In issuing a challenge to the Class of 2010 at Commencement, speaker Juan Williams, a nationally renowned author, journalist and media commentator, drew upon a simple yet meaningful theme: “Surprise yourself.” His message to the seniors conveyed the essence of what can be accomplished with a Whitman College liberal arts education and why it is so valuable in today’s world.
Williams told the graduates: “This is a moment to go beyond expectations, to reach inside and do the unexpected. Surprise your parents. Surprise your teachers. Surprise your friends. But most of all, surprise yourself! Go beyond what makes you comfortable. Open yourself to ideas, events, relationships that make you uncomfortable. Travel places where you know no one. Learn another language. Create art, even though you’re not an artist. Argue with people. Fall down. Get up!
“Understand, as Whitman has taught you, as these faculty have sought to ingrain in you, that true freedom is the freedom to avoid manipulation by fear; that true freedom is being able to avoid the evil that comes from not thinking; that true freedom is the ability to avoid the evil that comes from not caring, not excelling and not believing that you can do it.”
His words created a picture of what all of us at Whitman College envision for the lives of our students. Spectacular and unexpected, if not surprising, outcomes occur in the lives of those who have open minds, pursue their passions sometimes against significant odds and are willing to embrace unforeseen opportunities.
Such is the case of alumna Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger ’97. Though Williams issued his challenge 13 years after she graduated from Whitman, Metcalf-Lindenburger’s surprising career shift from science teacher to astronaut perfectly illustrates his point.
She embraced an unforeseen opportunity and became Whitman’s first astronaut, completing her shuttle mission to the International Space Station in April. Metcalf-Lindenburger is the inaugural recipient of the college’s Civis Magnopere Laudanda Award, presented at Commencement. Translated from Latin, the award means “Citizens Worthy of Highest Praise.”
Our new, current and future students will face significant challenges in their adult lives. The words of speakers such as Juan Williams, the examples set by alumni such as Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, and the support you show through investing in Whitman will enable them to surprise themselves and more. They successfully contribute to a better world thanks to you, your support of Whitman College and your dedication to the value of the liberal arts.
George S. Bridges