As students in PSU’s largest graduating class ever (6,180) prepare to receive their degrees later this month, I find myself awed by the stories of the paths they’ve traveled to reach this point. While I cannot relate them all, I did want to share one that is simultaneously poignant, inspiring – and illustrative of the wonderful students we serve.
In a piece prepared for PSU’s annual scholarship reception last month, Larrita Riggs, a young Navajo woman, writes:
“Growing up, my family hauled water and wood, because we didn’t have running water and electricity. Productivity for our family meant always being physically active, whether it was chopping wood, tending to the horses, or cleaning around the house. Throughout high school, I did most of my homework in the bathroom— with a flashlight, when my family went to sleep—because I didn’t want them to worry.
Reflecting upon those experiences, what I remember above all is having the choice to go to college, even though none of my family members had that choice before. I struggled most about leaving the songs, stories, ceremonies, and the traditional ways of our people.
As the first in my entire family to leave the reservation, I asked my grandfather what he thought of this. In our Diné language, he said, “Granddaughter, You are carrying a lighted torch of fire through a canyon, through an unknown place, for our people to follow. Our people can be educated and we can hold on to the songs, stories, ceremonies and traditional ways for many generations to follow.”
Larrita, who turned down a full Ivy League scholarship to come to PSU, goes on to say she has been “transformed” by her experiences here at Portland State and that she will be “forever grateful” to those who helped pay for her college education “for carrying the torch through the canyon” with her.
Selected Highlights for the Year:
As we wrap up another successful academic year, I share Larrita’s sense of gratitude – in my case, for the essential role each of you plays in making our students and our university successful. Despite continued strained resources, this has been another great year for PSU.
Faculty continued to make significant contributions to scholarship and the creation of new knowledge in areas ranging from stem cells to computer graphics to life in extreme environments. More faculty, staff and students of color joined the campus community, enhancing diversity and inclusiveness. The number of honors students was also up, having more than doubled in the past two years, and the average GPA for new entering freshman increased for the third year in a row. Progress continued on efforts to provide students the tools they need to be successful, through degree mapping, expanded advising and career services and a new more proactive approach to resolving financial holds that will help students stay on track for graduation.
The Provost’s Challenge and the larger reTHINK process were also hallmarks of the year, with more than 1,000 faculty and staff engaged in brainstorming about ways to make our educational services more flexible, interactive and affordable. Ten of the ideas that came out of this process (including new ways to award credit for prior learning, development of electronic portfolios to assess student learning and establishment of select online degrees) have now received one-time funding to allow for implementation. The larger reTHINK effort will continue to be developed in the upcoming academic year.
We also have much to be thankful for on the fundraising front. At the time of this writing, philanthropic support for the year-to-date totaled more than $35M. Among major gifts included in the total are a $7M gift for expansion of the School of Business, a $5M gift for the Viking Pavilion/renovation of the Stott Center and a $2.3M gift from Arlene Schnitzer for the College of the Arts glass tower.
Although the legislature has not yet made its final decisions regarding capital funding, we are optimistic that we also will receive state-backed bonds for the SBA project and, potentially, for renovation and expansion of the Stott Center.
Town Hall and Year-End Reception:
I hope to see all of you at our end-of-the year Town Hall next Tuesday, June 11, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 pm. in the Smith Ballroom. Provost Andrews and I will provide a recap of the academic year, while Vice President Monica Rimai will offer a brief budget update. These presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer session and a food-and-beverage reception.
I hope as many of you as possible also will join me on June 16 to honor our graduates at commencement ceremonies at the Rose Garden. Details about commencement and other activities of the preceding week can be found at www.pdx.edu/commencement.
Thank you again for another wonderful year. Enjoy your summer – and see you all next Fall!