2019 Honorary Degree Recipients Announced

Published: April 29, 2019 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 6 minutes

Lora Tom, Rich Wilson, and Melissa Stockwell will each receive honorary doctorate degrees from Southern Utah University during the 120th Commencement Ceremony on May 3rd in the America First Event Center.

Lora Tom

Lora Tom Honorary Doctorate recipientLora Tom was born in Tooele, Utah to Walter and Eleanor Tom, who now reside in Cedar City. After graduating from Intermountain High School in Brigham City, Utah she attended SUU beginning in 1981. Her parents were employed at Intermountain High School, and she credits them for instilling a strong work ethic in her and her four siblings.

Enrolling at what was then Southern Utah State College, she took courses in physical science, sociology, and criminal justice. Tom was also a member of the royal court of the Inter-Tribal Princess Pageant. She greatly appreciated the personalized education offered at SUU. She went on to earn a medical assistant certificate from the Bryman School in Salt Lake City and began a career in that field for the Paiute tribe in 1993.

Her duties in the health field began with providing home health care, and over the years her duties have largely focused on outreach and advocacy, specifically in educating tribal members on the availability of quality health care at affordable prices. Tom happily spends time visiting with members who need outside human contact and has applied pure compassion to improve countless lives over the years. Today she is the community outreach manager for the Paiute tribe’s FourPoints Health Clinics.

She has dedicated herself to enriching the lives of those around her by enhancing wellness, communication, economic vitality, and education. In 2009 she created an alliance with SUU that has resulted in greater numbers of Paiute youth continuing their education and remaining in the region for the betterment of the tribe.

Lora Tom has spent more than a quarter-century serving the members of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah; specifically, the Cedar Band of Paiutes. She has served for eight years as the tribal chair, leading the 927 members of the five bands that stretch across southern Utah. She also served for nearly two decades as chair of the Cedar Band before retiring on April 5, 2019.

Her leadership roles have resulted in a grand boost in the quality of life for her constituents as she has advocated refined communication, fostered economic advancement, and championed educational opportunity, in addition to vastly improving the health care system among the Paiute population.

Tom will receive the University’s Doctorate in Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Rich Wilson

Rich Wilson Honorary Doctorate RecipientRich Wilson grew up in Hawaii and attended high school at the famed Punahou Academy. Wilson traded the island life for the mountain life in Logan, Utah, as a Utah State University student in sociology and business. Wilson and his wife Linda eventually moved to Cedar City where he began his professional career.

Wilson’s first job in town was selling recreational vehicles, and from there he moved into real estate. He became a wise and active developer of housing in Cedar City at a time when the city population was burgeoning and later engaged in the much-needed service of providing housing for students and others in need.

Active in the political process, his desire to serve steered him into many years on the planning commissions of both the city and county. He was brought to the attention of Jerry Sherratt, SUU’s President in 1985, who was formulating plans for the Utah Summer Games (USG). Wilson signed on as coordinator of volunteers for 1986, then succeeded Vaughn McDonald as director the following year.

In his eight years guiding the USG, Wilson turned the summer sports festival into an SUU and Cedar City staple. He was a founding member of the National Congress of State Games.

Wilson also contributed his service in helping bring about the construction of the expansion of the SUU Coliseum, and the L.S. and Alice W. Skaggs Center for Health and Molecular Sciences.

Wilson is well-known as a philanthropist and enabler of others, and for many years has stood among the most benevolent of Cedar City figures. In service to his church, he always relished helping its young adults and likewise has supported SUU in a myriad of ways in making higher education available to all.

Wilson is particularly proud that all four of his children earned both bachelor and graduate degrees from SUU.

Wilson will receive the University’s Doctorate of Public Service, honoris causa.

Melissa Stockwell

Melissa Stockwell picture running with flag, honorary doctorate recipient Melissa Stockwell grew up in the rugged central northland as a patriotic girl who decorated her room with American flags. From an early age, she had a desire to defend her country. An exceptional athlete for Minnesota’s Eden Prairie High School, she went on to the University of Colorado.

Stockwell engaged with the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Transportation Corps. In March 2004, she deployed with the vaunted First Cavalry Division in Baghdad, Iraq.

Just a month later, as a platoon leader and convoy commander, her vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. This explosion ultimately resulted in the loss of her left leg above the knee. Stockwell was the first U.S. woman to lose a limb in active combat.

During her rehabilitation at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she made a promise to live her life for those that didn’t make it back from the war. Despite many surgeries and infections, her spirit endured and she took her first steps on her prosthetic leg fifty two days later. Rockwell knew she would once again be independent, but as a lifelong athlete, Melissa wanted more.

Multiple organizations helped Stockwell realize that not only could she still be athletic, but could do things she never imagined doing with both her legs. Thanks to the Wounded Warrior Project, she skied down the ski slopes of Breckenridge, Colorado on one leg, proving to her that there were no limits.

Stockwell has been one of the most successful parathletes in the world. She has competed and won in marathons, triathlons, and Ironman triathlons. She swam at the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008 where she walked with the Stars and Stripes and won a bronze medal in paratriathlon at the 2016 Games in Rio. She was named as the female paratriathlete of the year twice and nominated twice for an Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award (ESPY) award.

In 2007 Melissa also completed the prosthetic practitioner program at Century College in Minnesota where she learned how to fit other amputees with artificial limbs. She currently works as a certified prosthetist in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and young son. She also helps athletes with disabilities compete in the triathlon sport.

Rockwell is the 2019 Commencement speaker for SUU, and she will also receive the University’s Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

These honorees were selected by the SUU Board of Trustees after discussion on individuals who have had a positive impact on the university, excelled in their chosen fields, and provided service to society. SUU’s graduation ceremonies and festivities are all free and do not require tickets.

For more information about graduation, visit the SUU graduation website.

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