Westminster grads take center stage at E Center
By David Burger
Lester Stephens was raised by his grandmother in the Mississippi Delta and had no role models or encouragement to pursue a college education.
But he was able Saturday to flip his tassel from the right to the left and walk across the stage at the E Center in West Valley City, during Westminster College's commencement.
The graduation produced more than 800 graduates from 19 countries. Ten years ago, the liberal arts college graduated 476.
Among the new graduates holding bachelor's and master's diplomas was Stephens, an Iraq veteran who was surprised during the ceremonies by winning the Neisen R. Bank Memorial Award, given to a student for academic performance, citizenship, extracurricular achievements, personal talent and the ability to overcome personal challenges.
Before Stephens walked into the E Center with his classmates accompanied by the drums and bagpipes of the Utah Pipe Band, he spoke of his initial plans to attend the University of Utah after receiving his honorable discharge at Hill Air Force Base.
But a casual visit to the green and welcoming campus of Westminster College convinced him he wanted to attend the smaller school, Stephens said, because of its "intimacy, rigorous academic environment and collegial" atmosphere.
On Saturday, Stephens picked up his Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, in political studies.
It was an internship with Sen. Orrin Hatch where he saw the impact public servicecan make in society, and learned he wanted to make his own positive impact. He plans to attend graduate or law school.
Making a positive and civil impact on the world was the theme of commencement remarks from Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities Jim Leach, a former 15-term congressman from Iowa.
Citing the toxic environment of partisanship that has enveloped Washington, D.C., Leach told the students to always continue to seek knowledge. He referenced the Scriptures, which instructs followers to be quick to listen, but slow to speak. It was the graduates' duty and "social imperative," Leach said, to heal divides and rancor between the differing sides of the aisle.
Native Nebraskan Hans Romo delivered the student address and echoed Leach's sentiments on the importance of working together, with open ears and open hearts, for change. During his Westminster education, Romo helped organize a group of students who traveled to New York as part of an Interfaith Diplomacy Mission.
It was there Romo met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Romo found the meeting frustrating because there was no real dialogue or opportunity to exchange views, he said.