Honorary Degree Recipient Gail Miller Speaks at UVU's 79th Commencement

Honorary degree recipient and keynote speaker Gail Miller's address at UVU's 79th commencement on Aug. 19, 2020.



Honorable President Tuminez, distinguished faculty and staff, esteemed community members, proud parents and family, and, most especially, honored graduates.

It is a privilege to be with you this evening. Thank you for the opportunity to address you on this important occasion. Utah Valley University, I commend you for your heroic efforts in putting together tonight’s special event to celebrate these noble graduates and their well-deserved achievements. I am so glad we can finally be together.

While no one could have predicted the life-altering events that happened in late February and early March, we also did not recognize the strength, wisdom, and tenacity we would deploy to not only cope, but to also thrive! Your accomplishments are a testament to that effort! Well done! You’ve made it!

The year 2020 is definitely one for the history books. It has been frustrating, surreal, life-altering, educational, and yes, even inspiring.

You will always remember your graduation year because of the unusual challenges you have faced. In addition to school, throw in a pandemic, social justice issues, economic challenges, and a lot more. But remember too, so far, you have adjusted, persevered, and triumphed.

Yes, it has been quite a year — and it is not over yet. This is the pattern of real life. Challenges fill our present, make us long for the past, and help shape our future.

How you decide to apply the lessons you have learned with the toolboxes you have assembled here will drive your successes.

Leslie Dwight wrote a statement that I found enlightening. I would like to share it with you. 

It goes like this: 

What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?

What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?

A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw — that it finally forces us to grow.

 A year that screams so loud, that it finally awakens us from our ignorant slumber.

 A year where we finally accept the need for change.

Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.

 A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.

 2020 is not cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.

Yes, 2020 might be the most important year of all — the one we have been waiting for. The year we make permanent changes. The year we build important bridges.

Life will continue to ask a lot of your generation. You will be responsible for quality changes that are needed at this time in history. Every generation is remembered for its particular contribution to the world and what it did to advance the cause of mankind.

Your job is to take the baton and move the cause forward, making the world an even better place for the next generation, and then take your place in history.

I believe you will find the quality of your life will be in direct proportion to the quality of the decisions you make. I would like to share some lessons I have learned during my life that might be beneficial to you.

I will focus on just four points:


First, listen and learn.

I have always been committed to the importance of education. I love learning. I wish I had had a formal education, but I did not have that opportunity. My education was earned the hard way — on the job — mostly as a wife and mother, navigating life’s experiences one day at a time. And then, at 65, when most people are retiring, I stepped into a business role and began serving where I could make a difference in the community.

I hired a professional coach who helped me channel my untapped courage so I could face these new adventures with confidence. During this time, I read a lot of books, I attended a lot of business meetings, and I asked a lot of questions.

And look where I am today, at UVU, accepting an honorary doctorate. 

Although you have filled all the requirements to graduate from college, I want to emphasize that your education does not end here. It is just beginning. UVU has opened your mind to new ideas and innovations and stretched your imagination. With this education, you will be called on to offer solutions to public policy and social challenges. You will be able to create a wonderful career and drive your own economic success. You will be able to create endless opportunities for yourself and others.

What you must remember is that the rest of your life is an educational journey. There will not be a finite point in time when you will be able to say you are finished learning. Even Michelangelo, at the age of 87, said, “I am still learning.”

As we have all experienced in 2020, we are battling a new pandemic with more questions than answers. We are listening and learning about social justice and the opportunity to create needed change. We are embarking on the fourth industrial revolution and worldwide digitization. And we are becoming better stewards of our planet.

It is important that you continue to listen, to question, to learn, and then to act. Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

Learn something new every day. Teach what you know to others, make the world a better place. Be a student, be a teacher, be a leader! 


Second, courage versus fear.

Even though I grew up in a very poor family, I had a delightful, loving childhood. After high school I attended one quarter of college and then dropped out to help support my mother and siblings when my father had a life-threatening stroke. 

After he passed away, my mother enrolled in college 43 years after graduating from high school. Was it scary for her? Yes, but she finished, and at the age of 61, she was awarded her nursing degree from BYU. Her example taught me the value of overcoming fear and embracing courage.

My husband was an entrepreneur who took risks and created a successful business while I raised our five children. Together, we worked hard. We used our money wisely, lived within our means, and established a habit of giving back when and where we could.

 After 44 years of marriage, my husband passed away. His death left me with a difficult decision. Should I sell our business, or should I roll up my sleeves and step into a new role? Our business was then and is still a platform to enrich lives, to provide good jobs and opportunities for our employees, to provide memorable experiences for our customers, and to make our communities better. 

