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May 3, 2007

Commencement 2007: Pitt confers 6,000 degrees

Pitt’s Class of 2007 was told by the nation’s first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that patriotism is not an ideal but a way of life, and that unity does not mean unanimity, nor does disagreement mean disloyalty.

Regardless of students’ differing positions on the Iraq war, “You have kept your campus discussions and debates civil — not personal. Productive — not destructive. You are not afraid of opposing points of view. You are strong-willed, but you are tolerant,” said Tom Ridge, who also is a former two-term governor of Pennsylvania and a decorated Vietnam War veteran.

“My sense is that most of you don’t look at a map of the country and think in terms of red and blue, which is unfortunately the prevailing political view of the world. My sense is that you think of your country more in terms of red, white and blue,” said Ridge to loud applause.

“And that’s exactly the way that it should be.”

Ridge was addressing a Petersen Events Center throng who gathered April 29 for the commencement ceremony marking the University’s 220th year. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of public and international affairs as part of a ceremony performed in full academic regalia and with the customary pomp and circumstance.

Although by tradition commencement speakers advise new graduates on how best to go out into the real world, Ridge said he could offer no such advice to a class already steeped in “remarkable and tremendous things: your achievements, your insight, your intellect, your plans and your perspectives. Frankly, I’m kind of blown away by the quality of this class.

“And so, I’m not here this afternoon to talk you out of anything, or talk you into anything. I’m not here to advise or direct or try to persuade,” he told the packed audience at The Pete.

Ridge cited steady volunteerism, voter registration efforts, charity fundraising, and empathy and support for victims of tragedies as examples of the compassion and political involvement of the newly minted graduates.

“You’ve shown that you already know that, now more than ever, our responsibilities to one another as citizens must reach from a world crisis to an individual need,” Ridge said. “They truly must extend neighbor to neighbor, campus to campus, community to community in the United States, which is clearly the greatest community ever formed.”

Neither could Ridge deliver the “big scoop” to graduates that there is a growing global economy, since members of the Class of 2007, about one-quarter of whom have studied abroad, already are well aware of it, he said. “You’ve shown through your studies, travels and activities on campus that you are already engaging with others internationally,” Ridge noted.

“We all know deep down that the world is calling this class forward. We live in a global community, and we thrive and must thrive on a global economy,” he said. “Our graduates know that America’s opportunities and challenges are inextricably linked to our common bonds with other nations and on the understanding that we are all citizens of the world.”

That means political, social, economic and security issues are not the sole domain of the United States and that no one country has a monopoly on democracy, he said.

“The language of freedom has its own brave, boundless vocabulary for all those who want it. And the advancement of that language — the vocabulary of peace, stability, prosperity and human rights — relies on graduates who sit before us today,” Ridge said. “Just think: What you, as a global community, might be able to achieve together. What you, as global citizens, might be able to solve together. That’s why I thank you and applaud you for embracing a global view. It will get you far, particularly given the digital reach of a high-tech world — in which you are all very, very comfortable.”

The multi-tasking “iPod generation” also needs no advice on fostering and staying plugged in to the rapid pace of technology, Ridge maintained.

“You download, upload, chat, surf, text, Facebook, IM, Skype, YouTube. And what amazes me is that you do it all at the same time! You already value technology for all it offers — for the way in which it helps us manage our day-to-day lives, conduct trade and travel, secure the country, carry out our jobs and stay connected in a truly global world.”

Technology inexorably leads to innovation and advances opportunities, particularly in a digital, global environment, which is why this generation of students has immersed itself in it, Ridge pointed out.

“For a class that has shown itself to be compassionate toward others, actively engaged as citizens, globally minded and digitally linked, you don’t need anyone to tell you about the importance of staying connected to your families, your friends, communities, nation, world, even yourselves,” Ridge said, adding that his own insight into the importance of connectedness arose from the daily letters his father sent to him in Vietnam.

“Finally, there is something that I’m not sure you do know — most of us never will: the way in which your lives will impact others well into the future,” Ridge said. Future generations will look back with pride on the contributions of the Class of 2007 graduates, he predicted.

“I’ve heard it said that we’re not here to see through one another; actually, we’re here rather to see one another through,” Ridge said. “Over the last several generations, and certainly over the past six years, we have seen one another through many things — some have been very uplifting, some have been very challenging. But our ability to see one another through has been incumbent upon the common bond and must be sustained.”

He concluded by offering one small piece of advice: “Revel in your accomplishments today, and it’s okay to marvel at yourselves for all you will do tomorrow. Believe me, those who love you already are.

“As for now, graduates, congratulations. Have faith, have fun and have hope. And know that your country is safe, free and blessed, and that you do truly have a wonderful future ahead.”

Chief University Marshal John J. Baker, president of the University Senate, opened the ceremony, leading a procession of faculty, staff, the Council of Deans, trustees, administrative officers and graduating class members in full academic regalia.

Prior to the conferral of degrees, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg asked for a moment of silence for victims of the recent Virginia Tech shootings.

Pitt Board of Trustees Vice Chair Suzanne W. Broadhurst, director of corporate giving for Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, presented the citation lauding Ridge’s career as a public servant as part of the honorary degree-granting ceremony.

Doctoral degree candidates were called to the stage individually by the deans of their respective schools for hooding, that is, conferral of the highest academic degree.

Andrea E. Youngo, Omicron Delta Kappa Senior of the Year Award recipient, spoke on behalf of the graduating class. Her talk was followed by an address from Brian Generalovich, president of the Pitt Alumni Association, who welcomed the newest alumni.

Music was provided by the symphonic band, under the direction of Jack R. Anderson, Pitt director of bands.

This year the University conferred approximately 6,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, including 422 doctorates, to students on the Pittsburgh campus, and approximately 1,000 undergraduate degrees to students on the Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville regional campuses, which hold their own commencement ceremonies.

—Peter Hart

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