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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Former presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney claps for graduates at Utah Valley University during commencement in Orem on Thursday, April 30, 2015.

OREM — As thousands of students reached a new summit in their educational careers, Utah Valley University is continuing its upward climb this year, approaching last year's record of degrees awarded.

UVU's UCCU Center was filled Thursday with many of the university's 5,143 graduates, as well as some 8,000 attendees at this year's commencement ceremony.

As the keynote speaker, former presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, along with UVU President Matthew Holland and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, were greeted by cheers from the eager crowd as they entered behind a band of young bagpipers.

UVU has increased the number of degrees awarded by 42 percent since 2010, according to the Utah System of Higher Education. Of the 5,341 degrees awarded this year, 2,098 were associate degrees and 3,063 were bachelor's degrees.

During his remarks, Holland encouraged the graduates, in their pursuit of "life, liberty and property," to keep in mind that the pursuit of property does not equate to a "pursuit of happiness."

"Whether (your) success is great material success or not, I hope you will all remember that happiness is more than property," Holland said. "Giving of your time and talents and treasure to other people and great causes is not just noble, it is a source of genuine and lasting joy."

Romney echoed a similar message to the class of 2015.

"Through all my occupations, I have experienced successes and failures. I am asked what it felt like to lose to President Obama: Well, not as good as winning," Romney said. "Failures aren't fun, but they are inevitable. More importantly, failures don't have to define who you are. Some people measure their life by their secular successes.

"If your life is lived for money and position, it will be a shallow and unfulfilling journey," he said. "The real wealth in life is in your friendships, your marriage, your children, what you have learned in your work, what you have overcome, your relationship with God, and in what you have contributed to others."

Romney told the graduates to expand their expectations of what lies ahead and to "live a large life." Central to that, he said, is creating and nurturing a family.

"I'm surely not going to tell you when to tie the knot. You've got parents who will do that," he said. "But I will tell you that marriage has been the single most rewarding part of my life, by far. Marriage involves passion, conflict, emotion, fear, hope, compromise, understanding. In short, it is living life to the max."

In addition to awarding Romney with an honorary doctorate of business, the university presented honorary degrees to other Utah leaders.

Pamela Atkinson, a long-time advocate for impoverished residents in the Salt Lake City area and frequent adviser to Gov. Gary Herbert, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

UVU leaders also awarded an honorary doctorate of law to the late former House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart for her work in improving state funding for education and her leadership in Utah. Lockhart's daughter, Hannah, accepted the honorary degree on her behalf.

Prior to the ceremony, David Ermer of Riverdale waited outside with his wife, son and parents. Ermer, 41, a firefighter of 19 years, earned his associate degree in emergency management entirely online.

"This is only my second time on campus. The first time was to get my tickets" for graduation, Ermer said. "I really like UVU. It's good for a guy like me who works full time and can't commute. They offer a ton of online classes, and I really do like that. I'm proud to say that I go to UVU."

He said he hopes his family and his son will be encouraged by his accomplishment in completing one phase in his progress toward a bachelor's degree. And hearing from a former candidate for president was reason enough to attend the ceremony, he said.

"It's pretty cool for my children to see (that) it may have taken me 22 years, but I'm finally able to do this," he said. "Mitt's kind of a bonus. Whether you like him or not, it's still cool."

Email: [email protected], Twitter: MorganEJacobsen