OGDEN — For the past three years, Joshua Jeppson, Andrew Ariotti and Ben Anderson have been employed full time while working toward a degree in computer science at Weber State University.
For all three men, that meant typical and all-too-frequent days of leaving for work at 5:30 a.m. and returning home around 10 p.m.
But on Friday, they sat in cap and gown at the Dee Events Center, anxious and excited to pick up their diplomas and put at least one time-consuming aspect of their schedule behind them.
"Freaking amazing is pretty much what sums it up," Ariotti said. "It'll be nice to be done, nice to be a dad again, nice to be a husband again."
Jeppson agreed, saying he is looking forward to celebrating with his family.
"It's been three long years without any family time," Jeppson said. "We're going to go paint the town."
A total of 4,149 students picked up degrees from Weber State on Friday. Graduates earned 1,936 associate degrees, 1,974 bachelor's degrees and 181 master's degrees.
As the event's keynote speaker, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. gave a casual address that encouraged students to chase their passions and featured quotes from performer Ben Folds and jokes about Huntsman's own less-than-successful attempts to be a musician.
"Your life will never be complete until you find your most deep-rooted passion, and you'll never find your passion until you learn to follow your heart," he said. "Be you, find a cause, embrace failure, find someone to love, give back and never forget to rock and roll."
The former U.S. ambassador and presidential candidate also spoke about the nation and world that students would be navigating during their adult lives.
Huntsman said his earliest memories are of the United States at war in Vietnam, divided at home by the question of civil rights and filled with threats of assassination, nuclear war and a failing economy.
But the nation persevered as it always has, he said, and continues to be an example of freedom and inspiration to people around the world.
The world is in need of a new generation of risk-takers, educators, activists and scientists, Huntsman said, and students should meet the world of tomorrow with excitement and not fear.
"In each case we recover, we learn our lessons and we become ever more resilient," he said. "Despite our dysfunction, we are still as full of potential as ever, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise."
Kellyn Spear, a graduate in WSU's English education program, described earning her degree as a "huge" relief. She completed her student teaching requirements at Weber High and is currently in the process of interviewing for jobs.
"I'll be glad to just be a teacher now instead of having to be a teacher and a student at the same time," Spear said.
Brittany Arnold, who also earned her degree in English education, said she felt like a big weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She added that the feeling would probably only last until the next weight drops, but for the time being, she was excited to have a break.
"Reading whatever book I want, that's how I'm going to celebrate," Arnold said.
In addition to Huntsman, honorary degrees were awarded to Sid W. Foulger, chairman of the board of Foulger-Pratt; Karen Lofgreen, a WSU emerita professor of teacher education; and Beverley Taylor Sorenson, founder of Art Works for Kids.