ended."
Young grew up in an area of Jamaica where violence ensued all around her. When she moved to New York City, she did so as a single mother with a limited support system. It was self-motivation that pushed her to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to expand her opportunities.
As Young and her classmates continue to advance their lives and the world, she urges them to remember self-care and their ability to impact those around them.
“Keep moving forward in your journey — whatever that may look like to you — and remember to pay it forward, she said. "And while you're at it, just pull someone up as you continue to climb the ladder of success."
Another graduate this spring knows a thing or two about how influential connections can be. As a military spouse, Eliana Cornejo ’23 felt inspired by the military spouses around her who worked toward their goals as they supported their service member and family.
So she returned to school after being awarded a full-tuition scholarship to SNHU through the university's partnership with Operation Homefront. Two and a half years later, Cornejo earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management.
"Coming in, I was so full of doubt in my abilities," she said. "... (But) it was an opportunity for me to stretch myself, to test myself and see my capabilities are much larger than I thought."
Cornejo is one of 1,800 military-affiliated learners who completed their degrees this spring.
Adapting and Persevering Through Obstacles Together
For many graduates from SNHU’s Manchester campus, college looked a little different than they may have expected. Some of the graduating class were first-year students when the global pandemic disrupted life. They traded traditional classrooms for virtual classes for several semesters and took on additional responsibilities in their homes and communities.
But despite the obstacles and distance, they pursued their degrees together.
“It was not just in where we experienced school, but how we endured throughout our time here,” said Taylor Posik ’23, a student speaker from SNHU’s Manchester campus. “While we had many accomplishments, we should also remember the way we bounced back from our setbacks.”
Posik spoke to her classmates about the community at SNHU and the ways in which they came together over and over — but also how she found herself in the different paths she took while earning a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and English.
“I was able to find my way along the journey because I stopped following the crowd,” she said. “In life, we need only the courage to be different in order to succeed, which is what SNHU gave me.”
A Degree for A Lifetime
At the end of each ceremony, graduates, who range in age from 17-79, were welcomed into an alumni network that’s now 215,000 strong and growing larger by the month.
They have successfully found their way through their chosen programs and gained new knowledge and skills to help them advance in an evolving world. Some came away with even more, including friendships, connections and new goals. Many expressed a new sense of confidence.
“This confidence we’ve gained can never be taken away, and neither can our degree,” Williams said.
Recordings of all ceremonies are available on the Spring 2023 Commencement playlist.
Online. On campus. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees that can take you where you want to go.
Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 ’22G is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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About Southern New Hampshire University
SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.
Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.