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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Caden Kendell hugs Colleen Packer, a professor of communications, right, as he walks to his seat for Weber State University’s commencement at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Friday, April 26, 2019.

OGDEN — How does a Miss Utah scholarship contestant educated at an east-bench high school in Salt Lake City end up in an adobe dwelling in the jungles of Brazil working to eradicate a contaminated water supply?

For Jeanne Hall, the journey started at Weber State University in the late 1960s, where she met her future husband, Alan Hall.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Graduate candidates take their seats at the start of Weber State University’s commencement at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Friday, April 26, 2019.

Four days after they both graduated from Weber State University, the couple married and joined the Peace Corps seeking a way to serve their country during a tumultuous period marked by the ongoing war in Vietnam and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential candidate Sen. Bobby Kennedy.

"I’m not sure anything I learned at Weber State could have prepared me for this experience," Hall said, addressing WSU's Class of 2019 during commencement ceremonies Friday at the Dee Events Center.

The newlywed couple lived "among the poorest of the poor in primitive conditions. Our eyes were opened," she said.

Thus began a 50-year journey of service, working as a high school counselor, community volunteer and philanthropist. Hall spent nearly 20 years in the Ogden School District working with at-risk youth, teen parents, youth in custody and Spanish-speaking students. She initiated Ogden School District's George Washington High School's scholarship and recognition program and was also an adjunct instructor at Weber State.

She co-chairs the Alan and Jeanne Hall Foundation, a family-run, nonprofit organization that strives to improve the lives of low-income families by helping them become self-sufficient. The couple also support multiple programs and scholarships at WSU. She is a former member of the Tabernacle Choir and all six of the Hall children are Weber State graduates.

She urged Weber State's 3,160 spring graduates — the university is on track to graduate a record 6,000 students this academic year — to likewise use their talents to serve others, express gratitude and leave a legacy of love, something her 98-year-old father-in-law, Eugene Hall, demonstrates daily.

He grew up during the Depression and has "lived a life of service to God, family and mankind."

He was a World War II Navy veteran and used the GI bill to become a pharmacist and used his profession to serve others, support his family and help those in need.

"He never judges," she said. "He looks for the best in each individual, no matter their circumstances."

Back in the day, there were "ladies of ill repute years ago on 25th Street. Some of them ran out of money before they had enough of their antibiotic prescriptions. They all knew Grandpa. He didn't care if they could pay, he served them. It was a doctor's prescription," Hall said.

He also learned to give sincere praise and compliments, she said.

He has lived with the Halls for the past 13 years and depends on others to assist him with his most private and personal needs, she said. Dementia has robbed him of the ability to recognize his caregiver, yet every person who serves him hears his words of praise, Hall said.

"He has no earthly power, no fame nor riches … and yet, he still exhibits those two perfect qualities," she said.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Weber State University President Brad L. Mortensen speaks at the school's commencement at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Friday, April 26, 2019.

Friday's commencement was Weber State University's 153rd and the first under President Brad Mortensen, selected WSU’s 13th president in December. As such, the Class of 2019 "will always hold a special place in my heart," he said.

He singled out graduate Naheed Davis, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting and has a job offer with the Department of Defense.

After developing a rare degenerative eye disease, the young mother dropped out of Weber State because she was unable to read what her professors wrote on whiteboards or reading her textbooks. She was too embarrassed to ask for help so she dropped out of school.

She worked in a customer service job that was unfulfilling and would not provide for her family long term, Mortensen said.

She later re-enrolled in Weber State, this time utilizing its disability service office, which provided her with screen readers and note takers.

Mortensen, then serving as vice president of university advancement, met Davis at an alumni mentoring function last year. She told him despite overcoming many challenges she had doubts that she could succeed in the workplace.

Mortensen introduced Davis to Kristen Cox, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. Cox worked in state and federal government and worked in the nonprofit sector. She ran for lieutenant governor of Maryland in 2006.

According to her state of Utah biography, at age 11, Cox began to lose her vision due to a rare genetic eye disorder.

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At her first meeting with Davis, "Kris sternly told her, 'It’s not a matter of if. It's a matter of how,'" Mortensen said.

Cox offered Davis an internship in state government.

"She (Davis) struggled, she persisted and she succeeded," Mortensen said.

Her experience is a lesson for all graduates, he said, urging those receiving their associate, bachelor's and master's degree to seek to overcome challenges and make their dreams come true.

"It’s not a matter of 'if' for any of you. It’s matter of how," he said.