Young bids farewell to University of Utah graduates; Albom urges investment in relationships

Published: Friday, May 6 2011 4:40 p.m. MDT

University of Utah graduating students line up for the 2011 annual commencement ceremony on Friday.

Laura Seitz, Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Outgoing President Michael Young gave his last graduation address to more than 7,000 University of Utah graduates and their supporters gathered in the Huntsman Center on Friday.

Young is leaving Utah to take the helm of the University of Washington.

"I'm inspired and hopeful," he said, looking out over the vast audience of graduates dressed in black and red. "We're in the presence of tomorrow's greatest artists and dancers. … I see future winners of Nobel prizes."

Young said he was honored to "have shared these years" with the faculty and student body at the school.

The U.'s Class of 2011 includes 7,416 students. A total of 8,064 degrees were awarded, 5,412 of which were bachelor's degrees and 2,652 of which were graduate degrees.

According to the university, more men than women graduated this year, with 3,982 and 3,434 earning degrees, respectively.

Best-selling memoirist Mitch Albom, author of "Tuesdays With Morrie," gave this year's commencement address. The celebrated sports reporter and author didn't give the gowned students advice on how to become successful professionals, but advised them to spend their lives giving — the theme of his non-fiction work about his relationship with an ailing, favorite professor.

"We forget the people who make us the kind of people who can have that kind of success," he told the graduates and their supporters. "You must invest in those relationships while you're here if you want them to go on ultimately when you're gone."

Albom reconnected with his professor, Morrie Shwartz, 16 years after he graduated from college. At the time, Albom's professor was dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease.

"If you lead your life as he did, making time for people … then when you die, many many years from now, you won't be 100 percent gone. You will live on," Albom said.

The 2011 graduates hail from 49 states, 70 countries and 28 out of Utah's 29 counties.

The department with the most graduates this year was economics, followed by psychology, mass communication, human development and family studies and nursing.

Student speaker Lara Ramos Galas said her degree is something she'll treasure; it's something her father never had the chance to get. Galas said her father came to the United States from Mexico in 1972 and has worked hard to instill in her a commitment to learning.

"Although my father was never able to access formal education, he continues to remind me about the power and the responsibility that comes with education," she said.

The oldest undergraduate member of the Class of 2011 is 71, and the youngest is 19. The average age of undergraduates is 25, and the average age of students receiving graduate degrees is 31.

Humanities graduate Chialing Hu, who was suiting up outside the Huntsman Center prior to the procession, said she was excited to be done, since serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prolonged her education.

"Finally," she said. "Since I went on a mission, my mom feels like I've been in school forever."

Five people were awarded honorary degrees at Friday's commencement, including local developer Ellis Ivory, who was presented an honorary doctorate of business.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, a former biochemistry professor at the U., received an honorary doctorate of science for his research in molecular biology and his 2009 Nobel Prize for mapping the atomic structure of ribosomes.

Joyce Rice received an honorary doctorate of humane letters for her service to the U.'s School of Music and for her philanthropy.

E. Parry Thomas received an honorary doctorate of business for his foundational role in supporting and developing the Las Vegas casino industry and for transforming that city into an entertainment mecca.

Albom was also presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters for his "extraordinary skill as a columnist and sportswriter."

While presenting the honorary degrees, Randy Dryer, chairman of the University of Utah Board of Trustees, thanked Young for his service before issuing him a warning.

"I assure you we will show no mercy to your Huskies when they visit next year on the gridiron."

The prestigious Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence was awarded to Peter Armentrout, a professor of chemistry. The $40,000 gift is given to a faculty member who displays excellence in teaching, research and administrative efforts, according to the university.

Email: mfarmer@desnews.com

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