In Their Own Words

Graduates reflect on their Willamette experience

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Working for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, enrolling in graduate school for dentistry, interning at a think tank in Washington, D.C., volunteering with AmeriCorps and Teach for America -- these are just a few of the paths ahead of the Willamette University class of 2009.

Four commencement ceremonies on Sunday celebrated the university's graduates, including 432 students from the College of Liberal Arts.

"Your education has prepared you well for a life of meaning and hope," President M. Lee Pelton told the graduates. "Rouse yourself to action. Rouse yourself to engagement with something bigger than yourself. Use your talents to make this old world a new one."

Emmy Award-winning journalist and political commentator Juan Williams delivered the commencement address and was awarded an honorary degree, along with singer/composer Bernice Johnson Reagon and journalist/author Timothy Egan. Williams, who worked for 23 years at The Washington Post, is a National Public Radio senior correspondent and a political analyst for the Fox News Channel.

"Incredible journeys await all of you," Williams said. "Now it is time for you to surprise your parents, surprise your teachers, surprise yourself. It's time for you to take the risk that's required of people who make a difference."

The CLA graduates originated from 29 states, with 39 percent coming from Oregon, and women made up 55 percent of the class. The most popular majors were economics, psychology, politics, English and biology.

Will Nevius '09, a politics major, will be an intern this summer at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. He already has worked in Washington on policy issues relating to HIV/AIDS. "I really loved my time at Willamette," Nevius says. "Willamette values a passion for learning. It cultivates an environment where you can pursue things that you're excited about."

Economics major Colin Gardiner '09 will be working as a research associate for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco as he continues to explore his interest in the way economics affects everyday life. He credits his professors with teaching him the skills he needed to land the job. "That was really valuable, and I'm really happy that people pushed me," he says.

Elise Helvie '09 and Emilio Solano '09 were both involved in multiple extracurricular activities at Willamette and were named the Greek Man and Greek Woman of the Year this spring. Helvie, a biochemistry major, is heading to the University of Washington School of Dentistry; Solano, who majored in history and American ethnic studies, is joining Teach for America in Los Angeles.

"Each professor here really gives you something special," Solano says. "Willamette also provided me with opportunities to get involved on campus and feel like I was a part of something, which is really important."

Traveling across the country for service projects will be among Hayley Freedman's responsibilities as an AmeriCorps team leader. "The Willamette motto, ‘Not unto ourselves alone are we born,' is staying with me," Freedman '09 says. "It means living a life of intention for others, and that includes how you conduct yourself. It is important to be mindful of what's happening outside of yourself and your community."

The graduate schools also held their commencement ceremonies on Sunday:

  • The College of Law awarded 130 JD and 2 LLM degrees, and the speaker was Oregon Supreme Court Justice Virginia Linder JD'80. The class represented 67 undergraduate institutions, and they speak a combined 16 foreign languages.
  • The Atkinson Graduate School of Management awarded 76 MBA degrees, and they were addressed by Vyomesh (VJ) Joshi, executive vice president of the Imaging and Printing Group at Hewlett Packard. About 31 percent of the graduates were international students, originating from 10 countries.
  • The School of Education awarded 81 MAT degrees. Michael Geisen, a Prineville, Ore., science teacher who was named 2008 National Teacher of the Year, was the commencement speaker.