106th Whittier College Commencement Ceremony

Friday, May 22, 2009

The 106th WHITTIER COLLEGE COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY took place at Memorial Stadium under a brilliant Southern California sky on May 22. More than 350 graduate and undergraduate students smiled anxiously and soaked in the sun's rays, waiting for their opportunity to walk on stage and receive their diploma.

Keynote speaker Dr. Marian Wright Edelman—noted children's rights activist—provided the Class of 2009 the needed inspiration and advice for life post-graduation.

 

 "As you leave this wonderful place, I hope you will wander off the beaten career path, and help redefine success in the 21st Century. Asking not 'How much can I get?', but 'How much can I do without and share?' Asking not 'How can I find myself?' but rather 'How can I loose myself in service to others?'"

In addition, Dr. Wright Edelman advised students, "Don't fail to listen to the genuine within yourself. If you cannot hear it, you will all your life spend your days on the end of strings that somebody else pulls. There are so many noises and so many competing demands in our lives that many of us never find out who we are. Learn how to continue your silence and be quiet within yourself so that you can hear the pounding of the genuine within yourself, and then be able to hear it in other people."

In his poem, Notes on the Future of Love, written for Whittier College's Class of 2009, Poet Laureate Emeritus Al Young provided a sobering view of the future and challenged the class to create a brighter day.

"In your cozy time zone, sandwiched now somehow
between Iraq and another place hard hit,
where do you come down on the future of love?"

 

 

 

Taking her turn at the podium, student commencement speaker Martina Miles '09 reflected on how she became a Poet.

A Sense of a Story
 MARTINA MILES '09 
STUDENT COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER

This story starts like so many classic stories do: with "once upon a time."

Once upon a time, we stepped with tentative feet out of the familiar and walked, with increasing confidence, through our years at Whittier, to arrive finally today on this grassy field of accomplishment.

This is a good story and if I have had any achievement here at Whittier it is learning that the world is shaped by such stories. At Whittier we are not Poets solely because of our mascot but because we are taught to fashion ourselves into the characters we wish to be. We are taught how to write ourselves into being and if you are here with me today, you are already the author of your own life. 

This season at colleges around the world, countless other students just like us are marching across stages to mark the end of their particular college tale. But I believe that we here have been given something that makes us unique amongst those thousands: the knowledge of our active role in our story.

At Whittier, we have been taught that life is a narrative and, moreover, we have been given the pen with which to write ourselves into that narrative with all the force of our diverse disciplines. This is an incredible privilege.

And it is also a huge responsibility, because we now owe it to each other to craft ourselves in honor of the noble goals of our institution. As Whittier graduates, we have all benefited from passing amongst each other the shaking light of learning on that scared first night. We have all had our candles sheltered and nourished by the wealth of our faculty's amazing intelligence. We have all felt that flame strengthen as we blew into it with the conviction, compassion, and inclusivity of our Quaker forbearers. And we have all used the passion and ingenuity of our peers to add kindling that fire and watched it grow into an inferno. 

And as a fire requires constant fuel to remain alight, so too does Whittier's flame demand our continued attention. It is our lives that provide the fodder for this school, our actions that give it purpose and worth, our futures that give the college a future. So we owe the students who will touch the wicks of their own candles to that communal flame; we owe the faculty and staff who devote themselves to tending it; and we owe this community that built it together. 

I hope that we can live up to this responsibility, that our actions can reward Whittier as much as Whittier has rewarded our action. There is no greater challenge that we face than to act on our potentials because it means becoming the best selves we can, envisioning our ideal stories and writing our lives to lead there. It means writing in ink and admitting that there is no eraser available when we make mistakes. It means honestly recording where our stories are taking us and reevaluating the plot if it does not match our goals. It means, in essence, being accountable to ourselves, our best selves, the selves we have created here. It means continuing, always, to grow, to evolve, to scroll the paper down just a bit further, and continue to write.

So I want now to say "happily ever after." I want now to close this chapter, call this the end. As people we crave symbolic endings; the end tells us what the story means, where the middle was, and lets us advance into the unknown myth of the future. So though we may recognize that this ending is truly just a new beginning, it is an honor to stand with you all today in the warmth and glow of our communal flames and commemorate, celebrate, and close the story we have written together.

Moreover, she challenged her fellow graduates to live up to their potential.

"It means honestly recording where our stories are taking us and reevaluating the plot if it does not match our goals. It means, in essence, being accountable to ourselves, our best selves, the selves we have created here."

In her Charge to the Class of 2009, President Sharon Herzberger reminisced on the day, four years ago, that she welcomed the Class of 2009; she too was new to campus.

President Sharon Herzberger 
May 22, 2009

Where did all the time go? I have been saying this to myself a lot this spring. Just four years ago I welcomed many of you to this campus, feeling a little fraudulent, since I had barely arrived on the campus myself. We were newcomers together. Some of you have spent two or three years here. And some have been with us for just one year. It doesn't matter; we are all Poets now. 
As you leave this stadium today, know that time will fly past again. One day before you know it, you'll be returning to Whittier College for your fifth reunion, and then your twenty-fifth and then your fiftieth.

Those will be joyful occasions. In the meantime, I charge you to make us proud, and your faculty and I have full confidence that you will.

We have watched you at work and at play. We have seen your talents on the stage, in the classroom and studio, and at poster sessions and academic talks. We have watched your determination on playing fields and courts and in the pool, in leading organizations, and in service to others. And we have shared in the joy of celebrating your achievements at award ceremonies and in hearing about the graduate schools and careers you are about to enter.

Our College's namesake, John Greenleaf Whittier, was once much like you: young, ambitious, and full of possibility. But by 1870 he was an older man who had accomplished much. He was venerated as a poet, helped give birth to a political party that became the party of Abraham Lincoln, and had seen his work as an abolitionist come to fruition following the Civil War. At this time of his life, he looked to the future, and in his poem “My Triumph” he applauded those who would come after him, and exhorted them to accomplish even more. Mr. Young, at the risk of embarrassing myself, I will share a little bit of what he wrote.

...Let the thick curtain fall;
I better know than all
How little I have gained,
How vast the unattained…

Others shall sing the song,
Others shall right the wrong, —
Finish what I begin,
And all I fail of win…

Hail to the coming singers!
Hail to the brave light-bringers!
Forward I reach and share
All that they sing and dare.

The airs of heaven blow o'er me;
A glory shines before me
Of what mankind shall be, —
Pure, generous, brave, and free…

Poets: on this 106th commencement day, I charge you, the graduates of Whittier College, to continue the legacy of our namesake, our founders, and the extraordinary alumni body that you entered a few minutes ago. You were privileged to attend a college that stands for something.

The education you received here has helped you develop respect for community, for service, and for learning, working, and living with people of all backgrounds and all circumstances, and for listening to each other and finding common ground. You have the means to achieve much in this life you have been given; go forth and make us proud.

Congratulations, Class of 2009. 

President Herzberger cited the diverse and unique accomplishments of this graduating class that consists of scholarship winners, fellowship awardees, athletes, musicians, artists and of course poets.

"The education you received here has helped you develop respect for community, for service, and for learning, working, and living with people of all backgrounds and all circumstances, and for listening to each other and finding common ground. You have the means to achieve much in this life you have been given; go forth and make us proud."

Media Coverage

Whittier Daily News

Commencement Ceremony Slide Show/Video

- pictures taken by Tatiana Shabelnik

- pictures taken by Steven Burns

- Marian Wright Edelman Video

- Al Young Video

- Martina Miles Video

Multicultural Graduation Celebrations

- Latino Graduates Celebration Video
- pictures taken by Steven Burns