UW Tacoma grads ready to change world after 25th commencement ceremony

J.D. Terry spelled it out for everyone to see.

Blazoned across his mortarboard Friday at commencement ceremonies for the University of Washington Tacoma was a message: “If you’re reading this, I’m graduating.”

But mere words weren’t enough for the computer science and engineering major. He also used a micro-controller to program a sequence of lighted LED bulbs that flashed around the border of his graduation cap.

Terry had no need to advertise his skills at commencement. Friday morning, he accepted a job as a software engineer for Honeywell in Phoenix.

He says farewell to a school that celebrated its 25th annual commencement ceremony Friday at the Tacoma Dome.

The UWT opened in the fall of 1990 in a turn-of-the-century downtown Tacoma office building. It was the perfect melding of an old, down-on-its-luck city with a new idea: a public urban university to serve the South Sound.

The campus moved in 1997 to its permanent home, a set of renovated buildings in the city’s warehouse district. It’s been growing ever since and now includes a 46-acre campus with 22 buildings.

Standing backstage with Terry before marching into the ceremony were 1,650 other students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Among them was Purity Wakaba, who already had a degree in nursing from Kenya but chose UWT for her master’s in nursing because “it’s the best program in the country.”

Nearby, a group of students waiting to receive master’s degrees in social work were practicing their chant: “Social work — change the world!”

“We’re just happy,” said one of them, Janessa Nedney. She chose UWT because its part-time degree program in social work allowed her to attend school and continue working, thus avoiding heavy reliance on student loans.

Jax Jackowski, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting, transferred from Tacoma Community College to UWT.

“I love UWT,” he said. “It’s a community-oriented school.”

This year’s graduating class was the school’s largest ever.

“We have had 25 years to refine our vision,” first-year Chancellor Mark Pagano told graduates. “You were transformed by your experience here. You will go forth and transform untold numbers.”

Student body President Jocelyn Patterson spoke for many UWT grads when she talked about the struggles a lot of them undergo on the way to a degree.

“Deciding to go to college is hard,” she said. “Deciding to go back to college is harder. Going to college and raising a family is brave.”

Retired Tacoma entrepreneur Charles Kelly Creso received the first degree awarded by UWT in 1991. He was back onstage Friday to deliver the commencement address.

Creso noted that there were only five graduates in his class.

“We were outnumbered two to one by members of the board of regents, three to one by members of the press, and four to one by state and local politicians,” he said. “So much has transpired in the past 25 years.”

He called the university “the crown jewel of Tacoma,” and said that it served as “an economic engine that helped pull Tacoma out of its economic doldrums.” He credited UWT with changing the course of both downtown Tacoma and the South Sound.

The campus sparked the opening of new businesses catering to students and faculty, and it continues to launch new entrepreneurs and civic leaders, Creso said.

He urged members of the class of 2015 to keep in mind that “stewardship of our world is passing into your hands.”

“Never forget our roots at the University of Washington Tacoma,” he said. “Return some part of what you have gained back to our community.”