On a wintry afternoon, Fort Lewis College hosted an indoor commencement on December 16 to celebrate nearly 200 graduates. Hundreds of friends, family members, and staff filed into the packed Whalen Gymnasium to show their love through posters, cheers, and thunderous applause.
The cloaked scholars entered the space with excitement and determination as the commencement bell rang. After President Tom Stritikus made his opening remarks, 2022-23 Hozhoni Ambassador Amber Herrod and First Attendant Aaliyah Juanico, citizens of the Navajo Nation, shared a land acknowledgment.
Stritikus, Trustee Mary Rubadeau, Student Body President Carter Rogers, and Assistant Professor of Political Science Paul DeBell addressed the graduates.
Stritikus reflected on the tenacity the graduating class showed as they braved the COVID-19 pandemic to earn their degrees. He then observed that the world needed the skills, expertise, and understanding the students had developed during their time at FLC.
"Graduates, take a breath," he said. "Soak in this awesome environment that is here to celebrate you."
"You enter a world that needs what you learned here at FLC more than ever, a world that needs people who can talk across differences, who can explain what it means to be human through art, music, and through words, who can build bridges, literally and metaphorically," he stated. "Today, when you're sitting here in the ceremony, I hope you think about what you learned about life, friendship, and diversity."
Rogers echoed those sentiments and asked the graduates to reflect on their academic careers. In their capacity to reflect, he said, they could change and grow as individuals. He then implored the graduates to show kindness to others in their post-graduate careers and hold on to their zest for life and curiosity.
"When you go forth, into the world, outside of FLC, many of you will enter careers working for various corporations and organizations where the norm is to complete your assigned duties and tasks, and there is no room to be human," Rogers said. "My advice to you is to feed your inner seven-year-old and continue to explore new things. Go now, with the tools and resources you have, and show the world what it means to be a Skyhawk."
"You enter a world that needs what you learned here at FLC more than ever, a world that needs people who can talk across differences, who can explain what it means to be human through art, music, and through words, who can build bridges, literally and metaphorically"
President Tom Stritikus
DeBell was this year's commencement address speaker. DeBell is an associate professor of Political Science at FLC, and he joined the institution in 2016. Previously, DeBell was an instructor of record and a teaching associate for The Ohio State University, focusing on American foreign policy, eastern European politics, comparative politics, and modern democratic politics.
DeBell's commencement address focused on his unlikely climb in academia from a first-generation college student to the position of professor. "Life is really surprising, as we've seen," he said. "I am not a likely professor, and certainly not a likely graduation speaker. I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Virginia. My family owned a bar and a restaurant, and I grew up working every position there from dishwasher to busboy, to bouncer, to manager, but—let's be honest—mostly dishwasher."
DeBell continued, stating that neither of his parents had the advantage of a college education. He noted that, like many Fall 2022 graduates, he left the family business to seek the opportunities that a high-quality public education could provide and the transformative effect it had on him. He told the graduates that they would be surprised by their futures, like he was, in ways that would "delight and mystify."
DeBell encouraged students to listen to others, work towards a better future, and find solutions to contentious collective action problems. "You are our future stewards," he said. "[You will be] stewards of education, culture, science, politics, business, medicine, and the environment. As you push for your own transformational changes in these arenas, I hope you come to see taking different perspectives as your superpower."
After DeBell'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.
After the ceremony's close, many graduates were an equal mix of ecstatic and melancholic. "It's crazy to think college is ending," said Sarah Schmutte (Exercise Physiology, '22), marshal for the graduating class. Schmutte, along with Margaret Cadilli (Economics, '22), had the highest cumulative grade point averages out of all the Fall 2022 graduates.
"My first day on campus was nerve-racking," Schmutte reflected. "I remember it snowing heavily. But my time here has been excellent. Since then, I've met great people and professors that have helped me succeed academically."
Schmutte, like many graduates, will go on to change their fields of study, communities, and the world in countless ways.
A recording of the ceremony is available on Facebook at facebook.com/fortlewis.