NAU to recognize four Arizona leaders with honorary doctorate degrees during commencement ceremonies

Graduates in their gear at commencement

Paul Luna, president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation, Pam Kehaly, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Christy Farley, an NAU alumna who recently retired as senior vice president of engagement and public affairs, and Efrain Casillas, coordinator of music programs at Tolleson Elementary School District and 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year, will be recognized with honorary doctorates from  Northern Arizona University and provide the keynote address during four commencement ceremonies taking place May 10-11.

“The exceptional professional careers and tireless commitment to the public good of our four honorary doctorate recipients reflect NAU’s values and commitment to serving the people and communities of our state,” NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera said. “I look forward to honoring their achievements at our commencement ceremonies and to the inspiring stories they will share with our more than 5,700 graduates who are poised to pursue their own careers of consequence powered by an NAU education.”

For more information about commencement, including parking and the clear bag policy, visit the NAU Commencement website.

NAU’s 2024 Honorary doctorate recipients and commencement speakers

Paul Luna headshotPaul J. Luna is a nationally recognized leader in philanthropy, education and community development. As president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation since 2006, Luna has been instrumental in steering the foundation’s mission toward fostering opportunities for all students to succeed in postsecondary education, with a concentrated focus on supporting low-income and underrepresented communities in Arizona and Florida.

Luna brings more than 30 years of public and private experience to Helios. His tenure has been marked by a profound commitment to enhancing educational outcomes, with Helios investing nearly $350 million in strategic partnerships and initiatives aimed at improving third-grade reading, college-going, and postsecondary attainment.

Luna’s personal story embodies the transformative power of education. He was raised in the Arizona mining town of Miami where his father worked in the copper mines. Luna’s parents saw education as a pathway to advancement and instilled in their son the importance of going to college. With his parent’s encouragement, Luna became a first-generation college student and earned a civil engineering degree from Stanford University.

In addition to his role at Helios, Luna serves as a member of Greater Phoenix Leadership, Greater Phoenix Economic Council board of directors, the Florida College Access Network’s Board of Advisors, the Center for the Future of Arizona Board of Directors, the America’s Promise Alliance Board of Directors, the Partnership for Economic Innovation Board of Directors and the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities President’s Council.

Pam Kehaly headshotPam Kehaly is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (AZ Blue). She leads more than 3,000 employees that provide inventive programs, services and health insurance products to more than 2 million members.

With more than 30 years of experience in the health insurance industry, Kehaly has developed an expertise in collaborating with doctors and hospitals to drive results. Since joining AZ Blue, she has led the company to number one market share by focusing on consumer needs and company culture.

As the leading health insurer in Arizona, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona focuses on creating products that meet the needs of its members, standing up for affordability and doing right by Arizona’s communities. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from California State University, Stanislaus. She serves as chair of Greater Phoenix Leadership and sits on the board of directors for the Arizona Commerce Authority, UNS Energy, The Translational Genomics Research Institute, National Institute for Health Care Management and the Phoenix Police Reserve Foundation. Additionally, Kehaly is on the advisory board of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California, and sits on Sen. Mark Kelly’s Health Advisory Board and Secretary of State Adrian Fontes’ business board.

Christy Farley headshotChristy Farley is an Arizona native raised in Flagstaff. She graduated from NAU in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in sociology. Immediately following graduation from NAU, she served as legislative analyst, director of legislation and then education policy advisor for Govs. Fife Symington and Jane Hull for 10 years. She was the executive director of the Arizona State Board of Education working with two superintendents of public instruction.

Farley served in various positions at NAU for 20 years, recently retiring as the senior vice president of engagement and public affairs. In that role, she oversaw local, state and federal government affairs, marketing and university advancement and development activities. During her NAU career, Farley’s roles included interim CEO of the NAU Foundation, vice president of external affairs and partnerships, senior associate to the president, chief administrative officer of the Phoenix Biomedical Campus and several other advisory positions. Farley has served on numerous boards and committees, including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the State Board for Charter Schools and Expect More Arizona’s board of directors.

Efrain Casillas headshotEfrain Casillas, coordinator of music programs for the Tolleson Elementary School District (TESD), has been a public school music teacher for 24 years and is teaching both general and instrumental music at two district schools.

Casillas graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music performance and education from Western Connecticut State University in 1999. As both a classroom teacher and department coordinator at TESD, he has created and implemented the district’s first mariachi, jazz, marching, concert and Latin jazz bands on two school campuses. Notable achievements include the mariachi band winning awards at the Tucson Mariachi International Conference, performing at Disneyland and being invited to play at the White House for the Annual Easter Egg Hunt in April. His middle school Latin jazz band shared the stage with Pete Escobedo, and the marching band has participated in the Fiesta Bowl Parade for three consecutive years.

Recognized for his excellence, Casillas has earned many accolades including TESD Teacher of the Year (2015), Esperanza Award from Chicanos Por La Causa (2018) and the Music Teacher of Excellence Foundation Award (2019). He was also featured on the Kelly Clarkson Show in 2020. In 2022, he received the Phoenix Arts Hero Award, followed by being named Arizona Teacher of the Year in 2024.

Casillas is an advocate of public education and an active member of the Arizona Music Educators Association and Arizona Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents.

NAU Communications