This year’s commencement will feature Weber State University alum Ta’u Pupu’a, a former Wildcat with a unique resume.

Pupu’a is a native of the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelago consisting of 169 islands in the south Pacific, and moved to Salt Lake City with his family when he was 5 years old.

Commencement speaker Ta'u Pupu'a performing at the Browning Center in 2011.
Commencement speaker Ta'u Pupu'a performing at the Browning Center in 2011. Photo credit: Weber State University

He came to WSU on a football scholarship while pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree, and was then drafted to the NFL by coach Bill Belichick of the Cleveland Browns. After becoming one of the Baltimore Ravens, he sustained several injuries that ultimately led to him leaving football behind.

“One morning, he was looking out the window and asked God, what should I do?” reads Pupu’a’s story on his official website. “Suddenly he had an answer, crazy as it seems: Go sing!”

Pupu’a went to New York to pursue a career in singing. He attended Juilliard School, a private performing arts conservatory in New York City, and graduated three years later.

He made his professional opera debut with the San Francisco Opera in their 2011 world premiere production of “Heart of a Soldier.” Since then, he has performed dozens of roles with major opera companies such as the San Francisco Opera, Birmingham Opera in the UK, Opera Hong Kong, Hawaii Opera Theatre and many others.

Ta'u Pupu'a giving time to his audience before his 2011 performance at the Browning Center.
Ta'u Pupu'a giving time to his audience before his 2011 performance at the Browning Center. Photo credit: Weber State University

Apart from travelling the globe, Pupu’a faithfully supports the WSU community and has made several local appearances in the past decade.

In 2011, he performed at the 43rd annual WSU Salutes, a ceremony at which the WSU Alumni Association honors outstanding alumni, at the Hurst Center for Lifelong Learning.

Pupu’a was among the attendees at WSU’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Val A. Browning Center for Performing Arts in 2015, speaking along with other talented alumni.

In March 2018, Pupu’a returned to Utah for a one-night performance with Chamber Orchestra Ogden at Peery’s Egyptian Theatre, and in 2019 he appeared at the Guadalupe School Spring Gala in Salt Lake.

The most recent item on Pupu’a’s opera calendar, slated for March 2020 at Perth Concert Hall in Australia, never took place due to the pandemic, which has put his live performances on hold.

Pupu’a will address the WSU community during the virtual commencement ceremony April 29 at 7 p.m.

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