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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
John Valentine is awarded an honorary degree at Utah Valley University's historic 75th commencement in Orem on Thursday, April 28, 2016.

OREM — Scott Krage began his college career at BYU at the recommendation of his brother. But he soon changed course after sitting in a class at Utah Valley University that was "different."

"I really enjoyed the way of how we had more application work, rather than some hard book work," Krage said. "I really felt that the experience from my professors really kind of stepped up above the other classes, so I switched over here.

"We have this theme of engaged-type learning, and that's really what caught my attention, and I thrive with it," he said.

Three years later, the accounting major joined more than 5,000 of his classmates for one last walk down the halls at UVU.

In its 75th commencement ceremony, UVU awarded 5,409 degrees Thursday, up from 5,082 degrees last year. Among this year's graduating class, 185 students earned certificates or diplomas, 2,039 earned associate degrees, 3,079 bachelor's degrees were awarded, 99 students earned master's degrees and seven graduate certificates were given.

The Orem university this year awarded the largest number of bachelor's and master's degrees in its history.

Last fall, UVU became the largest university in Utah, with enrollment totalling 33,211 students, a 6 percent increase from the year before. The institution also accounted for more than half of the growth in public college enrollment across the state last year.

UVU's class of 2016 heard from keynote speaker John Quiñones, an award-winning ABC News anchor and host of newsmagazine franchise "What Would You Do?"

Quiñones recalled growing up in a poor neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, working on cherry and tomato farms across the Midwest with his father, and not being able to speak English when he entered school. But education, as well as encouragement from his parents, became "my ticket out of the barrio" toward a career in broadcast journalism, he said.

"I learned some valuable lessons. First, you must take advantage of every single thing that makes you who you are, that makes you unique," Quiñones said. "I also learned that so much of success, so much of making it, is a state of mind. Always keep reminding yourself that you are worthy. You are unique. There is no one else in this world quite like you."

Quiñones was given an honorary doctorate of humane letters during Thursday's commencement ceremony. UVU also awarded an honorary doctorate of law to Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham. Vivint SmartHome CEO Todd Pedersen received an honorary doctorate of business, and John Valentine, chairman of the Utah State Tax Commission, received an honorary doctorate of public service.

UVU as an institution was officially established 75 years ago as the Central Utah Vocational School, providing trade services locally and operating on a budget of a few thousand dollars, according to President Matthew Holland. Since then, the college has grown to fill a 200-acre campus, operating on a $220 million budget and serving one of the fastest-growing areas in the country.

Holland said the institution's growth over the past 75 years parallels that of its graduates, who often start with few resources and growing to exceed expectations.

"What has happened to this institution between tonight and 1941 has been aptly called 'a miracle in the valley,'" Holland told the graduates. "And what I want to suggest to you tonight is this: What has happened to UVU can happen to you."

UVU now has four colleges, three schools and its university college, awarding degrees and certificates ranging from aviation to modern dance. Quiñones urged the crowd of graduates to cultivate their "love of discovery" and "the joy of adventure" in whatever field they choose to enter.

"Whatever profession you pursue, make sure it's not just a job, but rather a career for which you have a real passion. Chase that dream because there's a fire in your belly that burns for it," Quiñones said. "Choose a profession that you would work at, even if you weren't getting paid for it. That will bring you true happiness and satisfaction."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: MorganEJacobsen