Jared McMurray said he has been “all over the place” during the course of his educational career.

Originally from Canada, the St. George resident earned an associate degree from Dixie State University before transferring to the University of Utah and completing a bachelor’s in nursing online.

On Thursday, he stood at the back of a line of hundreds of fellow students, waiting to enter the U.’s Jon M. Huntsman Center for commencement ceremonies.

“It’s a little bit of closure on everything I’ve done so far,” he said of his decision to drive from St. George and attend the ceremony. “It’s a good milestone to hit.”

A total of 8,568 University of Utah graduates earned a combined 9,113 degrees this year, including 5,791 bachelor’s degrees, 2,343 master’s degrees and 979 doctoral degrees.

The U.’s 2018 graduating class is 52 percent male and 68 percent Utahn, with 21 percent enrolling from other areas of the United States and 11 percent enrolling internationally. The age of graduates ranged from a low of 19 to a high of 69.

One of those graduates was Hodan Abdi, a Somali refugee and this year’s student speaker. Abdi received a standing ovation after sharing her experience of earning a GED while working as a University of Utah custodian, before enrolling at the university and earning her bachelor’s degree.

“University of Utah has been my home for the last few years,” Abdi said. “This is where my dreams and my family’s dreams came true.”

She said the school gave her friends who became family and professors who became mentors. With their support, Abdi said, and the support of her mother, she is now closer to her goal of becoming a doctor and was recently accepted into the University of Minnesota medical school.

“We are global citizens,” Abdi said. “And each one of us has the talents and the skills to make a big impact in our communities and for our planet.”

U. President Emeritus David Pershing, who stepped down as the university’s leader last month, opened Thursday’s commencement ceremony. He noted that he likely welcomed most graduates to the school as freshman, and that he and they together experienced periods of transition in their lives.

“We’ve been on this journey together,” Pershing said. “I’m grateful to have been your president, and it’s tremendously rewarding to see you graduate today.

Pershing was named president of the U. in 2012 after a more than 30-year career at the university, which included the positions of senior vice president, dean and professor in the U.’s college of engineering.

His successor, Ruth Watkins, joined the U. in 2013 as senior vice president over academic affairs. She is the university’s 16th, and first female, president.

During Thursday’s ceremony, Watkins said she is inheriting a university “on the rise,” and she asked attendees for an extra round of thanks for Pershing. She highlighted a number of individual students and offered to the graduating class advice she said she learned many years ago as a swimming instructor.

“My best success came from getting in the pool,” Watkins said, “not from shouting instructions from the sidelines.”

This year’s keynote address was given by Ben Nemtin, creator and star of “The Buried Life,” a documentary television series that features Nemtin and his castmates completing a list of things they want to do before they die, and helping strangers achieve their own dreams.

Nemtim told graduates about playing basketball with President Barack Obama, sitting with Oprah Winfrey and having a beer with Prince Henry of Wales. But it’s helping strangers with their goals, he said, that is most rewarding.

“It’s been the times when we’ve helped other people do what they love that remain the highlights,” Nemtin said. “This is the world we want to create: a world of connectedness and compassion.”

He stressed the need for graduates to follow their dreams, saying that the thing they’ve always imagined doing is possible.

“Don’t stay buried,” he said. “By doing what you love, you inspire other people to do what they love. And that ripple effect goes far beyond, you’ll ever know.”