This past weekend we attended a large extended family celebration in Walla Walla, Washington where my great-niece graduated from Whitman College. Emily is a bright, hard-working student who graduated magna cum laude along with other honors. She probably would have done well anywhere, but Whitman College, a small liberal arts college in Eastern Washington, was a good fit for her and about 300+ other graduates.
The "shot of hope" came from many things. One was the fact that this institution really delivers on the "liberal" education. All the speakers at the various ceremonies I attended talked about philanthropy, giving back, collaboration, and leading a life with meaning. The commencement speaker Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) talked about the division of wealth, the haves and have-nots. The irony, of course, is that the audience was predominantly the "haves," but the encouragement of this college is to go out into the world with a conscience. Most of the graduating class has signed the Green Pledge: "To explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work."
It is hopeful to spend time around students who have really soaked up their education. One instance was going out into the field with the geology majors (Emily was one of these.) We went to Touchet Cut, where the 2 professors leading the expedition had the students educate the accompanying family members about the details and importance of this geological feature. This was obviously an impromptu quiz, but it was clear these students had an interested and knowledge in their major.
Each department had a time during the weekend for the students to display and talk about their senior thesis. I visited the geology department and the art department's graduates' projects. In the art department, the students had spent their last semester creating their project designed for a predetermined space. Each artist got a room or an entire wall for their work.
I was particularly impressed (blown away, really) by the work of Sam Alden. His piece, Coelacanth was inspired by a story about his grandfather searching for this ancient fish off the shores of Madagascar. He begins his story with an image of himself sitting on a beach watching waves, and ends with a drawing of the coelacanth. The story weaves around 3 walls of a room, all connected in four layers. I love the mix of black and white with color, reality versus imagination, process over product and imaginative use of space.
One of the many places Sam hides himself in the art
By 2:00 pm Sunday, May 20, 1012, Mike and I were so happy to have shared the wonderful weekend with Emily. We were proud of her accomplishments, enchanted with Whitman College, and full of hope for her future. After a cross country bike trip with her dad, she hopes to spend 6 months in New Zealand in an agricultural internship.