Wanting to continue that legacy, I decided to take a deep breath, gather my courage, and take on a new role. I had learned a lot from Larry over the years, and I had been involved in nearly all the business decisions, but I had never held an actual job in our company, let alone run a business. Would I have the credibility to do what I felt I needed to do? Would I be accepted?

It was courage that allowed me to believe that I could do anything I put my mind to. I was smart, and what I did not know, I could learn. I knew how to work hard, and I was blessed with common sense. I have been in this new role for 11 years, and our company is still growing and thriving. If you let it, courage will always triumph over fear.

Roy T. Bennett said, “Real change is difficult at the beginning, but gorgeous at the end. Change begins the moment you get the courage to step outside your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

And Walt Disney said, “All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.”


Third, respect.

No one wins when respect goes away. Whether you are competing on a basketball court, debating public policy, or solving some of our most complicated societal issues, it is OK to disagree — without being disagreeable. Debate and differences of opinion are healthy and helpful, even encouraged. What we cannot ever afford to support is racism, hate speech, intolerance, and bullying. 

When we look at others as individuals worthy of our time and respect, we will have the opportunity and the ability to influence others, to inspire change, and to innovate. Last year, the Utah Jazz launched the “Lead Together” campaign to help unite our communities, especially sports teams and fans, in practicing sportsmanship, respect, and kindness.

Remember, competitors are not enemies. Competition gives us the opportunity to showcase our best selves, to achieve something we never thought possible. I want to encourage you to channel your courage and use your voices to speak up and speak out. When you see something wrong, say something. Become an ally. Insist on better behavior. Use your platform and sphere of influence to emulate the change you hope to see. It will be time well spent.


Fourth, service.

Over the course of my lifetime, I have learned that serving others is essential to true happiness. As an unexpected reward, I have also found that whenever I have served someone, I have learned to love them. 

For most of your life up to now, I would wager to say you have been focused mainly on yourself. As a child, you were absorbed with friends and toys and overcoming your boredom. As a teenager, your life was generally about being “liked” and attracting the most popular date.

As a young adult, you were most likely absorbed in your education and social activities. Then you worried about how to get that coveted job after graduation.

And now, here you are, at the crossroads of a grown-up world.

This is where you transition from that self-absorbed world and look outward and realize there are rewards waiting when you put your wants and needs on the back burner and focus on the needs and wants of others, especially on how you can make your family, your city, state, or even the world, a better place through your efforts.

There are many forms of service. If you have a serving heart, you will never lack for opportunities to serve. If you are not familiar with serving others, start small and build up to greater opportunities.

Right now, our nation is focused on social justice, equality, fairness, and inclusion. In order to break through the systemic issues, our efforts and commitments must be sustainable. Now is the time to step out of yourselves and work to serve others.  

This is your time — your turn. A lot of people have built bridges for you along your way so you could reach your goal and achieve the success you are feeling today. It is OK to take time to bask in your accomplishments, to enjoy the rewards of your journey, but do not get stuck languishing here. There is a whole new world ahead of you. You have places to go, things to see, and work to do.

Focus on the work of building bridges for a better world — bridges for others who will follow in your path and build on your successes. Each new generation has that same responsibility, and, as a college graduate, you have the tools to improve on the work of the last generation.

I would like to conclude by reminding you that you do not need to wait for somebody to ask you to get engaged in a cause or tell you to step up. You can make that decision on your own, and I hope you will.

Your education at UVU has provided you a springboard — a launching point, a bridge to the future. Engage in continual learning, exercise your courage, conduct your life with respect and kindness towards others, and be service-oriented — and as you do,

I believe you will find you will soar! Congratulations, graduates of 2020!



Bennett, R. T. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7706642-real-change-is-difficult-at-the-beginning-but-gorgeous-at

Disney, W. (2012). “20 lessons from Walt Disney on entrepreneurship, innovation, and chasing your dreams,” Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/lewishowes/2012/07/17/20-business-quotes-and-lessons-from-walt-disney/#7e5bcc4f4ba9

Dwight, L. (2020). “What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?” Retrieved from instagram.com/lesliedwight 

Einstein, A. (n.d.). As quoted in “Measuring intelligence,” The Mountaineer. Retrieved from https://www.themountaineer.com/opinion/columns/measuring-intelligence/article_734af654-e454-11e9-ad09-3b47d2f06daf.html

Michaelangelo (n.d.). As quoted in “Famous last words.” Retrieved from https://sites.psu.edu/famouslastwords/2013/04/13/michelangelo/