Journalist, author of “Fast Food Nation”
Roses in the Mud
Matt Dittrich ’12
2012 Senior Class Speaker
Welcome and Introductions
George S. Bridges
President of Whtman College
Stuart Coordinator of Religious and Spiritual Life
Elana Congress ’12
Stories from a Counselor’s Chair
Associate Dean of Students: Health and Wellness
What’s so ‘liberal’ about liberal arts and sciences?
Associate Professor of Philosophy; Garrett Fellow
In a humorous but moving commencement speech, ASWC President Matt Dittrich invited his fellow graduates to join him in the “mud-wrestle of our lives” and not to be “betrayed by nostalgia.”
Speaking on the Memorial Building’s south lawn beneath the iconic clock tower, Dittrich addressed a crowd of an estimated 4,000 on Sunday, May 20, crowning a celebratory weekend of activities, which included the Class of 1962’s 50th reunion, and the Baccalaureate, which was held Saturday afternoon in Cordiner Hall.
“Rather than distract ourselves with what was, let's address progress – the grapple, the struggle, the mud-wrestle for positive change,” Dittrich said. “If this endeavor is not our mission, then I must be dreaming. Assuming that you all are not figments of my subconscious, let's confront some challenges.”
Dittrich then challenged all of those attending Whitman’s 126th commencement ceremony to “promote greener policies and practices, shatter glass ceilings, develop a more equitable world and promote and guarantee health and care for all.”
Christina Delicata ’12 is one graduate who hopes to “shatter glass ceilings” while pursuing a career in film. But before relocating to Los Angeles, Calif, Delicata, who majored in rhetoric and media studies, wanted to reflect on commencement.
“The ceremony was wonderful,” said the native of Chicago, Ill. “It was the best one yet. And I’ve been to all four since I came here.”
Peter van Oppen ’74, chair of the Board of Trustees, kicked off Sunday’s commencement. President George S. Bridges then addressed the 393 graduates who walked (402 received degrees), offering them praise for earning their undergraduate degrees.
“You graduate at a remarkable period in history,” President Bridges said. “Unlike your parents’ generation and any previous generation, over the course of your adult lives you will have more jobs, more careers and global connections. You will employ technologies that no one has yet imagined and solve problems that have mystified those who came before you.
“Whitman has sought to equip you for the world you will inherit and someday lead. You graduate at a time of accelerating change and your future will entail a life of learning, adaptation, collaboration and communication.”
This year’s commencement speaker and recipient of a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree was Eric Schlosser, best-selling author of “Fast Food Nation.” President Bridges introduced Schlosser as someone who “shakes things up.”
Schlosser lived up to those words. In a provocative speech, which earned him a standing ovation, the author spoke to Whitman’s graduates about the America they were entering, a nation out of balance. In 2010 and 2011, the “top executive of the top hedge fund in the U.S. earned at least four times more money than all 150,000 farm workers in the state of Washington will earn this year.”
“Instead of trying to be perfect or pure, we need to be aware. We need to be compassionate. And then we need to take action,” urged Schlosser.
Colleen Seidelhuber Willoughby ’55 also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Known as “Seattle’s superwoman of volunteerism,” Willoughby served on Whitman’s Board of Trustees and remains an active trustee emerita. She also organizes and hosts “Women’s Education: For Living and Leadership,” an annual symposium that brings inspirational female leaders to Whitman.
“Voluntarism and civic engagement is honorable work,” Willoughby said. “I suggest that each of you graduates today carve a permanent niche in your life work plan for sharing your talent, your expertise and your personal human capital for this necessary work.”
During the ceremony, five faculty members were recognized as recipients of 2012 Distinguished Faculty Awards for mentoring, advising, teaching and scholarship. These awards reflect the highest recognition of Whitman College faculty excellence. The faculty members were:
- Leena S. Knight, assistant professor of biology, won two awards: the Suzanne L. Martin Award for Excellence in Mentoring and the A.E. Lange Award for Distinguished Science Teaching.
- Jennifer Blomme, head swimming coach – George Ball Award for Excellence in Advising
- John D. Cotts, associate professor of history – Robert Y. Fluno Award for Distinguished Teaching in Social Sciences
- Sarah E. Hurlburt ’91, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures – French – Thomas D. Howells Award for Distinguished Teaching in Humanities and Arts
- Timothy Machonkin, assistant professor of chemistry – G. Thomas Edwards Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship
Friends, family and members of the Whitman community filled Cordiner Hall on Saturday, May 19, to listen to speakers and musical performances that honored the academic and personal accomplishments of the Class of 2012.
After welcoming remarks from President Bridges, Stuart Coordinator of Religious and Spiritual Life Adam Kirtley, in a speech titled “Coexist?,” spoke about the need for middle ground and cooperation among religious followers.
“My hope is that moderate and progressive voices from diverse religious traditions might see each other as allies in the struggle to establish the possibility of religious coexistence,” he said.
Kirtley encouraged graduates to “move into the world with confidence and compassion, and always the willingness to employ the question mark when it’s called for.”
In a speech titled “The Line,” Elana Congress ’12 spoke about how graduates must transition from being people in whom others have invested, to being people who invest in others.
“This weekend, we celebrate the culmination of the greatest investment thus far: the investment of a college education,” Congress said. “And with this celebration we start to think seriously about how we can use our education to invest in others, how we, as college-graduates-to-be, can give back.”
Associate Dean of Students and Director of Counseling Richard Jacks urged graduates to share how they feel with others in order to nurture satisfying friendships through their lives.
Jacks, who will retire this summer, also urged students to be persistent and steady in their endeavors. As a youth, he said, “Procrastination and depression were my enemies.”
His technique to deal with these enemies? Imagine he was a tractor.
“Tractors don’t move very fast, but they move forward, tractors can’t get anxious, they don’t worry, they just get the job done,” Jacks said.
“It may seem crazy to think of this 70-year-old man pretending he is a tractor, but hey it works for me. Your task is to find what works for you,” he told graduates.
Associate Professor of Philosophy Patrick Frierson examined the freedom a liberal arts education gives students in a speech titled, “What’s so ‘Liberal’ about Liberal Arts and Sciences?”
“Liberal” comes from the Latin liber or free. Before you all laugh at the idea that your very expensive education has been free,” Frierson said jokingly, “this reference to ‘free’ arts and sciences is a traditional designation for education that ‘liberates’ the mind.”
Frierson pointed out the ways in which graduates must make the most of this freedom.
“Your Whitman education in the arts and science is liberal. You are liberated from prejudice to think for yourself, liberated from provincialism to cosmopolitan concern for the good of the world, and liberated from passively taking in your world to actively promoting what is good, true, and beautiful in it,” he said.
Carrie Sloane ’12, Sam Epstein ’12 and Ethan Maier ’14 gave musical performances during the event. Sloane, a cellist, played Bach’s “Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G, BWV 1007.” Epstein, a saxophonist, was accompanied by Epstein on piano for a song titled “Sweet Sorrow.”