Western Grads get big send off

Dillon Tribune

by Dick Crockford

Sunny skies and an upbeat atmosphere provided a positive setting for Saturday's 113th graduation exercises in the University of Montana Western's Keltz Arena.

Commencement speaker, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told the 209 graduates to stand up for their principles and to use their energy and youth to give back and build up their communities and the nation.

In his welcoming remarks, Chancellor Richard Storey reminded the audience that a recent article in U.S. News & World Report magazine had ranked Western as the No. 2 school in the country in a listing of the top 30 affordable small colleges.

Storey generated a collective chuckle from the crowd as he noted that, since the top ranking had gone to a school in New York State, by inference, UMW must be considered "the best west of the Empire State."

He also took a moment to recognize Donna Rouse, who was honored as this year's distinguished alumnus. Rouse graduated 40 years ago from what was then Western Montana College, and has been employed by the school ever since. Officially, she is the executive assistant to the chancellor and provost. Unofficially she is regarded as liaison and confidant to faculty and students over the decades.

In her brief, tearful remarks, Rouse promised to "be here (to help students) for another 40 years." In regard to her longevity, she noted – to the delight of the audience – that it was "not true that (she encountered) Lewis and Clark camped south of town."

Also on hand for the ceremonies was Sheila Stearns, Montana's higher education commissioner. The former UMW chancellor, 1993-99, directed attention to one of the graduates, Mitchell Jessen of Dillon, who has served as the student member of the Board of Regents.

Taking just a little more than 10 minutes to deliver his remarks, Tester began by praising the nation's military veterans, and asking any in the audience to stand for a moment of recognition from the crowd. He thanked all for their service and then continued, making the same request of those who were parents of the graduates, as well as spouses, escorts and guardians, who he thanked for their support of their respective grads. 

Tester noted that the occasion was a celebration, "not of an end, but of a beginning." For some, he said, it would be the beginning of a new career; for others, the beginning of a search for a new career.

He encouraged those receiving their diplomas to use this time to return the favor and give back to society for its support of them during the course of their education over the years.

"Beginning tomorrow, he said, "use everything you've learned here, and start giving back." That "giving back" involves more than simply repaying loans, the senator said. It also means becoming actively involved and volunteering in their respective communities.

"Do what is right, even if it means bucking the norm," he said, pointing to the example of UMW professor Rob Thomas, who he said went against convention in leading the college to its innovative Experience One block scheduling program.

Doing the right thing means "standing up for what you believe in," Tester added.

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, touched on the national health care debate, saying the recently passed national health care bill will provide benefits not previously available to veterans who live in rural states like Montana.

"Rural veterans don't live as long" as those in more urban areas because of limited health care opportunities, he said. The credit for making sure the new law will look out for the needs of America's military veterans goes to those "vets who spoke up" during the debate leading up to passage and made sure the bill included provisions to benefit them, Tester said.

He took a swipe at large corporations that benefited from huge infusions of federal funds to keep them from collapsing during the financial crisis. Tester has voted against the so-called "bailouts" of such companies.

"Bail out is what you do with a leaky boat on Clark Canyon Reservoir," he said, "not what you do with taxpayer money for GM" and other large corporate recipients of federal funding during the 2008-2009 financial collapse.

"I'm a farmer, a small businessman," he said. "The notion of any business being too big to fail does not compute." The national financial outlook is slowly improving, he said.  "We are rebuilding the economy."

Tester wound up his remarks by encouraging the graduates to work in and for Montana, and to give back to society by doing public service.

"Do whatever you can do to make your kids and grandkids proud," he said. "God bless you, God bless the U.S.A"

The Class of 2010 is the third to graduate after studying fully under Montana Western's block scheduling system, Experience One, in which students take a single class at a time.

Of the 209 graduates, 30 received bachelor of science degrees in elementary education; 31, bachelor of science in secondary education; 13, bachelor of science in early childhood education; 39, bachelor of science in business; eight, bachelor of science in business administration; 17, bachelor of science in natural horsemanship; 39, bachelor of arts; one, associate of arts; 10, associate of science; two, associate of applied science in business; nine, associate of applied science in early childhood education; six, associate of applied science in equine studies; two, associate of applied science in natural horsemanship; and two, early childhood certificate.

Of those earning bachelor of arts degrees, there were three in biology; four, biological and biomedical sciences; seven environmental interpretation; 11 environmental sciences; four, literature and writing; one, pre- professional health sciences; eight, social sciences; and one, visual arts.