2005 Class Speaker

Cleo K. Peterson '05


President Thomas, members of the Faculty, Graduates of the class of 2005, Family and Friends:

What do Go-Go Gadget, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mr. Roger’s Land of Make Believe and the University of Puget Sound all have in common? They are creations or creators of imaginary and idealized worlds.  They are also products of the imagination of people who care about the community around them and feel the need to create heroes and heroines for its aid.  For some of you the idea of being a hero may seem silly and outdated but I guarantee that you are in fact the most prepared, apt and needed members and leaders of this society.

As obvious products of Puget Sound, the graduating class of 2005 will now enter into the real world of work and adulthood where inspectors are merely human, turtles don’t talk and the “Mr. Rogers” of our youth have tattoos.  But I beg of you all, keep your imagination and preserve the ideals of your youth for two reasons:

  1. because everyone’s path meanders in their search for purpose in life and
  2. because the world needs leaders who are inventive, and can see the world as it could be and not just as it is.

The first reason is an obvious one.  For example, as an incoming student, I began my studies in art.  I soon switched to International Political Economy, then to Economics and finally found myself back to my original major with a French minor.  Looking into the faces of my classmates, I can imagine similar journeys.  Our paths meander because the pursuit for contentment in our life-work is not easy to find but I’ll give you a hint.  A definition my father always uses is this:

“Where the world’s greatest need and your greatest joy intersect is where your purpose lies.”

Although I’m at the same point you are in trying to figure out what my passions are, it’s not a bad vision to pursue.  In fact, it’s a subtle reminder that the world in which you live needs you as much as you need it.

The second reason for retaining your imagination is because the world needs leaders who will be as inventive in their “real-world” occupations as you have been in your studies, independent projects, theses, senior recitals, art shows and theatre productions.  The positions we hold post-graduation will be looking for fresh faces and new energy to serve as reminders of the idealized culture you’ve experienced at Puget Sound: a culture that respects its community members, that listens to every voice and that supports the values of diversity and sustainability in politics, society, economics and the environment.

Now I want all of us to step back and stroll down our own memory lane.  Make believe for a moment that we are back in 2001.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself those 4 years ago.  Maybe you’re a little bit cleaner, more conscious of what you look like and just a little, insecure.  Start with the day you first moved into the dorms.  Nervous?  Anxious?  Can’t wait for your parents, brother and sisters to leave?  Think of the first time you actually met your roommate or roommates- the worries you had about whether or not you would get along, the fear that you would lose touch with friends from home, or the worse fear that the place you’ve just moved to, is not where you’re supposed to be.  Next remember the first few days of Orientation.  For me, the vision of sitting in Thompson for a day of Prelude is very clear.  I met one of my best friends in that room, who was also the person I clung to at Passages because neither of my roommates was on the same schedule as I.  More nervousness and anxiety.  Then the process of registration and meeting with advisors, dorm get-to-know-yous, ice breakers and all the information you should have read in the Logger, before getting written up for the first, second or third time!  (Don’t worry parents, we’re all still graduating!)  …The rest of Orientation actually feels like a blur to me- because all of my emotional energy was spent within the first few days of school.  Now open your eyes.  Two weeks later…September 11th and the world never to be the same.  Within 24 days of our moving to college, one of the most devastating events in American history took place.  Just like for our parents’ generation of “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” or “when man walked on the moon?”  The proverbial question “where were you on 9/11?” will be asked by our children.  Most of you were at the University of Puget Sound, thousands of miles away from New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania, yet very much touched by the powerful aftermath of those events- (events that still to this day divide a nation).  Now imagine yourself within the last year.  Returning from summer, excited for school, yet scared and maybe a little nervous all over again to start the new transition ahead of you.  The last time you registered for classes, may have been the awakening moment, or maybe the last test you took or lecture you had –or maybe it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that we’re done…we’re graduating… and moving on from this place.  We’ve also seen changes in the last year that will mark history.  For example,

  1. the latest presidential election, which for most of us was the first we’ve ever voted in
  2. the beginning and continuation of the war with Iraq and Afghanistan,
  3. the Red Sox finally winning the World Series
  4. and the most recent, tragic and devastating Tsunami.

When the memory of these events comes back to you, you’ll remember yourself as the college student you were, with the rest of your life ahead of you.

But wherever you go with your life, I challenge you to remember where it was that you came from and the role models who helped shape you, into the person you are today.  The same is true for the University of Puget Sound.  You have been shaped by this community and culture.  In my experience, that culture is one that includes: all the courses I’ve taken, the people I’ve known and the general atmosphere of the Puget Sound community.  In more ways than you may have realized, we created this culture.  As you all know, the atmosphere of this campus changes every year with an incoming class of students, whose members are responsible for creating the UPS culture and making it as unique, diverse and as intricate as we are.

For me, starting a new club called Conspiracy of Hope that hosts an annual week-long service event was my way of expressing my passion for volunteerism.  UPS provided that opportunity and through ASUPS, the President’s office, Student Development and many other departments, the vision we all had came  to  fruition.  I am convinced that opportunities such as this abounded for you as well, whether they were through summer research, independent study, Greek leadership, student development, freshmen orientation or student government.  We made this college what it was during our time here and we were expected to take out of this University, what we wanted.  Wherever our imaginations took us, we had a supportive environment to see those visions through.

The other aspect of this idealized world at Puget Sound is that you have been taken care of and waited-on, for four years.  Whether you’ve appreciated it or not, nowhere else will you have breakfast, lunch and dinner always ready, your bathroom always clean, parents and scholarships helping pay your way so you can focus on your studies, and departments solely in existence for your comfort, health, enjoyment and academic success.  The energy, effort and money this institution has put into you as an investment is huge.  To this school and the people who have helped you through it, you are a work of art and like a sculpture you have been chipped at and ground down into, again, something unique, diverse and intricate.  In many ways this school has only refined you into who you are.  Remember that clean, nervous freshman four years ago?  That same person is here today but instead of nervous and insecure, you sit here with confidence, as free-thinkers, ready to take the initiative in your academic, life and career success.

Remember those first few words of advice:

“Keep your imagination and preserve the ideals of your youth.”

Not only for the sake of the institutions and careers you now enter, or for the society at-large, but for your own sake,  for those of us who are constantly creating and falling back on plan B…plan C…maybe even plan D.  Your imagination is going to be vital in figuring out: what exactly it is you want to do, what brings you joy and where it is the world needs you most.  If I had to define activism, that’s what it would be.  And like go-go gadget, you have acquired various and important tricks up your sleeves:   tricks that include a life-time membership to a library, references from the leaders of your fields, and a continual dialogue with the institution that you now leave.  Like Ninja turtles, this school has instilled in you those ideals of justice, diversity and sustainability.  And like Mr. Roger’s Land of Make Believe, the University of Puget Sound has reminded you that a community incorporates all the members of its neighborhood.

So go meander and find that job, career, or lifestyle that not only fulfills the passions of your heart, but serves the greater needs of this world.  The return on everyone’s investment lies in your capabilities to passionately and fervently carry out what you’ve learned from this small and idealized community.  Inspector, turtle, puppet or painter, you have the tools and the ability to do it and to do it well.  Congratulations class of 2005 and good luck as you follow that exciting and, at times, courageous path.