Speakers to Graduates: Take Personal Responsibility
“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility—a recognition on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world.”
A similar message ran through remarks to graduates at the Thirty-Eighth Annual Commencement for the Juneau campus of the University of Alaska Southeast on Sunday, May 3, 2009. That message was to take some responsibility for the state of the world and society and see what you can do to make positive change. Chancellor John Pugh opened the two hour ceremony quoting President Barack Obama, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility—a recognition on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world.”
Associates, Bachelors and Masters degree graduates in business, liberal arts, environmental science, marine biology, social science, education and other programs witnessed the commencement address of 88- year old Katie Hurley. The Chief Clerk of the 1956 Alaska Constitutional Convention urged graduates to: “Get involved with your government. Go to meetings. Get active. Write letters to the editor. Talk to your legislator.” Hurley’s speech was largely an Alaska history lesson. She fondly reminisced her time beginning in 1940 as a clerk-stenographer and then Chief of Staff to “EG” Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening.
“He was from the East coast and he was an intellectual, Harvard graduate. I was from Juneau. I’d never seen the New York Times, and now we got it in the mail!”
In a post-commencement interview Hurley, who went to secretarial school instead of college said, “It was like I was being given a college education just working for him. He took the time when I asked questions to tell me all about it. I was like a sponge.” She remembers him most importantly as a mentor and progressive statesman. “Gruening was on a first name basis with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He spoke five languages.”
Student speaker Forest Kvasnikoff quoted Martin Luther King is his speech, “We will all have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Kvasnikoff issued a directive to his graduating class peers. “You have been given, by virtue of your graduation here today, the opportunity to tackle some of our society’s, indeed our world’s troubles and hardships.”
Hurley later noted that she had not seen young people as enthusiastic about civic involvement since John F. Kennedy was in office. “I was at the Democratic Convention when Barack Obama was nominated and it was thrilling.”
The Chancellor closed his remarks with faith in the graduates as Alaska marks a half century of statehood. “I am confident that the graduating Class of 2009 can pickup the torch and guide us through the next 50 years.”
Juneau Regent Kent Fischer conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree on UAS advisory board member and foundation trustee Laraine Derr. Sitka Regent Robert Martin conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree on Marlene Johnson. After introductions in Tlingit, he noted her work to insure the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act through Congress.
UAS conferred 300 degrees (Associates, Bachelors and Masters) and 48 certificates and endorsements. Fewer than one-third of the Class of 2009 or roughly 80 graduates participated in the Juneau campus ceremony. “Traditionally about one third of the graduating class walks at graduation,” said UAS curriculum coordinator and degree specialist Peter Sommers. “But this year some Summer 2008 and Fall 2009 graduates from out of town who wanted to come back for commencement said they couldn’t afford it due to the economy.” Thirty-four UAS Sitka and nineteen UAS Ketchikan students received degrees and/or certificates at ceremonies in Sitka May 1 and Ketchikan May 2.
L to R: Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Laraine Derr, Commencement
Speaker Katie Hurley, Honorary Doctorate of Laws Marlene Johnson