Skip to main content

Boise State Honors Chobani Founder, Transformative Idaho Judge During Spring Commencement Ceremonies

Boise State University honored more than 2,600 spring graduates during two commencement ceremonies held May 11 in Taco Bell Arena, bringing the university’s total graduates for the year to more than 4,500.

In total, 2,633 students were eligible to receive 3,049 degrees and certificates. Of those, 868 were eligible for honors: 490 cum laude, 304 magna cum laude and 74 summa cum laude. In addition, 22 doctoral degrees were awarded during Boise State’s 104th graduation ceremony.

Chobani founder speaking
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani.

During the morning ceremony, Boise State awarded an honorary doctorate to Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani. Ulukaya launched Chobani in 2007 with the mission and vision of making better food more accessible. In 2017, Chobani was named to Fortune’s ‘Change the World’ list of companies, and last year it was honored with a Salute to Greatness Award by The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

“Hamdi Ulukaya has made helping people and having a positive impact on communities a priority for Chobani. From the beginning, the company has donated a portion of its profits to charitable causes, many of them in Idaho and New York, where its products are made,” said Interim President Martin Schimpf said. “A devoted humanitarian, he founded the Tent Partnership for Refugees to mobilize the private sector to improve the lives and livelihoods of the more than 25 million refugees around the globe.”

Ulukaya offered advice to graduates on how to challenge conventional wisdom to follow their dreams, as he did when he decided to build his second yogurt factory in Idaho.

“Conventional wisdom said, ‘don’t go to small towns or rural communities’… I didn’t care. I just wanted to find a place where Chobani could make a difference for the community. Where we felt like we belonged,” Ulukaya said. “Now, we are doubling down. In the next few months, I’m proud to say that we’re opening a new global innovation center at the Chobani factory in the Magic Valley. There is nothing I love more than sitting in my office there, looking at these gorgeous mountains, with the sun shining on my face, thinking: building in Idaho is one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Boise State University Spring Commencement 2019

During the afternoon ceremony, Boise State awarded an honorary doctorate to the Honorable Judge Sergio Gutierrez, Idaho’s first Latino judge, who served southwest Idaho from the bench for 25 years. He immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a young child and went to work in the farm fields when he was 8. He went on to earn his GED through the Job Corps and then a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in Elementary Education from Boise State University. As a judge, he helped improve court interpreter services throughout Idaho.

Judge Gutierrez urged graduates to pursue a new kind of American Dream.

“Just as I believe that the true meaning of ‘prosperous’ does not involve financial worth, I also believe that the most important benefit of having a college education lies not in what you’ve learned, but in the fact that you have learned how to learn,” Judge Gutierrez said. “Having successfully navigated these halls of learning and earned your degree, I submit that your task is now twofold: to pursue a means by which you might use the knowledge and skills you’ve learned here to impact the world around you, while also providing for yourself and your family. To me, that is the American Dream.”

Boise State continued its tradition of featuring student speakers at commencement — visual art major and sculptor Madeline Fluharty for the morning celebration and mechanical engineering major Nardos Ayele Ashenafi in the afternoon.

A Minnesota native, Fluharty came to Boise State to pursue an education in sculpture. She spoke of overcoming her own doubts and insecurities about entering into a male-dominated field, her fears of not working hard enough to succeed and becoming a “starving artist.”

“Fear is crippling. It holds us back from pursuing the things and the people we love in this very short life we get to live,” Fluharty said. “As we go forward from here and begin this exciting new chapter in life I want to encourage you all to be bold.”

Since enrolling at Boise State in 2015 from her home country of Ethiopia, Ashenafi’s insatiable curiosity and drive to learn have served her well. She has turned X-rays of knee joints into 3D models in order to discern what physiological features make patients prone to patella dislocation; mentored young Ethiopian girls; and worked with Idaho Power to find areas in which local companies can improve energy use, waste disposal, recycling and water use.

“I don’t know what each one of you thinks is your greatest achievement in college but I want you to really internalize the fact that all of us just finished obtaining the greatest, most influential superpower across time and space; one that can never be stolen, disregarded or disposed of; one that can be passed by will, expanded by practice and improved with the need for more: knowledge,” she said.

In addition to the Boise graduation ceremonies, 53 students participated in Boise State’s 23rd annual Twin Falls Commencement Ceremony on May 8. Boise State’s summer classes begin Monday, May 13. Learn more on the Boise State Summer website.