Commencement is one of the happiest days of the academic year; a time when smiling faces radiate from every corner of Whitman's campus. Graduates are ecstatic about the degrees they have earned, families are proud of their children's accomplishments, and the faculty and staff are gratified to see the results of their continued dedication and support.
In less obvious ways, graduation is also special to the community of Walla Walla. Our college thrives in this scenic corner of the Pacific Northwest, and the legacy of support and involvement from the people of this region shapes the Whitman experience. I am reminded of this unique relationship between Whitman and Walla Walla often, but especially on graduation day.
This year's ceremony — marking the 125th year since Whitman's first such celebration — featured inspired talks by Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Meda Lind-Chesney '69, and by senior class speaker Esther Weathers '11. After the 378 graduates accepted their diplomas and the ceremony concluded, the crowd of roughly 4,000 people spread across the campus lawns to enjoy the post-ceremony luncheon.
As I moved through the jubilant crowd, congratulating the many students and parents I met along the way, I recognized the friendly smile of a local resident whom I have seen on campus each year at Commencement. We shook hands, and then this anonymous Walla Walla citizen handed me an envelope and said simply, "Thank you for what you do."
Just as has happened for more than a decade, inside that envelope once again was a generous donation to Whitman College. Though it's now become a tradition, I am still taken aback and deeply moved by this exchange. The donor has chosen to remain unidentified, but for me the gift is a reminder of the many ways, large and small, that the people of Walla Walla contribute to making the Whitman experience what it is.
As I took in the sights and sounds of that afternoon, I watched members of the Class of 1961 — on campus for their 50th reunion — mingle with their newly minted alumni peers. I heard community members commending the graduates they had come to know and care for in numerous ways. The sheer outpouring of camaraderie, respect and appreciation for this cherished institution could be felt across the various participants of the joyous crowd.
Once again, I congratulate the Class of 2011 on their significant accomplishments, and I deeply thank the diverse group of supporters who make what we do possible. Please join me in looking forward to another bright year ahead and, of course, to the Commencement ceremony of the Class of 2012.
George S. Bridges