Logan • Of the 4,161 students receiving undergraduate degrees at Utah State University's 126th commencement Saturday, 57 percent were women.
"That is the largest gender gap we've had," USU President Stan Albrecht said as he addressed the crowd gathered in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Kaysville resident Stephanie Mulford, 24, was among that female majority, receiving her degree in social work.
"I was pretty astounded by the gap," Mulford said, "but it makes me feel really proud that I went on to get the degree. It took me six years to finish."
A decade ago, 51 percent of Utah State's graduates were men, while 49 percent were women, but within the past couple of years, those numbers flipped, said USU public relations specialist Maren Cartwright. She added that no one is sure quite yet why the gender gap widened so dramatically this year.
USU alumnus and Nike Brand President Charlie Denson gave the commencement address, encouraging the new graduates to first celebrate their achievements, then pursue their personal passions and fulfill their own expectations.
"Boredom will never allow you to be your best," said Denson as he urged graduates to believe in their ability to change the world.
Denson was hired by Nike as a store manager in 1979 and said he thought he'd give the then-young company five years of his life because of his passion for sports and business.
Today, 34 years later, Denson's work with the giant shoe and apparel company has launched him on many world travels and vaulted him into the presence of presidents, prime ministers and "some of the greatest athletes of our time."
"Your generation is blessed with timing," Denson told the graduates. "We live in a global community, one that offers tremendous opportunities. We can connect and communicate instantaneously with each other all over the world."
However, those possibilities also can bring conflict, Denson said. He urged them to learn how to adapt and change economically, environmentally and even socially because "we only have one world."
He also asked them to be mindful of the Earth's limitations.
"We can't continue the way we have," Denson said. "We're running out of natural resources, we're altering our ecosystems and slowly destroying our planet."
Denson received an honorary doctorate in business for his career with Nike, where he has served as a driving force in the company's global expansion into 190 countries, reaping 2012 revenue of $21 billion.
Orrin Hatch, now in his seventh term in the U.S. Senate and the longest-serving Republican in that body, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters, as did attorney Sam Alba, the son of immigrant parents from Mexico who served as a U.S. magistrate judge for 20 years and today is a shareholder in the Salt Lake City-based law firm Snow, Christensen and Martineau.
Mathana Santiwat, president of Bangkok University in Thailand, received an honorary doctorate of business. One of her passions has been to help improve the status of women worldwide.
All totaled, Utah State handed out 4,552 degrees this weekend: 3,633 bachelor's, 821 master's, 93 doctorate and five education specialist degrees. Graduates hailed from 26 countries and 46 states.