A land of freedom and opportunity awaits Utah Valley Community College graduates.

That's what Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, told students during commencement exercises at the college Tuesday evening."It never ceases to amaze me what the spirit can accomplish when it's free," Garn said. "As free individuals, we can choose what to do with our lives."

UVCC President Kerry Romesburg conferred degrees and certificates on 954 students, including more than 700 from Utah County. Honorary doctorates of humanities were bestowed on Joe Cannon, Geneva Steel president, and Veonne Howlett, a former dean of general studies, who died last year.

Garn spoke about his flight aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1985, saying that as a child he couldn't even imagine soaring in above the Earth. "Yet those opportunities are available to anyone in this country," he said.

The technology explosion that has occurred in the past 30 years is one reason for such chances, he said. "It's just amazing for met to contemplate what has happened," he said.

UVCC graduates will face many more opportunities in the future, Garn said. "There are tens of thousands of jobs out there that have yet to be invented, he said.

A college diploma is just a beginning, the senator told students. "The opportunity is unlimited," Garn said.

While he flew in space, Garn said, he experienced "great feelings of sadness and anger" for those who are impoverished and those who don't have freedom to chose their life's course.

"We are seeing it now with the Kurds in Iraq," he said. Garn said if he could take Saddam Hussein into space, "I could even soften his heart."

Garn said the people need to work together to help those in need. "We are all God's children. . . . We are all astronauts traveling together on spaceship Earth."

Outgoing student body president Kelly Bitters admonished graduates to help the college "achieve it's needed transformation." Students are lobbying state officials to make UVCC a four-year institution. "So let us leave here with fond memories, but more important let us leave here with a firm determination to help this school reach its full potential," Bitters said.

Heydi C. Ferguson, valedictorian from the school of trades and industry, said college increased her desire for knowledge.

"Last year I graduated from high school with a 2.7 (grade-point average), which isn't bad, but it wasn't my best. All I was doing was getting by. Now all I want to do is learn, learn, learn. . . ."