2004 Class Speaker

Sarah A. Norris '04

Thank you President Thomas, Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, and most especially, my fellow graduates. President Thomas, I would like to say on behalf of your first graduating class at Puget Sound that we are thrilled and proud to have you as our new president.

As I look out into this remarkable gathering of graduates, I recognize a tangle of emotions. We are excited to be participating in a long-awaited capstone event in our lives. We are proud to have completed four challenging years of core classes, major requirements, and even the dreaded Science in Context core. We are anxious at the thought of parting with incredible friends. We are scared of those first interviews, finding jobs, making new contacts, deciding on graduate programs, and of growing older.

Two Nobel Peace prize Laureates who received their prizes a century apart would understand these tangled emotions. Peace prize winners Sir William Randal Cremer and Shirin Ebadi serve as examples of educated people with very ordinary backgrounds who overcame their individual fears to make profound changes.

In 1903, Sir William Randal Cremer won the Nobel Peace Prize for his life-long work in creating an International Arbitration League, aimed at resolving international disputes civilly and democratically in sovereign courts of law. In his Nobel lecture, winner Sir Cremer said, “ It may be that for a long time some nations will continue to fight each other, but the example of those nations who prefer law courts to the battlefield, must sooner or later influence the belligerent powers and make war as unpopular as pugilism (or the sport of boxing) is now.”

I believe Cremer would cringe in absolute pain if he witnessed the staged antics of spandex-clad actors in the former World Wrestling Federation. But apart from an obvious disdain for boxing, Cremer believed arbitration, paired with arms reduction and inter-parliamentary unions was the means to international peace. Apart from his international efforts, Cremer was a member of the British Parliament, had rallied 70,000 workers in protest at workplace conditions, and formed an Inter-parliamentary Union between France and the UK that exists to this day. Interestingly, Sir Cremer grew up in poverty, supporting his mother and siblings as a carpenter. Rather than asking his family for money for college, he attended lectures at a local university where he first learned of arbitration.

While Cremer won the Nobel in 1903 for international efforts, Ebadi won the Nobel for her courageous work representing underprivileged, discriminated native intellectuals in Iran. Like Cremer, Shirin Ebadi came from humble beginnings but graduated from Tehran University’s Faculty of Law in 1969 and began a career of assisting those without a strong voice or an education. Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in advancing democracy and promoting human rights for children and women in Iran.

As an attorney, she represented families of murdered intellectuals in Iranian courts, where she was arrested and imprisoned in 2000 for “disturbing public opinion.” Ebadi is the first Iranian and first woman from a Muslim country to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Both Cremer and Ebadi acted during turbulent eras, where the balance of international power was changing rapidly.

In Cremer’s time, people were subjected to colonialism and imperialism, yet human rights institutions like the Red Cross were emerging. European powers still controlled African, Asian, and Caribbean lands and the first of two world wars was imminent.

In Ebadi’s time, we are subject to threats of terrorism, environmental demise and still, systems of inequality exist. While classic imperialism has ended, modern methods of slavery like prostitution, indentured servitude, migrant worker exploitation, and prisoner abuse are rampant. Globalization, a term every graduate here is intimately acquainted with, is the current political economic system, exciting both staunch advocates and highly active critics.

The early 1900s and 2000s are each characterized by turbulent and often violent change. But in spite of these exigencies, both Cremer and Ebadi embraced their humble starts, educated themselves, and adopted principled methods of thinking to act in honorable ways.

Graduates of higher education, these figureheads started out similarly to our class of 2004. Whether through heated debates at our campus Diversion’s cafe, through detailed readings about cellular respiration in our beloved Bio 101 books, or through detailed note-taking during a history class, students at UPS are engaged in learning and their educations to the fullest.

At UPS, a college education means more than the fulfillment of requirements towards a perfunctory degree for a specific job. Education at Puget Sound is a comprehensive yet tailored one, resulting in more complex processes of thought, more meaningful absorption of information and perhaps most importantly, more personal connections with faculty and staff.

These factors are specific to a liberal arts school where a holistic approach to education results in a greater and deeper understanding of multiple disciplines, their intersections, and their competing explanations. A pre-med Bio student critiques 16th century peasant life, a business major theorizes on cultural change in rural Asia, a Communication major discusses the concepts of freedom in America, and a Politics and Government major writes a thesis on AIDS education in Africa.

Clearly, a student at Puget Sound does not select one track of study, but he or she specializes in cross-disciplinary understanding, tolerance, flexibility, and the examination of personal and societal values.

I believe that as UPS students, we have been bequeathed certain motivations, ideals, and the proper tools to be better world citizens. We have been very well-educated at UPS and know that our decisions have outcomes, and through our ability to think critically about our surroundings, we can make better-informed decisions. Whether one is a CEO of a large firm and weekly donates to a food bank, or a teacher at a local elementary school and teaches students about recycling, each graduate knows that it is within his or her power to affect constructive, though maybe small, change. Few UPS students have not volunteered for an organization or movement, or in some way given back to their community. I think that the spirit of giving back is learned throughout life, cultivated at UPS, and that in the future will serve not only ourselves, but our world well.

To embrace our education, in the spirit of Cremer and Ebadi, we will engage in what small ways we can to ensure that we leave every place, every neighborhood, every work environment, better than we found it. Further, we will give back in acts of thankfulness for the sacrifices of those who worked to get us here. Indeed, someone has made a sacrifice for each graduate sitting here today, whether it is the sacrifice of the graduate, a parent, a grandparent, or a trustee. And it is in our awareness and appreciation for these sacrifices, that our class will embrace our more humble beginnings and educations to create positive lasting changes of our own.

For after we throw our funny looking hats in the air, after our family dinners tonight have ended, after we say goodbye to those here who we love, after we (hopefully) take some sort of necessary relaxing vacation, we will begin to ask ourselves, “What action is it incumbent upon me to take, to make a difference.” And we will know what to do: because we have learned! Like Cremer and Ebadi, we have the wisdom to want to make a difference and the courage to do so as well.

Congratulations, class of 2004…this is just the beginning.