“Pomp and Circumstance” played, tassels were tossed to the left and caps were flung into the air on Friday at the fall commencement inside Whalen Gymnasium at Fort Lewis College.
Just over 100 graduates walked on Friday. About 140 students graduated with bachelor’s of arts or science in the 2021 fall semester.
FLC President Tom Stritikus greeted graduating students and their guests and gave a brief speech celebrating the graduates’ success. He spoke to the hardships imposed by COVID-19, wild domestic and global politics, and instabilities on campus endured by students.
“But yet, what you do, and what our faculty has the opportunity to do together with you – to develop your intellectual curiosity, your sense of your place in the world, building an environment that’s accepting, asking hard questions, for all that we endure – that makes it worth it,” he said.
The student marshals, those who attained the highest cumulative GPA, were Gillian Hardy and Rachel Lee.
Hardy studied anthropology and plans to stay in Durango for a while before seeking a job doing archaeological work for something like the Bureau of Land Management. Her greatest challenge while attending FLC was completing her own ethnographic research for her senior seminar class.
Lee’s top priority after graduating is to simply write; she wants to submit her work to literary journals. She is contemplating graduate school. Lee’s greatest challenge at FLC was taking two senior seminar classes in one semester. She said it almost made her give up, but she dug in her heels and finished both courses.
La Plata Electric Association CEO Jessica Matlock was the college’s guest speaker. She told graduates that doors of opportunity will open to them and encouraged them to go through them with curiosity and perseverance.
Matlock said she grew up on a ranch along the Front Range wanting to become a fighter pilot. But the U.S. Department of Defense preferred men. She ended up joining the Coast Guard instead, but then failed her eyesight test to become a pilot.
But she kept her chin up. She made her way to Grand Junction, where she became a mapping expert with GIS systems. Then she moved to Seattle to complete her undergraduate degree in chemical oceanography, working at coffee shops and as a temporary receptionist to get by in the meantime.
While working as a secretary for an environmental consulting firm, she got involved with an environmental project that would lead her to become an environmental city planner for the city of Portland, Oregon, and a wildlife manager for one of the biggest West Coast energy companies. That led her to Washington, D.C., and the Department of Energy. Today, Matlock serves as LPEA’s first female CEO.
Graduate Grace Lasoda said she transferred to FLC from Florida to major in exercise physiology. She has applied to the University of Colorado, where she hopes to train to become a physical therapist.
“What I can say about Fort Lewis is the professors really care about you,” she said. “They notice if you’re struggling, unlike some bigger universities, and I’ve just had the best experience ever.”
Christopher Pacnick graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in criminology justice and sociology. He said his time at FLC was an eye-opening experience.
“I’m a more moderate conservative, so I wanted to grow and challenge myself, not really go to a college that would cater to my perspective,” he said. “I pushed myself to grow and get a better understanding of other people’s perspectives or ideas and who they are as human beings and grow with them.”
Pacnick said he wanted to challenge his own beliefs and grow from that process. He transferred to FLC from San Juan College in New Mexico. He drove to the college every day from New Mexico. He said his young daughter, Gabriella, was one of the driving forces that helped him achieve graduation Friday because he wanted to set a good example for her.
He wants to work in the field of criminal justice, preferably with at-risk youth. He has his eyes on La Plata Youth Services.