Speakers at commencement praise resiliency of 2012 class

By Gwenn Barney

In addressing Pitt’s class of 2012, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg recounted the many challenging… In addressing Pitt’s class of 2012, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg recounted the many challenging situations this particular class encountered over the past four years.

From a podium on a stage in the Petersen Events Center, looking at the faces of this year’s graduates, Nordenberg listed the economic upheaval of the great recession, unrest tied to the 2009 G-20 summit, the campaign for a city-wide tuition tax, cuts to state higher-education funding, and — most recently — the disruptions caused by the anonymous bomb threats among the particular moments of adversity the class of 2012 overcame.

“We pulled together and looked for the good that can come from adversity and created stronger bonds,” he said. “I want to praise this graduating class for your strength and resiliency.”

Nearly 2,000 students gathered on the floor of the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, creating a sea of black with splashes of color from decorated mortarboard hats and various honor cords.

Once family and friends of the class of 2012 were settled in their seats, the ceremony began. Michael Pinsky, a professor in Pitt’s School of Medicine and president of the University Senate, led the procession of graduating students, faculty, staff, the Council of Deans, trustees and administrative officers to their seats on the Petersen Events Center floor.

After a rendition of the national anthem by junior Natalie Rogers, Nordenberg gave his greeting and remarks. In addition to applauding the graduates on their resiliency, he wished the students luck in the future.

“We are confident that you will reflect brilliantly on the University of Pittsburgh in the months and years ahead,” Nordenberg said.

In light of the recent bomb threats — the most recent occurring last Saturday — additional security measures were implemented for the ceremony, including bag searches, pat-downs and visual searches.

“I was a little concerned because my whole family came out from California. I was afraid that if we had to evacuate, I’d hate for them not to see me graduate,” said Amy Ruschhaupt, a graduate with a degree in natural sciences.

“You can’t control it. It’s our day,” graduate Grace Cameron said regarding the bomb threats. “We worked really hard and I don’t think someone sending emails would stop me from coming today.”

Lieutenant General Patricia D. Horoho, the Army Surgeon General and Pitt alumnus, received the first degree of the day, an honorary recognition as Doctor of Public Service. She served as the second speaker for the event, giving this year’s commencement address. Horoho, who earned her master’s degree in nursing from Pitt in 1992, is the first woman and the first nurse to hold the positions of Army Surgeon General and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command.

In her speech, Horoho relayed the ways in which her studies at Pitt helped her provide efficient care for 134 severely burned servicemen and women during an accident in which two aircrafts, a C-130 Cargo plane and an F-16 Jet, collided.

“Little did I know that my experiences at this University would prepare me for that day,” Horoho said.

Echoing Nordenberg, Horoho praised the student audience for its composure when faced with the recent string of bomb threats on campus.

“You demonstrate the character of this University, the spirit of the city of Pittsburgh, and the resolve of America to overcome adversity,” she said.

As her parting advice to students, Horoho relayed the three factors she views as essential to a happy life: service, health and relationships.

Following Horoho’s speech, the graduating seniors were recognized by either Nordenberg; Patricia Beeson, Pitt’s provost and senior vice chancellor, or a dean of a Pitt school or college. In total, Pitt expects to award 6,000 diplomas across its five campuses. Pitt spokesman John Harvith said more than 2,000 degrees were awarded to students at Pitt’s main campus.

After the distribution of diplomas, students took their seats, and senior Kelvin Luu, a 2012 graduate from the John A. Swanson School of Engineering, delivered a speech on behalf of the graduating class.

Jack Smith, President of the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association, followed Luu’s speech by welcoming Pitt’s newest graduates to the rank of alumni.

“You join a tradition of proud and successful alumni who have made a difference in the world,” he said.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the class of 2012 sang “Sweet Caroline” one last time together as blue and gold confetti showered down on them.

“I feel like it’s a new start. The end of an old chapter and a new beginning,” Cameron said.

Editors Note: This article has been changed to reflect the correct year of a student.