In conversation with Anelise Zimmer '16

by Tina Owen,

As the student speaker at Commencement 2016, Anelise Zimmer ’16 drew on her Willamette experiences and urged her fellow new graduates to find the courage to climb life’s mountains.

  • Anelise Zimmer
    Anelise Zimmer ’16 speaks at Commencement 2016.

What are your strongest memories of Commencement?

I didn’t tell my parents I was going to be the speaker, so one of my favorite parts of the day was seeing their reaction when they spotted me at the head of the parade walking from Goudy to the Commencement tent.

My dad had found out accidentally earlier that day, but he didn’t tell my mom. They were both beaming, and my mom started crying. It was extra special because my parents are moving to Abu Dhabi soon for my dad’s job with the State Department, so it was the last time for a while that my family would be together.
Walking onto the stage, I remember seeing all my friends in the crowd giving me the thumbs-up. I was nervous, as I’d never done public speaking before.

How did you decide the theme of your speech?

Being at Willamette — and what you get from life in general — is so dependent on the people you surround yourself with. In my speech, I wanted to thank the Willamette community and recognize how special it was to have those relationships. Some of my friends cried when they heard it.

I also thought that in light of recent events at Willamette and all over the world related to equity and inclusion, it was crucial to remind my peers about the importance of holding ourselves and others to high moral standards when making decisions that affect those around us.

What was some of the advice you offered the Class of 2016?

Using the example of a hike that my friend Liana Olson ’16 and I took to the summit of Mount Adams, I talked about how it’s impossible to plan or prepare for everything that happens to us — and that we don’t know our limits until we test them.

I wanted to remind people that everyone takes a few wrong turns in life. Struggling to choose between jobs and internship opportunities, a lot of my friends — and myself — were convinced that there’s only one correct path. As Liana and I found when we initially hiked in the wrong direction on Mount Adams, we’re bound to make mistakes, no matter how much we plan. But most of those inevitable wrong turns won’t be completely detrimental to our future — and they could even create some of our best experiences.

What else did your adventure on Mount Adams teach you?

I learned that some people — like the ones who said that Liana and I shouldn’t attempt to tackle the mountain because of our gender — will always doubt you, but you can’t let their assumptions deter you from trying. Self-doubt is self-destruction.

How did your time at Willamette affect you?

Willamette’s motto really resonated with me as Liana and I summited Mount Adams. Neither one of us would have climbed it alone, but we pushed each other to do something outside our comfort zones and held each other accountable. This sort of camaraderie is in the culture of Willamette. When I came here four years ago, I never expected to receive so much compassion from my community.

At Commencement, I knew my success was largely a result of my peers, professors, parents and all the other people who helped me along the way.

What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?

I’m working at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska until early fall. In January, I’ll head to Malaysia on a Fulbright Award to teach English. Before I go, I want to drive the Alaska-Canada Highway — and I hope to find a Willamette friend to share that adventure.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 issue of Willamette magazine.

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