The Eastern Oregon University campus was busy Saturday with excitement as students, faculty, friends and family gathered at the college’s Community Stadium to participate in, and witness, one of the largest classes the La Grande-based institution has ever graduated.
More than 400 students graduated during the school’s commencement ceremony, and because of the school’s robust online program, some of the students who graduated were stepping foot on campus for the first time.
The two keynote speakers were David Panuelo, a 1987 EOU graduate who is currently a representative of Pohnpei in the 20th Congress of the Confederated States of Micronesia, and Presidential Scholar Charlotte Bowers, who was graduating with a degree in history.
“It is with great pride that I say Congressman Panuelo is a Mountaineer,” EOU President Tom Insko said during the ceremony. “He is a seasoned diplomat who has spent over a decade representing his nation and government in various high-level settings across the Asia Pacific Region and throughout the Americas and European continents.”
While a student at EOU, Panuelo wrote a letter to the president of Micronesia, urging leaders to establish a trust fund to ensure the financial readiness of his nation. Insko said that as a Micronesian congressman, Panuelo has worked with other members of government in growing that trust exponentially.
He is also a member of a committee that will review the Compact of Free Association, a treaty between Micronesia and the United States that allows citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and allows citizens visa-free access to the United States to pursue education, work and establish residency.
As a student, Panuelo said he didn’t do well his first year at EOU because English isn’t his first language. He said he stayed up late on a regular basis reading non-required books so that he could learn the language.
“I never read so much in my life,” Panuelo said.
He also attended student retreats, and though he was nervous about speaking in English during these retreats, they turned out to be good experiences for him.
It was at EOU, Panuelo said, that he found his passion. Taking philosophy and political science classes inspired him to love learning.
During his senior year, he took a career-writing course that motivated him to turn his passion into a profession.
It was during that course he realized he wanted to pursue a career in international affairs.
“EOU has transformed my life and has allowed me to do what I am doing now as (a) congressman,” Panuelo said.
Panuelo urged students Saturday to do the same.
“Turn your passion into your profession,” he said.
With an educational journey that led her to three schools in three different states, it wasn’t until her first term at EOU that Bowers found her passion — history.
It was her first assignment in her first history class at EOU, History 203, that made Bowers realize she’d found her intellectual home.
“I turned in my first essay in History 203 and got an entire paragraph of feedback written on it saying, ‘This is really well written but this is where you can improve.’ This was only a one-page essay,” Bowers told The Observer in an interview Friday.
At that point she still wasn’t sure what she was going to major in, but that feedback was exciting and her enthusiasm for the discipline grew from there.
“That sort of was an indication that the professor was excited to see what I would do next, and that was very encouraging,” Bowers said.
At commencement on Saturday, Bowers told students she realized upon preparing to leave EOU that she knew less than she thought she did two years ago when she took her first class at the school.
“And I’m thrilled,” she said. “There’s so much I don’t know yet, and that’s always exciting.”
“Big dreams are worth having,” she said. “Dream enormously, imagine outrageously, but remember to act. The future is an infinite succession of presents.”
Thanking family, friends and faculty members who helped her throughout her journey, Bowers said the greatest lesson she learned as a student at EOU is to ask questions.
Bowers urged students to love the questions themselves, and not to limit them by coming to conclusions until a thorough investigation is completed.
“You must let your questions guide you,” she said.
Bowers said there may be times when they’re afraid to ask questions, and they will have to make difficult decisions in order to answer those questions.
“There will be times when it will be difficult to tell what is right from wrong,” Bowers said. “Embrace it. Love the questions. Be willing to stand up for them. To challenge things because you didn’t have all the answers.”
Bowers told the graduating class of 2017 that they now have the tools, voices and vision for a bright and open future.
“We have to work boldly and powerfully from this moment of commencement for that future,” she said.
Source: Google News : http://www.lagrandeobserver.com/news/5390135-151/eastern-sends-off-senior-class