Commencement speakers urge graduates to fight injustice

Karah Kemmerly

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Graduates waiting for instructions to be seated at the start of the commencement ceremony. Credit: Faith Bernstein.

An audience of friends and family members watched as Whitman seniors made the transition from students to alumni at the 126th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20, 2012.

Faculty members and members of the class of 1962, who celebrated their fiftieth reunion during commencement weekend, made their procession to the jazzy soundtrack of the Walla Walla Valley Band. In addition to receiving their diplomas, graduates listened to several distinguished speakers.

Among these were alumna Colleen Seidelhuber Willoughby ’55 and commencement speaker Eric Schlosser, who both received honorary degrees during the ceremony. Each of their speeches contributed to the call for political activism, focusing on the ways in which graduates could make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than they are.

Willoughby has coordinated the symposium “Women’s Education: For Living and Leadership” at Whitman since 1981, and she founded the Washington Women’s Foundation.

She hoped that graduates would make volunteer work a part of their futures.

“Carve a permanent niche in your work plan to share your talent and expertise,” she said.

As he introduced the speaker, Bridges emphasized Schlosser’s commitment to make others aware of problems.

“What is admirable about him is the way he views everything through the question, ‘What is just?’ ” he said.

Bridges reminded graduates to continue to ask questions and challenge preconceived notions throughout their lives.

Schlosser, the best-selling author of “Fast Food Nation,” also encouraged graduates to challenge political and economic injustice around them.

In his speech, Schlosser told the audience of his experiences with the workers at the Tyson meat packing plant in Pasco, whose efforts to establish a union were shut down in 2005. He claimed that they were “another America,” a group of people who deserved far more than they got.

Schlosser urged students to stand up for the rights of others.

“Life isn’t fair, but as a society, we must strive to be fair,” he said. “Instead of being perfect or pure, we need to be aware, and we need to be compassionate. Then we need to take action.”

Class speaker and outgoing ASWC president Matt Dittrich echoed these sentiments in his speech, which focused on how Whitman has prepared the graduates to face hardships and solve problems.

“If Whitman has taught us anything, it’s that everyone should lead,” he said.

Commencement speaker Eric Schlosser and President George Bridges walk along Boyer Avenue on their way to the commencement stage. Credit: Faith Bernstein.

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