Well-earned Commencement celebrations

Commencement speeches tend to follow a similar story arc. Adversity: overcome. Mountains: climbed. Friendships: lifelong.

But this year, as the University of Washington Bothell’s 2022 commencement speaker Dr. Justin Gill noted, graduation is a new kind of victory.

“The graduating classes being celebrated at the ceremony have had to fight to get to this stage and reach this defining moment,” Gill said. “Along with the demands of college, they’ve had to reconcile with the demands of the nation as we struggled with a divisive election and historic pandemic.”

Dr, Justin Gill, lecturer in the School of Nursing & Health Studies

These past few years have been a dark time, but graduation is a bright light at the end of the tunnel for these hardworking students — and a special day to celebrate as they start the next stage of their lives and shine their lights forward.

Embracing the possibilities

graduation caps

As speaker for the 31st annual Commencement, Gill said he is proud to help send new alumni out into the world. “My advice will be to remain open to learning, to stay humble in your professional and personal life — and to be okay with change,” Gill said. “Where I am now is nowhere near where I thought I would be when I graduated. It’s better.”

Gill received his Bachelor of Science in Nursing nine years ago from UW Bothell and went on to receive his Doctor of Nursing Practice from Yale University. He returned to UW Bothell as a lecturer in the School of Nursing & Health Studies, teaching courses on health policy and leadership.

He said being the University’s graduation speaker at a time health care workers are leading us through a pandemic is also a unique honor.

“It brings everything full circle,” Gill said. “UW Bothell holds a special place in my heart. I got such a high-quality education that set me up for the rest of my career as a nurse and health care policy advocate. I can say firsthand what a vital role the University plays in educating nurses for careers that are meaningful and impactful in the community.”

Advocating for policy change

Gill is currently the vice president for the Washington State Nurses Association Board of Directors, having previously served a term as chair of the organization’s Legislative/Health Policy Council. Additionally, he holds leadership roles as a board member for ARNPs United of Washington State and for the Whatcom Community College Foundation. He is also often called upon by national news organizations to contribute to stories on health care and policy issues.

Back on campus, Gill invests his insights and energy as both a faculty person and mentor.

“I consider teaching as part of my advocacy work. It’s a way I can encourage nurses to be more passionate about health policy,” Gill said. “There is a tendency to think of policy as dull or even irrelevant, but it’s far from it. Nurses see it everyday caring for patients without insurance or even access to proper care.

“We need more engaged nurses,” he said, “and I enjoy mentoring them. I see it as a way of contributing to the profession.”

Spreading their wings

students at the commencement ceremony

No matter what professions new UW Bothell alumni pursue, they all have the opportunity to immerse themselves in their field and grow from their higher education experiences.

“Every graduate should be proud of the education they received and proud of themselves for all that they have done,” Gill said.

“The great thing about UW Bothell is that even when these students graduate and leave the University, the door stays open. The relationships I made with faculty when I was a student have lasted even after all this time. And the same will be true for these students, too.”

This sentiment is a constant in students’ experiences. Time and time again, Gill said, he and other faculty and staff hear from alumni about just how valuable mentorships have been in their personal and professional development.

“Now is the time for these graduates to take all the knowledge, confidence and skills invested in them and pass it on,” Gill said. “It’s a time of transition, from mentee to mentor, from learning to growing and, ultimately, from student to professional.”

Celebrating together

This year’s Commencement is also particularly special as it will be a return to in-person celebrations after the 2020 and 2021 ceremonies were held virtually because of the pandemic. Graduates from both these years have been invited to join the Class of 2022 in taking the ceremonial walk across the stage.

graduation stage

“There is something so special about taking those steps,” said Lisa Walker, director of ceremonies, events and advancement operations. “They represent the many years of hard work and sacrifice to get to that moment, crossing over from education to career in front of the biggest supporters in their journey.

“We’ve had a strong response from 2020 and 2021 graduates. I expect our ceremonies will be especially celebratory this year.”

To accommodate the three classes, there will be two ceremonies this year, both on Wednesday, June 15, at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle. The ceremony for the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences and the School of STEM will be at 1 p.m. The ceremony for the School of Business, School of Educational Studies and School of Nursing & Health Studies will be at 5 p.m. Learn more at the Commencement webpage.

As is tradition, graduate students will also be recognized in a separate event honoring their achievement of becoming masters of their chosen fields. Graduate students from the Classes 2020, 2021 and 2022 will all be celebrated by their faculty, mentors, family and friends at the annual Graduate Hooding Ceremony at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, on the UW Bothell sports field.

Being change-makers

Every year, new graduates are called to meet both opportunities and challenges. For this cohort, Gill said, that call to action may well be about social change.

“In an age of social media, change and unrest, it is becoming increasingly difficult to communicate with one another and find common ground,” he said. “My hope is that the graduates approach situations with a sense of positive intent, because I believe it’s the only way we will be able to move forward.

“I hope they see the good in others, strive to be the best version of themselves and, through their interactions with others, contribute to the betterment of the world.”

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