The University of Nevada, Reno’s Winter Commencement exercises held on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center were a mix of graduates looking excitedly toward the future as well as an acknowledgment of the trauma sister institution UNLV had suffered earlier in the week during a mass shooting that killed three UNLV faculty members and seriously wounded a fourth.
During the course of two ceremonies, one held in the morning and one in the afternoon, to celebrate August and December 2023 graduates, the University conferred 1,855 degrees, including 1,250 bachelor degrees and 605 advanced degrees.
“Today, as I just mentioned, is a day of celebration,” Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Amy Carvalho told the afternoon audience. “It is also a day to remember the tragic events of Wednesday on the UNLV campus. I believe we must do both today.”
She added, “I have spent a lot of my life in Las Vegas. I am a proud product of Clark County Schols, as well as the College of Southern Nevada and UNLV. In fact, I am currently a graduate student at UNLV. Las Vegas is a highly resilient and very proud city. This is a moment, however, where we need our friends.
“It has been extremely heartening to me see the outpouring of support that has been demonstrated over the past three days coming from this campus to the people of UNLV and all of the communities in the Las Vegas area. As a member of the Board of Regents, I am proud of how the people of the University of Nevada, Reno have made sure that the people of UNLV know that you are here for them.
“And as a Nevadan, it fills my heart.”
Provost Jeff Thompson delivered the graduation address, substituting for President Brian Sandoval, who was ill on Saturday.
Thompson, in his remarks, also acknowledged Wednesday’s shootings at UNLV.
“When unimaginable, senseless tragedy occurs, it hits us all,” Thompson said. “It breaks our heart. The people of a great institution, UNLV, and a great community, Las Vegas, are hurting right now. This is a moment where we all need to think about our friends at UNLV and in Las Vegas, to know that they are grieving … and to know, too, that we need to come together as one. Whenever our friends and neighbors suffer, we are all one family. The Nevada Family. And we must do what we can to let those who are hurting know that we love them.
“To all of the people of UNLV, we feel your heartbreak, and we know of your resiliency and strength. We are keeping UNLV in our thoughts in the days and weeks to come. We pledge to do our best in providing support so that the people of UNLV can heal.”
During the morning ceremony, graduates from the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources; College of Engineering; School of Medicine; Orvis School of Nursing; School of Public Health; College of Science; and School of Social Work were honored.
The afternoon ceremony included graduates from the College of Business; College of Education & Human Development; Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism; and College of Liberal Arts.
Regent Joe Arrascada told the attendees of the morning ceremony that although they are now entering a highly complex and rapidly changing world, “Change is inevitable. It’s like the new haircut you had last week. At first, it feels strange and unfamiliar, but eventually, you rock it with confidence. Similarly, as you enter the real world, you might face unexpected challenges and opportunities. But remember, change is the only constant, and embracing it will be your superpower.”
Arrascada told the graduates that they had it in within their power to “be a mechanism for change.”
“Just like the butterfly effect, small actions can create a ripple effect that can lead to significant transformation,” he said. “So, go ahead and spread your wings, graduates! Whether you are passionate about caring for the sick, advocating for social justice, environmental sustainability, or making the perfect cup of coffee, each of you has the power to make a difference. Be the change you wish to see in the world, but also, do not forget to have fun while you are at it.”
Carvalho stressed the importance of understanding how important relationships can be. She asked the graduates to tend to relationships, and to let those interactions help grow an increased self-awareness and appreciation for neighbors and the community in which they live.
“My husband and I owned several businesses for many years,” she said. “At their peak, they would see 1,200 to 1,500 customers each day. And what we very quickly realized was that as much as our business was a business, it was powered by relationships. Relationships drove everything that we did.
“We worked hard to cultivate and grow relationships with our customers, with the people we worked with, with the communities of which we were a part. We learned the stories of so many people. And we always felt that we worked “with” everyone. “With” is one of those great words. It suggests partnership. It has such great power because it tells us we are stronger when we work together rather than on our own.
“We always felt that you need to take care of your people, and your community. Because what’s the old saying – ‘When you take care of the community that you are in, the community will take care of you.’
“So take care of yourselves, and also be mindful to take care of those around you.”
Thompson told the graduates that their experiences at the University had prepared them well for what is to come. He stressed that the experiences of being a student at the University had fortified them with wisdom, empathy and a drive to help build community wherever they might be.
“So take an interest and become invested in your community,” he said. “Encourage others to join you in making your communities better. Be an honor student in life. Be an honorable person whose experiences are full of the wonderous, multiplying power of good acts and the most noble of intentions.
“As I look out all of you, I see hope and potential. The potential to rise. The potential to lead. The potential to realize your dreams and the dreams of the people you know and the communities in which you live.”
In addition to the conferral of degrees, the ceremonies went off script during a couple of brief recognitions.
Longtime Vice President of Student Services Shannon Ellis, who announced earlier in the semester that this semester would be her last following an historic campus tenure that began in 1998, was honored by Thompson for her work at the University.
Thompson noted with a smile that Ellis, who often has eschewed the spotlight, would have to forgive him for the brief moment of recognition she received. Ellis, who also served as master of ceremonies for both ceremonies on Saturday, was asked to step to the front of the stage and was flanked and then draped in the arms of Graduate Student Association President Matthew Hawn and ASUN President Boris Carpio Guerra and ASUN Vice President Hannah Dayna Alquiza.
Thompson thanked Ellis for her student-centered work that has included record student enrollment and achievement, the construction and opening of new residential communities that have transformed life on campus as well as a steady and guiding hand that led the University through crises of the explosion of Argenta Hall in July 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was also the final winter commencement ceremony for Donald W. Reynolds Dean Al Stavitsky, who will be returning to the faculty in the spring following a record-setting tenure as dean that began in 2012.
As is his custom, “Dean Al” during both ceremonies presented the candidates for graduation from the Reynolds School by flashing one of his warm smiles and noting his students' extraordinary accomplishments and their potential for greatness and goodness for the future.
Stavitsky said with unabashed certainty that the state of Nevada “will be proud” of the work that the RSJ graduates will do in the future.
It was a sentiment that wasn’t just exclusive to journalism. It was shared in both ceremonies, for all of the graduates, by all those who attended, on Saturday.
Said Thompson: “As you are being true to yourself, realizing fully who you are, your life will become the example that others will emulate.”