Special Olympics International chairman and Dignity Index co-creator Tim Shriver knows a thing or two about taking chances.

“I grew up with parents who took big chances,” Shriver said in his keynote address to the University of Utah's 2023 graduating class during the commencement ceremony at the Huntsman Center on Thursday.

His mother grew up with a sister, Rosemary, who had intellectual disabilities. As a little girl, Shriver's mother saw her own mom struggle to find help for Rosemary.

“My mom learned to see what others didn't,” Shriver said. “The world saw Rosemary as too different to be included. My mom saw a sister who was too beautiful to be excluded, and that made all the difference.”

Shriver’s mother’s experiences shaped her to eventually open what she called “Camp Shriver” — a place where children with intellectual disabilities went to learn how to swim, play and “see the joy and the beauty you’ve been missing” — at her own house.

Eventually, Camp Shriver became the Special Olympics.

“Graduates, I don’t come here to ask you to have faith in human dignity. I don't come here because I have some deep belief in it. I don't come here because I have a theory about it. I come here because I've seen it. I know it exists,” Shriver said. “I’m here to ask you — to beg you — as you go forward from here, don't listen to the voices that are telling you to blame and shame and treat others with contempt. Turn them off, tune them out, shut them down.”

Shriver’s message to not reward voices of hatred and contempt but instead reward dignity was a message echoed by Chloe Carr, the U.'s student speaker.

“The world often measures knowledge by academic tests and value by a blue check mark. Sometimes being a good person and a successful person overlap,” Carr told her fellow graduates. “But the two do not always exist simultaneously. The world does not need more people to deem as successful. We need more kind, compassionate and empathetic souls.”

A University of Utah commencement procession in Salt Lake City on Thursday. With 8,723 graduates, it is the largest group of graduates in the school’s history.
A University of Utah commencement procession in Salt Lake City on Thursday. With 8,723 graduates, it is the largest group of graduates in the school’s history. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Carr, a marketing major, completed her degree in just two-and-a half years, graduating last December at 21 years old. She's currently working full-time as a communication specialist in Dallas, Texas.

Additionally, Frances P. Battle, Bill Higuchi, Dick Marriott and Camilla Smith received honorary doctorate degrees during the ceremony.

The U. awarded a total of 9,372 degrees to 8,723 graduates — the largest graduating class in the school's history — of which 5,848 are bachelor's degrees; 2,537 are master's degrees; 670 are doctoral degrees; 87 are Juris Doctors; 128 are doctors of medicine; 56 are doctors of pharmacy and 46 are doctors of dentistry.

Thursday’s graduates included students from all 50 U.S. states, four U.S. territories and 62 foreign countries, with 4,245 self-identifying as men, 4,420 self-identifying as women and 58 nonbinary or unidentified. The youngest graduating undergraduate is 18 while the oldest is 84. Of students receiving graduate degrees, the youngest is 21 and the oldest is 70.

“All of you have your own amazing stories of success. I wish we could highlight every one of you,” President Taylor Randall said. “Congratulations to each of you. We wish you ongoing success and look forward to all that you will accomplish.”