KENNEWICK — Celebrate. Have fun. Give back to the community. Always keep learning. Ask questions. Act.
Those are just a few words of advice given to the new graduates of Washington State University Tri-Cities during Friday's ceremony at the Toyota Center.
The class of 2011 was the largest graduating class for the Richland campus, with 438 students receiving degrees.
"Graduates, this is your day. Enjoy it. Celebrate," said Vicky Carwein, chancellor of WSU Tri-Cities.
As Pomp and Circumstance was played by the Tri-Cities Big Band, about 300 students donning caps and gowns marched into the ceremony to the cheers and applause of family and friends.
After crossing the stage and receiving diplomas, each graduate got a gift from the school -- a WSU Tri-Cities license plate frame.
WSU Regent Francois X. Forgette told graduates that they are valued by the university, by the community and by their friends and family. He encouraged them to "be lifelong learners" and give back to the community and university that has supported them.
Zixu Ha, president of the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities, reminisced with his fellow graduates about writing papers the night before they were due, hunting for a parking space on campus and having professors know them by their first names.
"Though I'm not sure that's always a good thing," he joked.
Ha -- who is known as Ha Ha on campus -- was an exchange student from China who came to town for a year in high school, grew to love the Tri-Cities and returned to get his college degree.
"We're not only graduating from WSU Tri-Cities, but we're also graduating into the community," he said. "We have many, many reasons to celebrate. ... I know we're going to do great."
Former WSU star quarterback Drew Bledsoe gave the commencement address and encouraged graduates to follow three simple steps -- learn, think and act.
Bledsoe, who grew up in Walla Walla, was the No. 1 draft pick of the National Football League in 1993 and played professional football for 14 seasons. He now lives in Bend, Ore., and owns the Doubleback Winery in Walla Walla.
He said an adviser once told him to "make every effort you can to be the dumbest person in the room, then shut up and listen."
"You don't have to agree with somebody to learn a lot from them," said Bledsoe, who is not a college graduate.
He urged graduates to challenge conventional wisdom and take the time to think and analyze things before acting.
"You're going to be the leaders of this community and other communities. If you do that, we're going to be OK," he said. "Once you've determined a course of action, have the courage to act."
During the ceremony, Tri-City Herald Publisher Rufus M. Friday received a surprise recognition from Carwein, who thanked him for his years of support and service to WSU Tri-Cities.
Friday will be leaving in June to take over as publisher at the Lexington, Kentucky, Leader-Herald. McClatchy owns both newspapers.
"Graduates, this man who stands before you -- a man most of you have never met -- has been an advocate for you," Carwein said. "He does this because he believes in you and believes in your dream."
Friday, who played football for North Carolina State University, received a WSU football autographed by Bledsoe. Friday is the vice chairman of the WSU Tri-Cities Advisory Council.
Wayne Martin, an environmental scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a member of the WSU Tri-Cities Advisory Council, also was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award.