By Laura Fosmire
June 14, 2014
At Western Oregon University’s commencement ceremony, President Mark Weiss started things off by snapping a picture of the crowd on his cell phone.
“Hang on, I just learned what a hashtag is,” he said, as he proceeded to tweet the picture out, eliciting a ripple of laughter from the crowd.
More than 800 students attended the ceremony on Saturday, held in the university’s McArthur Field under a cloudy sky. Friends, alumni and proud families filled the stands to capacity, eager to share in their children’s celebration.
“For most of you, today is the attainment of a dream,” Weiss told the crowd in his welcoming. “A goal of obtaining a college degree.”
Students and family alike were encouraged to memorialize the event on social media, with the university even sanctioning the official #WOUgrad hashtag. Many students decorated their mortarboards; others wore colorful leis. At a few points in the ceremony, the graduates began tossing a massive, brightly-colored beach ball above their heads.
Weiss pointed out several characteristics of the 1,266 students who were graduating this year and the more than 800 of them who attended the ceremony. Fifty-eight percent of them were women. Their youngest graduate was 20 years old; the oldest was 65. Almost every Oregon county, many states and 11 countries were represented among them.
Diversity was a theme among Saturday’s speakers. Delmer Dewey Award recipient Anthony Medina told the students a story about his grandfather, who would use the Spanish word for 14 in place of a curse word. Medina quickly picked it up, as did many of his classmates in Gervais.
“Instead, when times get tough, we should say CA-torce!” he said, heavily emphasizing the first syllable. “And never give up. It is only fitting that on the 14th day of June in the graduating class of 2014 to say CA-torce! We did it!”
Commencement speaker Corina Valencia-Chavez was a member of Western Oregon’s graduating class of 2000 and now works as the principal of Swegle Elementary School. She promised to keep her speech short, saying she knew what the graduates wanted most was to go and celebrate with their friends and family.
“Today is about you,” she said. “To celebrate the journey through the last four years — or five — and the rest of your lifetime. Go back to your earliest childhood memory. What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you accomplish this? Did you change your mind?”
Valencia-Chavez then went on to dispense several pieces of advice.
“Be willing to accept and embrace change,” she said. “Because you will inevitably grow and transform into a stronger person. Value your college degree and experience. Because of skills I gained here at WOU, I found the passion to make a difference in my community.
“And make sure you laugh and smile every day,” she added with a grin, going on to quote the popular saying: “Don’t take life too seriously. No one ever gets out alive.”