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Jubilant Class of 2022 Celebrates Commencement

On a beautiful Walla Walla spring day, Whitman College’s 136th Commencement included more than 350 graduates and family members in the crowd there to celebrate them—an entirely in-person commencement ceremony for the first time since May 2019.  

Kathy MurrayPresident Kathleen Murray opened the festivities by welcoming graduates to what is "both an ending and a beginning"—and acknowledging all they had gone through to get to this day, particularly the resilience it took to complete college during a global pandemic.

As she closed her remarks, she reminded the Class of 2022 of the good things to come from this personal and shared hardship.

“We are certainly changed by all of this, and I hope we are changed for the better. That we are more empathetic, better able to understand, even to share the feelings of others, to experience life as if we were standing in someone else’s shoes. That we are less cynical, less willing to believe that people are generally dishonest and motivated solely by self-interest and that we are more responsible for and to each other.”

The special commencement speakers of the day told their unique and highly personal Whitman stories while challenging the graduating class to go out into the world and make a true difference—drawing standing ovations from those in attendance.

Honoring ‘An Ordinary Housewife’

Class of 2022’s class speaker Fadia Chehadeh delivered a compelling and powerful speech that honored the influence of her mother who helped raise her out of a Palestinian refugee camp in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon.  

Speaker Fadia“She instilled the love of education in me. To achieve everything, she was never able to achieve,” Chehadeh said.

“Today, I am the first in the family to be earning this degree. And all the thanks go to that ordinary housewife. It’s an ordinary housewife—an ordinary housewife who was quoting the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, الثالث البديل الخترت دربان لي كان لو … ‘Have I had two roads, I would have chosen the third.’”

Chehadeh shared some of her mother’s empowering advice with her fellow graduates.

“Here is what that ordinary housewife would encourage you to keep in mind. That you take criticism with an open mind and use it to improve the person you are. That you challenge yourself. That you take risks. That you never forget your manners. That you won’t judge. That you always treat people with kindness. And that you always aim as high as the sky.”

‘Never underestimate the power of your ability to impact others’

Whitman’s commencement speaker Steve Hammond, a Whitman graduate from the class of 1979, also received an honorary degree during the ceremony, “Doctor of Humane Letters” along with his late friend and Whitman classmate, Mark Anderson, who in 1980 founded the Walla Walla Foundry.

When Hammond, a Trustee Emeritus of the college, took the podium to share his own Whitman experience and advice, he connected with the graduates directly by asking them to turn to their neighbors to let them know “you’re special.”

Steve Hammond“That’s right! You are special, not only because you have accomplished so much as soon-to-be college graduates, but also because you have shown strength and persevered through challenges that face a society about once in a century, said Hammond. “You know what I’m talking about—you went to college during a freaking pandemic!”

Hammond also shared how being a person of color at Whitman in the 70s was a struggle for him. “It took me several years of reflection to realize how fortunate I am to have received a Whitman education. What was, at one time, anger and bitterness turned into a personal challenge for me, Hammond said. “If I wanted things to be better here, I needed to take responsibility for being part of the solution.”

“Never underestimate the power of your ability to impact others. You never know whose life you will touch or when or how it will be impacted. As you begin your life after Whitman, I encourage you to carry your experiences with you. Don’t bury them too deep. Allow them to help you work on becoming a better person and to help others where you can.” —Steve Hammond, 2022 Whitman College Commencement Speaker

Besides his work on behalf of the college, Hammond has had a distinguished 40-year career with the United States Geological Survey, where he is now an Emeritus Scientist and volunteers his time supporting women and people of color in STEM fields. 

“You are about to enter spaces that are unfamiliar and perhaps a bit uncomfortable at times because you may feel unprepared or out of your league. Carry into those spaces the confidence that you have the tools and skills developed here at Whitman to make anything possible,” Hammond said.

“Today—you celebrate. Tomorrow—you take the plunge. Raise your voice. Guide the conversation. You are ready to take on the world."