One speaker drew a laugh Saturday when she asked every graduating student at Washington State University Tri-Cities to stand if they had never skipped a class.
Michele Acker-Hocevar, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, found no student claiming that distinction at the commencement in the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
But many students rose when she asked if they were the first in their family to attend college. More stood up when she asked if they were raising a child while they worked toward a degree.
Most stood up when she asked if they had held a job while they attended college. And most stood again when she asked them if they would be staying in the Tri-Cities after graduation.
This will not be the end of education for some of the 377 students earning degrees Saturday, including baccalaureate, professional, master’s and doctoral degrees.
For some, like valedictorian Lorenzo Luzi, the diplomas they earned are one step toward more education.
It’s important to focus on things that are difficult.
Maria Klawe, keynote speaker
Luzi, who came to the United States as the child of Italian immigrants in search of opportunity, maintained a 4.0 grade point average and earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering.
He was “a terrible student” until he found his place at WSU Tri-Cities working with math and computers, he said before the ceremony.
“Go out there and make the world a better place because you can do it,” he told his fellow graduates Saturday.
He already has interned at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, working on signal processing and algorithm development. He plans to work there at least a year before pursuing a graduate degree to advance a career in electrical engineering research.
“We strive to prepare students who are career ready,” Acker-Hocevar said.
As some of the graduates put their years of formal education behind them, the ceremony’s keynote speaker reminded them that it “would never be too late to learn something different.”
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., said she was inspired by the many students who skateboarded around campus to learn how to ride one at the age of 55. She does not have good balance.
This is your day. Enjoy. Celebrate and remember it.
Michele Acker-Hocevar, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs
“It’s important to focus on things that are difficult,” she said.
Learning to skateboard has helped her become a better teacher and a better learner, she said.
Laughter, a few tears and sometimes stubbornness had helped students to reach graduation, said Vanessa Alvarez Sanchez, president of the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities. She also shared a brief message in Spanish.
Dream big, she said.
“You can’t put a full life in a small dream box,” she said.
The celebration started before diplomas were handed out, with inflatable beach balls tossed by graduating students and mortar boards with possible clues to graduates’ future jobs in the wine industry, agriculture, business and psychology. Decorations included a glittery wine glass, an apple, a dollar sign and the message “I’m psyched.”
“This is your day. Enjoy. Celebrate and remember it,” Acker-Hocevar said. Then they can leave their Coug footprint on the world, she said.