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Montana Western To Hold 126th Annual Commencement Ceremony

UMW Press Release:

The University of Montana Western will celebrate its 126th Annual Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 6, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. in the Straugh Gymnasium on the UMW campus.

“We look forward to celebrating this important milestone for our students, and we are proud of all of their accomplishments,” said Montana Western Chancellor, Michael Reid.

350 Montana Western graduates will be awarded over 400 degrees by the end of the 2022-23 academic year. Of the 350 students, 53 have completed two or more degrees, and 70% of the graduates are receiving honors by achieving a GPA of 3.33 or higher. 160 graduates have chosen to participate in this year’s ceremony. The ceremony’s Chief Marshal will be Laura Straus, Ph.D., Professor of Education.

This year’s commencement program will feature speaker Taylor Nahrgang, a 2010 Montana Western graduate and Director of Western & Work Partnerships at Ariat International.

In his current role at Ariat International, Nahrgang is responsible for developing and nurturing key partnerships with stakeholders in the Western & Work industries. In his personal life, he loves to rope and is a proud dad. He takes great pleasure in watching his children excel in school and sports and is a devoted supporter of his wife’s personal and professional endeavors.

Nahrgang has a strong connection to the University of Montana Western, where he has served as the Rodeo Club President, ASUMW President, Montana Associated Students (MAS) Vice President, Big Sky Region Student Director, and NIRA Student President. He is also a Big Sky Region Steer Wrestling Champion and a NIRA Steer Wrestling World Champion. Nahrgang currently serves as a member of the University of Montana Western Foundation Board.

Phil Willett graduated from Montana Western in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Science and a minor in history. He went on to receive a Graduate Degree of Banking from University of Washington Pacific Coast Banking School.

Willett has been involved with Montana Western in various capacities for over 20 years. He has been on the Montana Western Foundation Board of Directors since 2016 and currently serves as the Board Chairman and on the current Capital Campaign Committee. Currently, Willett serves as the President/CEO of Pioneer Federal Savings and Loan Association, with locations in Dillon and Deer Lodge. He has been in the banking industry for 20 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Montana Independent Bankers Association.

He and his wife, Ashley, also a Montana Western graduate, are the proud parents of daughter Gabby and enjoy spending time together by attending her many activities. Avid golfers, they also attend many community events and support student-athletes at Beaver and Bulldog games.

Additional events will be held the weekend of Commencement, including the Distinguished Alumni Recognition Luncheon honoring Phil Willett and the UMW Classes of 1973 and 1998, Commencement Rehearsal, Legacy Plaza Ceremony, and Bulldog Breakfast.

Luncheon Honoring Phil Willett and the UMW Classes of 1973 and 1998

The Montana Western Alumni Office will host a luncheon in the Lewis and Clark Room in Mathews Hall on Friday, May 5, at 11:30 a.m. to honor Willett and the Montana Western classes of 1973 and 1998. Tickets are $20 and available by calling 406-683-7306. Willett will then be recognized for the award during the Commencement Ceremony on May 6.


Rehearsal for all graduates and degree candidates will be held on Friday, May 5 at 2:00 p.m. in the Straugh Gymnasium. UMW staff will be available to answer any questions about the ceremony and order of events at Commencement.

Legacy Plaza Ceremony

An additional ceremony honoring the 2023 Graduating Class will be held on Friday, May 5, at 3:30 p.m. on the campus’s Legacy Plaza. This celebration is part of a special tradition at Montana Western held at the end of each academic year on the eve of the Commencement Ceremony that celebrates and honors the graduates for the completion of their degrees and the legacy that they will leave at UMW.

Bulldog Breakfast

Montana Western is hosting a continental breakfast from 7:30-9:30 a.m. in UMW’s Dining Hall for all Commencement guests prior to the ceremony on May 6. Please RSVP online by Thursday, May 4, 2023:

Breakfast will feature waffles, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, biscuits and gravy, sweet rolls, muffins, coffee cake, fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, granola, chilled juice, fresh brewed coffee, and assorted teas. The cost will be $10 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. Payment will be taken directly by Dining Services via cash or card.


Graduates and degree candidates will need to arrive dressed in their full regalia for check-in no later than 9:00 a.m. at the Lucy Carson Library.


Guests can begin seating in the Straugh Gymnasium and Keltz Arena (both located in the BARC) at 9:00 a.m. Seating in the Straugh Gymnasium requires tickets reserved in advance by all participating graduates and degree candidates. Seating in the Keltz Arena, an additional ceremony viewing location, is open and does not require tickets. Visit for more information.


For those who are unable to attend in person, a livestream of Saturday’s Commencement Ceremony will be available starting at 10:00 a.m. on May 6 by visiting

For more information about Commencement, please contact the Montana Western Registrar’s Office by calling 406-683-7371 or visit

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