CEDAR CITY — Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, warned the Southern Utah University 2010 graduating class that commencement is not a time to look back, but forward on the challenges of life during a recession.
"You're going to a world that will be very, very different from the somewhat protected world of a college campus," he told the graduates. "You're going to be facing a world where there is no textbook that you can turn to to find the answers and challenges that will call upon everything that you have learned while you are here — not specifically facts, but skills."
Bennett spoke to students about the challenges of "America's commencement" during early colonization. He said despite the current state of the economy and potential problem students may face finding work, there were many times in America's history when Americans faced similar or worse conditions.
"How would you like to have your commencement occur during 1861 when America was sundered apart over (slavery)?" he said. "Those were difficult times that would make your present difficult times looking for a job in the middle of a recession look pretty tame."
Bennett also told the graduates a lesson that his father, former Sen. Wallace Bennett, taught him when he started school at the University of Utah.
" 'The reason I am sending you to college,' he told me, 'is to learn how to think,' " Bennett said. " 'You will forget many of the facts you've learned in the classes you take. … If you learn how to think, that is what you'll take with you for the rest of your life.' "
Bennett said he is confident that students will have to change careers and skills in their lifetimes, and said if they had learned "how to think" during their education, they would be prepared to do so.
"You are entering into a world with great uncertainty and challenge. Don't fear it — embrace it," he said. "… Americans have always prevailed because of their faith and determination."
SUU President Michael T. Benson selected the senator as the commencement speaker. The senator, who is in a fight for political survival, was met with significantly less protest than SUU's commencement speaker last year — President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Benson said Bennett has provided contributions to SUU, including securing federal funds for a new Shakespearean Festival theater and providing internships in his Washington, D.C., office to SUU students.
"There is no one who has been more supportive of our efforts at Southern Utah University than (Bennett)," Benson said. "(He) has delivered time and again for higher education generally and for SUU specifically."
Benson was awarded an honorary doctorate of public service degree by the university. Also honored was former Utah First Lady Norma Matheson, who was awarded a doctorate of humane letters.
Also speaking at the ceremony was 2010 SUU graduate Alyssa Sanders, a communications major from Mt. Pleasant.
Sanders contrasted Bennett's "real-world" message with one of school spirit and continuing on as "true T-birds."
Sanders encouraged new students in attendance to meet a new student every day, to become involved in the different clubs and activities on the SUU campus. While attending SUU, Sanders was involved in the university's radio station, Power 91.
SUU Alumni President Mark Russell concluded commencement by welcoming the 2010 class to the alumni association.
The class, largest in SUU's history, included 1,817 graduates from 48 states and nine countries.
Russell echoed Sanders' words about the "uniqueness of the SUU experience."
"Here in the West we sometimes think something is better simply because it is bigger," he said. "Never confuse the size of one's football stadium with the quality of his education."