TEMPE, ARIZ. – Aristotle Jefferson had a gift for Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz.
Hours before Schultz was to give the commencement address to the Arizona State University class of 2017, including more than 260 graduating through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, hundreds gathered in the Sun Devil Fitness Complex for a Starbucks Partner and Family Forum.
There, Jefferson, a San Jose, Calif., barista graduating with a degree in public policy and service, took the microphone to thank Schultz. “As a first-generation college student it’s been a dream come true,” he said. “The program has allowed me to help break the cycle of poverty.”
Then he gave Schultz a graduation stole signed by many of those receiving their diplomas this week. “We want to present you with this stole of gratitude,” he said, as Schultz placed it around his neck.
The forum was an emotional testament to the power of the unique partnership between ASU and Starbucks that provides eligible partners based in the U.S. who work 20 hours a week or more the opportunity to get an online degree through ASU debt free.
“Today is to celebrate you,” Schultz told the graduates.
Graduation events kicked off Sunday night with a reception for Starbucks partners and their families. They continued Monday with the forum, campus tours, a cap-decorating session and more.
‘No matter what obstacles, you can still succeed’
Earlier in the day, 10-year-old Aeris Baggett was focused on each letter as she carefully placed it on the sign she was making. Slowly, the message unfolded: “Mommy Congradulations!”
Sitting beside her was her mom, Brandy McIntosh, one of the more than 260 people graduating today from Arizona State University through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Also with her were her 4-year-old sister and her grandmother.
Getting her psychology degree “means the world to me,” said McInstosh, 31. “It’s a destiny moment. I can show my kids that no matter what obstacles are put up, you can still succeed.”
For McIntosh, it’s the completion of a degree she began when she was 18. She was attending the University of Arizona on a scholarship when she ran into challenges at home and quit school to work. Then after Aeris was born she didn’t have time to go to back to college and also worried about accumulating debt to pay for college. When McIntosh, a Starbucks barista, heard about the College Achievement Plan she applied immediately. She is completing her degree with a 4.0.
“It was a long time coming, but it will make such a difference,” she told Aeris, who had moved on to adding butterflies and tiny pom poms to her sign.
‘She’s worked so hard’
A few tables away from McIntosh at the cap-decorating event sat Rebecca England, a barista from Richmond, Va. She got emotional as she tried to explain what the day means to her. Not too many years ago, she didn’t think it’d be possible for her to get a bachelor’s degree. She had earned a two-year degree, but couldn’t afford to keep going to school.
When she got her associate’s degree, she told her mom she didn’t want to walk in graduation until she was able to finish her bachelor’s. Years later, that day has arrived.
As she decorated the Starbucks logo that she’ll apply to her cap, she recalled the phone call in which she learned she’d been accepted into the college program. “I was at church and I got the call and I just started crying,” she said. “People were asking if I was OK.”
Her mom, Shearin England, saved so the two could fly to Tempe and attend commencement. “She’s worked so hard and she deserves all good things,” she said. “She’s struggled to get to this place.”
Rebecca England, who describes herself, as “a huge book nerd,” is getting a degree in library sciences. There were days along the way when she was exhausted from working full-time and going to school, but quitting was never an option.
That kind of opportunity is exactly what drives the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, said Schultz.
“Most of the partners I’ve met either didn’t go to college because they couldn’t afford it or had to leave school because of indebtedness that did not allow them to move forward. The question was: How do we solve it?”
‘There is no quit’
Bailey Ingegniero, a store manager in River Ridge, La., said she felt the same way. During her last semester while she was earning her sociology degree, she and her partner, Mandela Redmond, bought their first home. She was also working full-time and getting their 4-year-old son, Makeen, settled in a new school.
“One of my goals was to help her complete her school career,” Redmond said. “There is no quit. We’re so proud of her.”
At Arizona State University’s spring graduation exercises, May 8 in Tempe, Ariz., Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz will give his first-ever commencement address. More than 260 partners are graduating from ASU, the biggest-yet partner graduating class. Starbucks College Achievement Plan graduates will be in the audience. Commencement will be streamed live at 7:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (7:30 p.m. Pacific Time) at http://www.ustream.tv/asutv.
More on graduation:
Finding Home: Childhood Hardships Strengthen Starbucks ASU Graduate Sirikwan O’Gorman.
Alexander Nunes, an immigrant from Jamaica, is the first in his family to graduate from college – and he’s ready to change the world.
Tragedy derailed Laura Fobes’ first shot at a college degree; now the 42-year-old mother of three will walk across the stage in Tempe.