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Commencement speakers urge graduates to continue work for social justice

June 10, 2014

  • Kim Stafford, director of the Northwest Writing Institute

Graduate Campus

At the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling commencement, faculty and student speakers lauded the Class of 2014 as teachers, counselors, writers, and listeners, all focused on social justice.

Dean Scott Fletcher opened the ceremony with a nod to community at Lewis & Clark, thanking the friends, family, and faculty who helped graduates earn their degrees.

“Everyone gathered in this room has both given and received,” he said. “They have both lent a helping hand and stood on the shoulders of those who came before.”

Kim Stafford on the purpose of writing

This year, the graduate school chose to feature the nationally recognized work of one of its own professors, Kim Stafford, director of the Northwest Writing Institute. Stafford is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry and prose, and he is the literary executor for his father, award-winning poet and former Lewis & Clark professor William Stafford.

“He is an inspiring writing teacher,” Fletcher said of Stafford. “He can capture the grace of poetry as an everyday writing practice on Monday, and by Tuesday have students creating a multimedia presentation involving film, photography, and music.”

Stafford asked graduates four questions that probed the roles of teachers and counselors, and the place of writing in enriching their professional development and personal growth. Aspiring teachers and counselors know they must learn to write reports, case conceptions, and intervention plans, but Stafford encouraged graduates to also carry writing into their personal lives through journaling and poetry. 

“Writing is a school we carry with us, an interior seminar in meaning and purpose,” he said. “By writing we learn to welcome a democracy of ideas.”

Stafford explained that while his father, a conscientious objector during World War II, earned worldwide recognition as a peace advocate, he first learned to make peace with himself. In closing, Stafford united the purpose of a teacher and counselor with that of a writer and poet.

“You are a teacher because, helplessly, you love the invisible future thinly disguised as a child who does not yet know her hidden gift. It is up to you to create conditions where these wonders may be revealed.”

Rebecca Taplin on the power of voice

The student speaker, Rebecca Taplin, Master of Arts in Professional Mental Health Counseling ’14, centered her address on the meaning of voice. Conscious of the emphasis on social justice at Lewis & Clark, she reminded her peers that the status that comes with their degrees privileges their voices above others.

“Justice can never mean just one voice,” she said. “It is the voices we most need to hear that have been suppressed.”

Weakened voices come in the form of a child who comes to school in unclean clothes and gets bullied, Taplin continued, or a woman who copes with mental illness while facing the stigma that she is weak or silent. She charged her peers with amplifying these voices.

President Barry Glassner suggested that the Class of 2014 can live out this goal with passion and empathy.

Said Glassner, “You acknowledge that the future is not an inevitable result of the present, but something that can and must be made better for everyone in our society.”

Caleb Diehl ’16 contributed to this story.

Watch the 2014 commencement ceremony

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