FLC students graduate in prestigious ceremony
More than 400 FLC students graduated on May 6 at a ceremony addressed by Thomas J. Vilsack, the 32nd United States Secretary of Agriculture.
The 62nd Spring Commencement Ceremony at Fort Lewis College celebrated academic achievement and new beginnings for the graduates. Ray Dennison Memorial Field on Saturday, May 6, was filled with excitement as the graduates marched across the field to the traditional song “Pomp and Circumstance” and the applause of their family and friends.
Over 400 graduates were present for the ceremony, including this semester’s graduating marshals—the two students with the highest cumulative GPA of the graduating class—Keala Bratsch (Sociology & Human Services, ‘23) and Asa Laskie (Biology, ‘23).
The ceremony kicked off with an original “living” land acknowledgment from 2023-24 Hozhoni Ambassador Suntilla Jack. Jack spoke for the land and its Indigenous people and said, “It is important for a land acknowledgment to not only remember the land but also the people and our non-human relatives. When I acknowledge the original inhabitants of this land, I am grateful. I am thankful for the land for taking care of me, and it is my duty to take care of the land."
After Jack’s acknowledgment, FLC President Tom Stritikus took the microphone. He acknowledged his peers on the platform, including the United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, ASFLC President Raina Schmidt, members of FLC’s Board of Trustees, the 2023-24 Hozhoni Ambassador Suntilla Jack, and Faculty Senate President Ellen Paul, among others. Stritikus urged graduates to take in the amazing scene, under a beautiful bluebird sky, with 5,000 of their closest friends and family members.
“Graduates, you are here because of your hard work and desire to make the world a better place,” Stritikus said. “From where I stand, I feel the collective love, spirit, and passion…The world needs you more than ever. So, go forward in this world knowing that your friends, family, and faculty are behind you.”
Stritikus yielded the stage to Paul, who congratulated the graduates on behalf of the Faculty Senate. Paul said the graduates were “stronger now and prepared for the future.” She was thankful to be a part of the FLC community and asked graduates to stay in touch with their professors as they changed the world.
Stritikus invited Schmidt up to the microphone to address her fellow graduates.
“During my time at Fort Lewis College, I gained valuable knowledge inside and outside the classroom,” Schmidt said. “I have made connections with professors and peers, who have helped me understand what it means to be a Skyhawk…As we head into this next season of transition, the education we have received does not end with our graduation. It is our responsibility to learn and grow as we move forward in our lives.”
Schmidt received a standing ovation for her speech, followed by FLC Trustee Janet Lopez's remarks. Lopez welcomed the graduates to the ceremony on behalf of the Board of Trustees, recognizing that this class survived the COVID-19 pandemic and that it was something to celebrate. She also urged graduates to acknowledge those who supported them during their educational journeys.
“Today, we want to celebrate with you and say ‘congratulations’ from the Board of Trustees,’ Lopez said. “Felicidades, Skyhawks, class of 2023.”
Lopez introduced this year’s high-profile commencement speaker: 32nd United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. In his speech, Vilsack praised the graduates for their hard work and resilience through troubling times and said the country has “never needed them more than today.”
“I am here today to ask for your help,” Vilsack said. “To solicit you, to enlist you, in an effort to transform the food system of this county. To make sure we protect our land and water resources, that we improve our soil health, that we understand the connection between soil and water and our natural resources and our very being. To incorporate Indigenous knowledge in the way in which we approach our food system. To save the planet. To create a meaningful and profitable opportunity for those who farm, those who ranch, and those who produce.”
Vilsack then explained how graduates could make a difference in America.
“Your challenge is to expand [the agricultural industry] from tens of thousands of farmers and the millions of acres… to hundreds of thousands of farmers and hundreds of millions of acres…You can improve soil health, expand the capacity to use our water resources efficiently and effectively and protect our water quality. You can encourage higher farm incomes. You can create more good-paying rural jobs, and you provide for healthier rural communities. By the way, you can work with the USDA.”
The graduates were visibly moved by Vilsack's speech, which was met with thunderous applause. After Vilsack's address, graduates received Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Master of Arts in Education degrees and certificates in Pre-Health, Geographic Information Systems, and Digital Marketing.
"Test and challenge yourself. Test and challenge the rest of us. You can change the world. You can transform rural America."
— United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
The mood on the field was electric as each graduate's name was called. They walked across the stage, receiving their diploma to the cheers of their family and friends. The ceremony ended with the traditional tossing of caps, symbolizing the graduates' transition from students to alumni.
Find a recording of the ceremony on FLC's Facebook page.