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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Joanna Ahleen, center, Nils Myrin and John Flores line up to march into the Huntsman Center for the U.'s graduation.

Thousands of University of Utah graduates were told Friday to pursue their passions, going forward to solve some of the world's greatest problems.

"I encourage you to be active, rather than passive citizens, in every way," advised Nobel Prize Laureate Mario R. Capecchi, who delivered this year's U. commencement address at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. He commended the former students for their achievements, but also commissioned them to now "work harder."

"No matter how talented you are, success always requires hard work," he said, adding admonitions to be generous and aware of how they impact the world. Capecchi singled out global warming as "a real phenomenon" and something that takes moral courage to correct.

"Our earth has a fever and the fever is climbing," he said. "The problem is before us and the challenge is to do something about it ... I urge you to be bold, passionate and creative, and be good stewards of our fragile earth."

In its 139th annual commencement, the U. conferred degrees on 7,331 graduates, who come from 73 different countries, 50 states and 26 of Utah's 29 counties. Ages of the grads ranged from 18 to 82, and included members of all 15 of the U.'s diverse colleges as well as bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees.

Student speaker Luciano Pesci reminded his graduating class of the obligations that accompany the privilege of graduation, offering his family's dictum, "Sempre Avanti," which means, in Italian, "always forward."

"I take away one great lesson from this university: No human system is self-sustaining; all need the stable hand of a steward," Pesci, a history and political science grad, said. "As graduates, it is now our obligation to perpetuate the knowledge we gained during our time here and to maintain this institution, which has given all of us a greater chance at life."

Among multiple distinguished faculty members who were recognized and awarded during the ceremony, history professor Robert A. Goldberg was presented with the Rosenblatt Prize.

The $40,000 gift is the highest honor bestowed on university faculty.

U. President Michael K. Young said Goldberg's "effectiveness and popularity have been described as legendary," adding that the eight-time published author and researcher is wholly deserving of the prestigious award, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

Honorary degrees were given to Claudia Skaggs Luttrell, Kent H. Murdock, David G. Neeleman, Dinesh C. Patel and Capecchi.

Welcoming the class of 2008 as alumni, Alumni Association President J. Spencer Kinard told graduates to do their best "to separate appearances and reality.

"Like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, you now have the brains to help you sort it all out," he said. The new class joins nearly a quarter-million U. alumni around the world. The accomplishment, Kinard said, is "real."

"It's been a long time coming," said public-relations graduate Ashley Campbell. "It feels like the biggest relief of my life." The 25-year-old said that although she had to work full time to put herself through five years of school, "it was totally worth it."

Friday's ceremony will be rebroadcast today at 5:30 p.m. on the university's public channel, KUED and can be found online at kued.com.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com