Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Classes of 2010 graduate; Scott Simon inspires and reflects

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Professors, administrators, family and friends gathered Sunday, May 16 to celebrate Willamette's College of Liberal Arts Class of 2010.

The CLA awarded 410 bachelor's degrees at this year's commencement. The class hails from 31 states; 56% are female and 17% identify as multicultural. Their top five majors are economics, history, psychology, biology and sociology — and 50 have double majors.

The graduates are heading off to a wide array of opportunities, including work at Intel, an international Fulbright program, many graduate schools and service with Teach for America. Five students' stories are posted at the university website.  

Peabody Award-winning writer Scott Simon delivered the commencement address and received an honorary doctorate in humane letters. Simon is a reporter for the BBC and host of National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition Saturday."

Willamette also awarded honorary degrees to anthropologist Sarah Hrdy and chemical engineer Robert Langer. Hrdy, professor emerita at the University of California, Davis, is a longtime researcher and author of five books on primate behavior. Langer, MIT professor and head of the lab that studies and develops polymers, has earned 750 patents and received numerous major science awards.

President M. Lee Pelton articulated for the graduates some of the rewards of their labors: historical perspective, rational thinking, a moral compass, the capacity for scientific inquiry, aesthetic competency, and the ability to speak well and write plainly.

"I hope you have sufficiently mastered a set of academic disciplines that will enable you to solve problems — big and small — and change the world," he said.

"But most, I hope you will come to understand that your education here was deeply rooted in and connected to human experience and human endeavor, and that the process by which you deepened your connection to the living world will excite, inspire, delight and confound you every day of your life. You have been educated to serve humanity."

Scott Simon provided further relfection. The writer/reporter has covered 10 wars and hundreds of campaigns, sieges, famines, natural disasters and scandals; in his commencement address, however, he mused about convictions and human nature while recalling the lessons from one of his first jobs as a crime reporter in Chicago.

"Maybe I should have been a pundit in my 20s, because my pronouncements would have been filled with sparkling and unforgettable certitudes," he said. "Now they're filled with a lot of qualifiers. But if you have a rich and full life and you reflect on it, it should happen to you.

"Follow and learn from life instead of trying to fit what you see into what you think you already know. ... Let yourself learn, grow and change until your last breath. Let life surprise you with what you can and will become."

Graduate programs

Willamette's three graduate schools also held commencement ceremonies on Sunday:

  • The College of Law awarded 138 JD and LLM degrees. The graduating class is 42% female and 15% multicultural. The commencement speaker was the Honorable Richard A. Paez, a circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals who is a member of the court's Executive Committee and former chair of the Ninth Circuit's Court-Council Committee on Bankruptcy Appointments.
  • Atkinson Graduate School of Management awarded 69 MBA degrees to early career and career change students, who were addressed by Alfred William "Bill" Sweet, a retired bank executive and distinguished public servant. Atkinson also awarded 49 MBA degrees earlier this year for the evening MBA for Professionals program. The class included 31 international students from 16 countries.
  • The Graduate School of Education awarded 96 MAT and MEd degrees. The commencement speaker was Christine Sleeter '70, a professor emerita at California State University Monterey Bay who conducted extensive research on anti-racist multicultural education and multicultural teacher education.