The future now awaits the hundreds of newly-minted college graduates who walked across the stage at California State University, Stanislaus, received their diplomas, and moved their tassels from right to left on Friday morning.
“We celebrated this university’s 50th anniversary in a huge way — we made it our graduation year,” said Chelsea Oliver, who received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing and was the student speaker for Friday’s ceremony.
Some students will go on to grad school. Others have jobs lined up. Some will enter a job market with increasingly limited prospects.
But all three speakers at Friday’s commencement ceremony implored students to put their degrees to good use and give back to the world they live in.
“Do not think of it (your degree) as a way to change your life, but as a way to change the world,” Oliver said.
Leon Panetta, director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, invoked former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his keynote address.
“You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give,” Panetta said, quoting Churchill.
Before assuming his role with the CIA, Panetta founded the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at CSU Monterey Bay. The institute encourages civic engagement, something Panetta referred to as a cornerstone of America during his remarks. He urged students to become citizen-soldiers, to stand up and be counted, and to pursue solutions to the many issues facing the world today.
Panetta soberly listed the sort of world problems graduates must work to solve, ranging from poverty, disease, and injustice to the collapsing economy and the oil spill ravaging Louisiana.
He also invoked the two wars America is currently engaged in, and referenced the “very real threat of” terrorism at home and abroad. The CIA has lost 12 of its members this year alone, Panetta said, bringing the total loss of CIA life over the life of the institution to 102.
“The bottom line is that there are no easy answers,” Panetta said. “There are no easy solutions to these problems.”
But just because problems are tough doesn’t mean graduates can turn away from the issues, according to Panetta.
“It’s your duty to give something back to your country because of what it gave you,” Panetta said.
Panetta told how, as the son of immigrant parents, he learned the value of hard work early. He grew up washing dishes in restaurants and picking walnuts in orchards, and it was only through education that Panetta was able to become director of the CIA.
“Education gave me the opportunities to do things I would never have imagined I’d be able to do as a young boy in Monterey,” Panetta said. “And your education will give you the same opportunities.”
Mark Lazari, 22, of Turlock saw first hand the value of his hard work Friday when he was named this year’s Metzger/Geiger Award winner, recognizing Lazari as holding the highest undergraduate grade point average of the graduating class. Lazari, a Chemistry major and son of immigrant Assyrians, has parlayed his 4.0-plus grade point average into a seat in the University of California, Los Angeles materials science engineering graduate program, where he will study medical imaging.
Also proving the value of hard work was Kamalpreet Gill, who at 19 was the youngest CSU Stanislaus graduate this year. She graduated from Manteca High School at age 16 and graduated Friday with a bachelor of science in Biology, with her eyes now set on medical school.
Commencement speaker Marc Lamont Hill, an anthropologist of education at Columbia University, author, and commentator on Fox News – “on the visiting team” he joked – also implored the new CSU Stanislaus graduates to aim high, and to change the world.
“I’m going to graduate in 15 minutes and you already want me to fix the world?” Hill joked, imitating students.
He challenged students to not settle for simple answers to complex problems. He implored them to act bravely, to listen carefully, and to remember truthfully.
“It’s easy to be a charismatic speaker,” Hill said. “It’s difficult to be a charismatic listener.”
Through having an open mind, through understanding the past and caring about the future, real change can happen, Hill said. Anyone can become anything, and we can make of this world what we want to, he said.
“I do not have to be what I once was,” Hill said. “We do not have to be what we are now.”
But it takes real effort, Hill said. Changing the world isn’t something that can be done lackadaisically.
“We live in a world where activism is sometimes reduced to posting a YouTube video or clicking the ‘Like’ button on Facebook,” Hill said. “It’s not enough.”
The future requires hope, Hill said. Not the sort of blind optimistic hope that gets bandied about these days, but a dedication to fight in spite of challenges and to hope, to know, that one day things will change.
During his speech, Hill asked the first generation college graduates in the audience to raise their hands. Nearly half the new graduates’ hands shot up instantly.
“That’s nothing short of amazing,” Hill said. “That’s what hope does.”
Friday’s ceremony awarded degrees to students in the colleges of Business Administration, Human & Health Sciences, and Natural Sciences. Today students in the colleges of the Arts, Education, and Humanities & Social Sciences will graduate.
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