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Westminster grads urged to connect literally, not just wirelessly

Published May 28, 2011 4:48 pm

Commencement • Record class of 880 told to "spend real time ... in real communities."
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West Valley City • New college graduates know all about connecting to the wireless Web, but they'll need to work for the more personal connections that make life fulfilling, a new graduate and a faculty speaker told a record class of Westminster College graduates on Saturday.

Today's youth live in a world that celebrates the self, but that frequently does so through electronic virtual reality instead of genuine human connections, said David Stanley, an emeritus English professor who gave the college's commencement address before several thousand student supporters at the Maverik Center.

"The very idea of interdependency seems passé," he told the 880 undergraduate and graduate students earning degrees.

But it is human connections, globally or in one's neighborhood, that enrich lives and bring new understanding, Stanley said. He recalled his own time teaching English with the Peace Corps in India, sweating from the spicy food and committing cultural faux pas regularly, but learning valuable lessons of tolerance and respect while getting by on $52 a month.

"Every day was an adventure," he said. The Peace Corps isn't for everyone, he conceded, but anyone can find some cause — environmental, cultural or humanitarian — that needs his or her energy.

As new graduates leave their comfort zones for new neighborhoods, cities or countries, he said, they should learn where the neighborhood hangouts are and then hang out. It's best to "spend real time, not virtual time, in real communities," he said.

Westminster's student speaker, English major Cassidy Jones, offered a similar perspective by advocating "global consciousness." Noting a moral solidarity among American students and Arab protesters this year, Jones said it's important to connect with the world's people to make a difference. She questioned the value of earning a six-figure salary while one's employer mistreats workers in other nations and said it's important to know how individual actions reverberate.

"It's so not about saving the world," she said. "It's about participating in it wholeheartedly."

Before entering the ceremony, some graduates said they attended Westminster for its small classes and weren't disappointed. Sarah Scott, 22, of Bristol, R.I., said she also came west for the snowboarding, and that worked out as well.

A finance major at Westminster, Scott said she's switching to architecture for graduate school, possibly in New England or Chicago.

"I decided I wanted to be more creative," she said. "Instead of owning the building or doing real estate investment, I wanted to design the building."

Her classes at Westminster ranged from 10 to 25 students, she said, "and the teachers are amazing, they're one-on-one."

Brad Mahoney, a 28-year-old financial analyst and new owner of a master's of business administration, said he expects the degree to pay off either at the bank where he works or somewhere else.

"First I ask my current employer for a promotion," he said. "And if that doesn't work ... ."

Before awarding students their degrees, Westminster College President Michael Bassis presented an honorary doctorate in education to philanthropist Beverly Taylor Sorenson for her work promoting arts in Utah schools.