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Westminster speakers tell grads to heed their 'inner soul'

Published June 2, 2012 9:15 pm

Westminster • WordPerfect co-founder speaks to college's largest graduating class ever.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Valley City • The largest class to ever graduate from Westminster College on Saturday heard commencement speakers channel former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who spoke at a different commencement shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago.

"I love what Steve Jobs said, our time here is limited, and we should not waste the time we have living our lives according to what someone else dictates," Bruce Bastian, who co-founded word processing software firm WordPerfect, said after receiving an honorary doctor of humanities degree from the private liberal arts college.

Bastian's remark, and a nearly identical observation by Kimberly Cheney, a 2012 Westminster graduate chosen by a commencement committee to deliver the student address at the ceremony, echoed Jobs' famous advice to graduating students at Stanford University in 2005. Jobs, who died in October, never let the opinions of others smother his intuition. His famous sixth sense led to the iPod, iPhone, iPad and other innovations.

Bastian, who was introduced by Westminster President Michael Bassis, has been a Utah business and gay rights icon for more than 30 years. Yet, as he told 947 graduating seniors gathered at the Maverik Center, his life and career would have turned out differently if he had listened to the advice of friends and family.

Upon suddenly being fired as director of the Brigham Young University marching band six months short of receiving a master's degree in music, Bastian switched his major to computer science. Later, he joined forces with Alan Ashton, a BYU computer science professor, to write the software code that would later lead the pair to establish WordPerfect in 1978.

WordPerfect, Bastian said, "led the way in changing how people communicate. The idea of writing something electronically led to email and perhaps to texting.

"Had I not decided to take a chance, to follow my own gut, WordPerfect would never have happened," Bastian said. "For whatever reason, our inner soul ... knows what is best for us. Our task is to learn how to listen to that and follow that."

Cheney's road to the podium on Saturday started four years ago when she decided not to attend the University of Utah, where many of her family members had matriculated. Instead of a large university setting, she opted for Westminster.

"I just knew it was right," Cheney said before the commencement began. "It's a community. It's intimate and personal, and yet there are tons of opportunities, just like a huge state school."

One of those opportunities surfaced almost immediately. Cheney became a student mentor to incoming freshman students. She kept it up until last December, when she had completed her coursework in business marketing. The experience shaped her career plans. Now a part-time adviser at Utah Valley University, Cheney plans to pursue a master's degree in educational administration next year.

"I have been so blessed in my education experience, and I want to help others to have those same experiences," Cheney said.

Bassis will retire this summer after 10 years as president of Westminster. During his tenure, the size of the graduating class has grown from 586 to 947. Nine of this year's graduates received degrees from both Westminster and Nankai University in China. The nine were the first students to enroll in the dual-degree program.