Facing the future

by Shirley Wentworth Photos by Julie Trivers | For the Tidings

ABOVE: Universidad de Guanajuato Award recipients, Linda Richards (center) and Len Jacobson (right), are honored as Outstanding Graduate Students at SOU's commencement ceremony held Saturday.

FRONT: SOU graduates listen to speakers during the commencement ceremony.

A little boy walked before the bleachers singing "ba bom bom ba bah" in time with the horns.

Charcoal and cream clouds hovered over the hills surrounding the Rogue Valley while more than 1,000 students awaited culmination. About 260 were undergraduates; another 280 were graduate students.

Two of those students won the Dankook Award, an honor that commemorates the 30-plus-year friendship with Dankook University in Seoul, Korea, an honor which is reciprocated at its graduation ceremony with the Southern Oregon University award. The awards are based on scholarship, leadership, citizenship and character.

Garrett M. Liggett, graduating with a 3.9 GPA and a bachelor's in performance, is considered a talented actor and was recognized early on as an exceptional student. He was recognized as Dankook Outstanding Undergraduate Male Student.

Sharon V. Bywater, graduating with a double major in geology and German end with a 3.9 GPA, is the Dankook Outstanding Undergraduate Female Student. She's won numerous awards and did diverse projects that broke new ground in Southern Oregon's tectonic history and also focused on ethnic cleansing in the Sudetenland after World War II.

Two more of those students won the Universidad de Guanajuato Award for Outstanding Graduate Students. Guanajuato is another sister city, and the awards are reciprocated the same way as the Dankook awards. They are based on both academic work and service to the campus as well as the larger community outside.

Lennart C. Jacobson, also graduating with a Master of Management, went beyond surviving the program to contributing to it, and is known for his recognition that every person making a difference every day is what promotes change for a better world.

Linda M. Richards, also graduating with a Master of Management, also won this award for her innovative social activism. She is well-known in Southern Oregon for both a commitment to peace, justice military veterans.

All graduates got advice before walking away with their diplomas.

Don't get stuck, warned Howard Sohn, member of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education.

Before reaching that conclusion he congratulated SOU for inviting the community into the difficult process of making budget cuts in a time of absolute necessity. He also went on to say that too few Oregonians continue with education after high school and that university enrollments are too low, but did not address the ever-spiralling cost of college tuition.

He urged the class of 2007 to keep on learning, adding that life doesn't really allow one to stop learning, but one can always blow it by ignoring or letting pass by chances to learn more.

"Recognize that all your biases and opinions have been formed in the first fifth of your life," he said. "Don't get stuck there. Keep on learning.

"And don't take too seriously everything you hear from your elders, like this one," he concluded.

When Mark Twain received an honorary degree, he acknowledged how far he'd come to attain the honor. Then he confided he was also crazy about the clothes.

So is Virginia Linder, the SOU alumna and recently appointed Oregon State Supreme Court Judge, who related the anecdote in her keynote address. The clothes &

the cap and gown regalia &

symbolize one of the most important transitions in life, she said, this commencement, which is to start off with a purpose.

That problem is one a befuddled Oliver Wendall Holmes faced on a train when he couldn't find his ticket. He said although railway personnel assured him that once he found his ticket, it was fine to just send it on. Holmes said, "The problem is not 'Where is my ticket?' The problem is "Where am I going?'" Linder used that anecdote to illustrate problems facing new graduates. The degree is the boarding pass, not the destination.

Thinking about what to say in a keynote speech and thinking about what she wished someone had said when she graduated, she talked to friends in her age bracket with successful careers. They more or less had similar experiences and from that she extracted three insights.

The first is that none of them are doing what they expected to be doing after graduation.

One friend, she said, made it a point to ask herself every four of five years if she was doing what she wanted to be doing. The answer was that she was always doing something she wasn't expecting to be doing, but was doing something better.

"Our futures have been bigger than our issues and our future is bigger than our past," she said.

Linder acknowledged the second insight is something of a clich&

233;, but even while she doesn't like her work every day, the one thing she and her friends have in common is that they are passionate about what they do.

She recalled how she had worked as a ski instructor on Mount Ashland as a young woman, observing how frequently little kids learning to ski fall versus the adults who do not fall every day. The adults are more risk aware and also have farther to fall.

Her third insight to share, Linder said, "You can't achieve anything without taking risk." Even after picking oneself up out of hard knocks the catch is that you can't ever stop taking risks and the second catch is that it gets harder to do so, she said.

She exhorted them to realize their futures will always be big if they let them be big and if passion wanes, go find it again.

Most of all, she said, keep asking, "What would I do if I weren't afraid?"

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