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Class of 2002 walks the walk

Family and friends packed the Rose Garden for three hours to watch 2,000 graduates stream across the two-lane stage in a very timely and uneventful manner. The PSU 2002 graduation ceremony proved as routine and anticlimactic as the commencement speech from Miss America.

Local media attended the June 16 ceremony in anticipation of protest, boos and a hot story following weeks of controversy surrounding the choice of Katie Harman as commencement speaker.

Instead, Harman was greeted with applause and delivered a speech in which she focused on her work with breast cancer patients and largely avoided the topics of Sept. 11 and the Miss America pageant.

The graduates themselves captured the spotlight in their lively decorated caps and gowns and five seconds of fame on the Rose Garden’s Jumbo-tron.

“Graduates – term papers are done, finals are over, you can relax – it’s your day,” Jim Lussier, representative of the Oregon University System State Board of Higher Education, said.

One graduate summarized the general feeling of relief when he screamed “hallelujah,” while another seemed more interested in the conversation he was holding on his cell phone than the actual ceremony.

The numerous speeches, including a somewhat muffled one in which President Berstine related PSU diversity to the events of Sept. 11, seemed to delay what everyone was really waiting for: the walk.

“My hope is that you will take your experiences at PSU, including the lessons of Sept. 11 and use them to form a greater sense of community and an appreciation for diversity,” Berstine said. “A great city, great university and a great student body – that is our vision.”

When the graduates finally began to walk, the audience became livelier than when the Blazers approach 100 points in a game, which guarantees fans a free chalupa from Taco Bell.

The graduate and undergraduate students filed in two lines according to their departments and took turns exiting stage left and right after their names were announced.

In the words of student representative and speaker Targol Saedi, the accomplishments of the class of 2002 symbolized the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

“A journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step … we have already taken that step,” Saedi said.

The youngest graduate taking the step was 18-year-old music major Heather Johnson and the oldest was 77-year-old Virginia Lee, who graduated with a degree in psychology.

The difficulties that the announcers had pronouncing hundreds of names illustrated the diversity of the student body that represented 47 states and 37 countries.

Harman, who represents all 50 states as the reigning Miss America, talked about her campaign against breast cancer and the journey that both she and her father took to go to college.

She shortly mentioned the Miss America pageant and indirectly addressed critical voices that disapproved of her selection as commencement speaker, citing her lack of life experience and college degree and the stigma of the Miss America pageant.

“I believe that Portland State is in fact a leader amongst colleges and universities in fostering excellence through the acceptance and celebration of unique ideas, opinions and backgrounds,” Harman said. “I believed in the program’s (Miss America) mission of scholarship and service, and decided to pursue this course.”

Anticipated protests both outside and inside the Rose Garden Arena did not take place. Harman left as peacefully as she came.

David Fitzpatrick, president of the alumni board of directors, also known as “Mr. PSU,” joked about the unique opportunity of having “Mr. PSU and Miss America at the same graduation.”

The students and the fathers in attendance received numerous standing ovations since graduation and Father’s Day fell on the same date.

At the end of the ceremony, family and friends gathered outside the arena to take pictures and congratulate the class of 2002.