PULLMAN – Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins urged graduates to discover their own truths and live by them as he presided at his final Pullman commencement ceremonies Saturday as the university’s president.
Rawlins, who has served as WSU president for seven years, is retiring.
Elson S. Floyd, formerly the president of the University of Missouri system, will assume the presidency May 21.
Rawlins told graduates that “I feel a little like I am graduating with you,” reflecting on his 52 years as a student, faculty member and administrator in higher education. He said that in those years he had learned the importance of discussion about differing ideas and values.
“The clash between competing explanations is not a problem. It is the catalyst for learning,” Rawlins said.
He talked about that principle as it related to the campus discussion surrounding the installation of Jim Dine’s sculpture Technicolor Heart on campus in 2004. He said he had the opportunity to discuss the work with Dine before it was placed on campus.
“I must admit that if it had just popped up on campus, I would have thought it was a pretty strange thing,” Rawlins said. The sculpture provoked a lively debate in the letters to the editor section of the campus newspaper; at one point, someone draped it with a sheet marked “Return to Sender.”
Now, he said, the heart has become an important campus symbol.
But while judgments about art can be subjective, he said, there are some principles in life that are unchanging. To illustrate that point, he asked the graduates to close their eyes and try to point north.
He asked students to decide, “What are your truths, what is your north, what are the principles that will guide you?” and he urged them to live by those principles. “There is no denying that you are what you do.”
Rawlins addressed students at the first and third of the three commencement ceremonies that made up the 111th spring commencement on the Pullman campus. About 2,300 students participated in the three ceremonies.
Mark A. Suwyn, a WSU alumnus and NewPage Corp. chairman of the board and chief executive officer, addressed graduates at the midday ceremony, urging them to be willing to take chances in pursuing life’s many opportunities.
Suwyn discussed the rapid rate of change that had taken place in the 40 years since he had left WSU with his doctoral degree, and he predicted that change would only accelerate for this generation of graduates.
“You all face an extraordinarily exciting future that, while impossible to predict, is going to be fantastic,” Suwyn said. “So given that, what is my advice? It all boils down to a simple thought – if a door opens, go through it!
“I have watched different people over the years as they have been presented with potential change and opportunities. I have been a little dismayed at how many chose to ignore, shun or slam the door shut on these, potentially life-changing opportunities. I have also had the excitement of watching people reach out, swing the door open and grasp new, potentially scary assignments and have their life dramatically enriched,” Suwyn said.
Jason Doss, president of the Graduate and Professional Students Association, and Zach Wurtz, president of the Associated Students of Washington State University, addressed graduates at all three ceremonies.
WSU Spokane held its commencement ceremony on Friday. WSU Tri-Cities will hold its commencement Friday (May 11); WSU Vancouver’s commencement is scheduled for May 12 .