Music and the smell of sunscreen filled the air as hundreds of families and friends gathered at McArthur Field in Monmouth for the 2015 Western Oregon University commencement ceremony.
Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney was this year’s commencement speaker. He vehemently urged the 941 graduates in attendance not to be afraid.
“How do I communicate with you?” he asked. “There’s four generations between us. What do I say to you? It’s scary. I’m scared.
“But it’s not about me,” Courtney said. “It’s about you. So don’t be afraid. Don’t be like me.”
Courtney told a story of his grandmother, whom he said he entrusted with his deepest fears and worries.
“My grandmother used to tell me, ‘Worry and fear are like a rocking chair: They give you something to do, but you don’t get anywhere.'”
As Courtney spoke of good times and bad, the students listened with rapt attention.
“Don’t be afraid to lose,” Courtney said. “Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom.”
Students and members of the rest of the crowd fanned themselves with commencement programs as the sun crept higher in the sky and Courtney promised to wrap up his speech.
“Just be you,” he said in conclusion. “Be you, and be not afraid.”
Before the ceremony, students dressed in bright red robes lined up near the edge of the stadium to make their way onto the football field, waving to their loved ones as they passed. Parents proudly cheered as loud as they could when they finally got a glance at their graduates.
Ralph Hatch stood near the edge of the track, waiting for the ceremony to begin. Hatch and 15 other friends and family members were there to see his grandson, Sam Hatch, 22, graduate with a criminal law degree.
“We’re real proud of him,” Ralph Hatch said. “Now he’ll be looking for a job.”
WOU President Mark D. Weiss welcomed the excited graduates with a smile, congratulating them on their achievements and snapping a photo from the podium to post on Twitter.
The class of 1,324 students cheered intermittently as a few fellow classmates took the podium to speak.
Eli Zachary, recipient of the Delmer Dewey Award presented each year to an outstanding male student, described Western Oregon as a place he loves.
“For the time I’ve been here, WOU has really been my home,” he said. “You all have been my family here.”
Zachary urged his fellow classmates to live in the present while planning for the future.
“It’s important to plan for the future,” he said. “But this, right now, is where the action is. Don’t let it disappear.”
Kylie Roth received the Smith Award, presented to the outstanding female of the year, and told her fellow classmates not to worry about what comes next.
“If you know what you’re doing (after graduation), then congratulations!” Roth said with a laugh. “If you don’t know what you’re doing after graduation, congratulations!”
She added that not knowing the next logical step in life wasn’t bad.
“Not knowing is not failure,” Roth said. “It’s just an answer that requires research.”
Following Courtney’s speech, students were formally presented as Western Oregon University’s class of 2015, and each crossed the stage to become official graduates.
Cheers and applause filled the air as the group of 941 students in attendance concluded their chapter at Western Oregon University.
Prior to the commencement, the university held another ceremony, which announced the renaming of its health and wellness center to the Peter Courtney Health and Wellness Center.
Courtney worked for the university for 30 years. The naming ceremony had remarks from Gov. Kate Brown, former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, WOU President Weiss, former WOU President John Minahan, Dick Hughes of the Statesman Journal, WOU professor Gay Timken, WOU student Evelyn Garcia, and Courtney.