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'You chose me over Lady Gaga,' USU graduates told

By Ted Hegemann

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 7 2011 9:48 p.m. MDT

Overcast skies didn’t dampen the mood Saturday morning as thousands of graduates received their bachelor’s degree at Utah State University.

Friends, family members, and dignitaries were on hand to recognize and celebrate with the students.

“It feels incredible,” said graduate Lichelle Slater. “It’s such a relief that it’s finally done.”

“After 18 straight years of schooling,” said Caitlin Scrobel, “it feels great to finally be done and be a graduate.”

The commencement speaker for the 124th graduation ceremony was USU alumnus Dr. L John Wilkerson.

Wilkerson received his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Utah State.

Following the advice of his professors he continued his education at Cornell, where he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in managerial economics.

Wilkerson began his speech by jokingly commending graduates for choosing him over Lady Gaga, referring to a concert Saturday in Madison Square Garden featuring the singer.

He advised graduates to emphasize passion, culture, mentoring and options in their careers.

“Put organizational culture at the top of your list when making a career decision,” Wilkerson said. “Join forces with people who have goals you share, then go forward and slay competitive dragons together. Imagine the joy of working with people you can’t get enough of.”

He said there is a difference between passion and excitement or enthusiasm.

“Our lives are an expression of our passion,” he said. “Passion doesn’t leave you a choice. I have left careers because of a lack of passion.”

Wilkerson was born and raised in Elko, Nev. He said growing up in a humble home served him well as he began his education and business experience.

“My upbringing made me work harder and shoot high to prove to myself and others that I could compete,” he said in an interview. “I fought above my weight class, as the saying goes.”

He said USU was a perfect place to get an education and transition into the real world.

Wilkerson has been a business leader in the field of medical products.

He has served on numerous private and public boards in the United States and abroad.

His personal interests are far ranging, and include education, conservation, community health and the arts.

He is a past president and executive committee member of the New York City-based American Folk Art Museum, and he sits on two museum advisory boards: Cornell’s Johnson Museum in Ithaca, N.Y., and the Kluge-Ruhl Museum in Charlottesville, Va.

He was recently chosen to be on the national board for the Smithsonian Institution.

In addition to his devotion to art and art education Wilkerson is passionate about humanitarian causes.

“My childhood friends and later my friends in college, many of them international friends, came from similar backgrounds as me,” he said. “That feeling of being the underdog has attracted me to good causes and made me want to do my civic duty by helping others.”

Currently Wilkerson is dedicating his efforts toward Global Poverty Project (GPP), which works to help young people to change unjust government and corporate policy. Their goal is to eradicate poverty in our lifetime.

Dr. Wilkerson received an honorary degree from USU.

Additional doctoral honorees included C. Hardy Redd, ranching and environmental activist and a supporter of religious studies; Syng-il Hyun, long-time supporter of learning and democracy in South Korea; Karen Haight Huntsman, philanthropist and community volunteer; and Mike Dmitrich, retired legislator and lifelong devotee of higher education.

There were 3622 graduates receiving their bachelor’s degree, representing a rich diversity of background. There were graduates from nearly every state and 22 foreign countries; most from China, with 250 graduates.

The most popular degree was Economics with 340 students. The next three most popular were Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education, Interdisciplinary Studies and Business.

The Valedictorians were as follows:

Jon. M. Huntsman School of Business: Curtis Fairbourn

College of Agriculture: Jason Clark, who was also the student speaker.

Caine College of the Arts: Catherine Hatch

College of Humanities and Social Sciences: Rachael Jaggi

College of Natural Resources: Caleb Kauffman

Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services: Ali Hadfield

College of Engineering: BJ Randall

College of Science: Erinn K. Harris

Ted may be contacted at TedHegemann@gmail.com

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