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UMM graduates 'forever young'

A 2009 University of Minnesota, Morris graduate receives a hug after receiving her diploma Saturday during Commencement exercises on the campus Mall.1 / 2
Author and outdoorsman Will Weaver delivers the Graduation Address during University of Minnesota, Morris Commencement exercises Saturday on the campus Mall.2 / 2

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Author and outdoorsman Will Weaver told the University of Minnesota, Morris' 2009 graduating class on Saturday that they are unique in that, like those in Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," they are coming of age during the best of times and the worst of times.

And, quoting a Bob Dylan lyric, Weaver wished this for them: "May you build a ladder to the stars. And climb on every rung. And may you stay forever young."

Weaver delivered the Graduation Address address during the Commencement ceremony at which almost 300 UMM graduates received diplomas on a clear but windy afternoon on the campus Mall.

The graduates also heard from University of Minnesota Regent Richard Beeson, U of M Senior Vice President Robert Jones, UMM Chancellor Jacquie Johnson, and UMM graduate and student speaker Nathan Lael Giles, the 2009 recipient of the Curtis H. Larson Award.

Weaver is the author of "Red Earth, White Earth," and a story in his collection, "A Gravestone Made of Wheat and Other Stories," was adapted for the 2005 independent feature film, "Sweet Land," which was shot near Montevideo.

Weaver is a native Minnesotan who grew up on a dairy farm, and a former English professor at Bemidji State University.

Weaver peppered his address with humor and, as would be expected of a writer and English professor, made several connections to classic literary works -- including the film "The Big Lebowski" -- and the world the graduates would live in.

He told the graduates that their parents were relieved to see them sitting in their caps and gowns because "you've finally declared a major."

He told his story of leaving his family's farm to attend college at St. Cloud State University, but balking at telling his dairy farmer father that he wanted to major in English. Once he summoned the courage and told his dad, his father responded, "Son, we already know English."

Later, referencing Thomas Wolfe's novel, "You Can't Go Home Again," Weaver joked that the book wasn't really allegorical, and that the graduates' parents really didn't want them coming home again.

"If you move into your old room, and your old bed," Weaver said, "things will be really weird. That's a paid announcement from your parents."

The choice of mentioning Wolfe's posthumously published 1940 novel may or may not have been coincidental to part of Weaver's theme Saturday. The book delves in part into an America in a state of change in the early part of the 20th century, defined by the stock market crash and false prosperity.

The environment is similar to that in which today's graduates find themselves.

Weaver read beyond Dickens' opening sentence in "A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ..."

UMM's 2009 seniors are embarking on their post-graduation lives during some of the worst economic times in generations, and yet the future has so much for them.

While Weaver told the audience he didn't want to be political, he said, "The last person we needed to lead us into the 21st century was a Texas oilman."

But, the present also represents the best of times in terms of America "turning the corner" on embracing sustainable, green living and ending climate change, Weaver said, adding that he senses a "paradigm shift" as today's graduates could be witness to the exciting prospect of living independent of foreign oil.

"You've landed in a very good time," he said.

Weaver also encouraged the students to venture away from familiar places and people.

Moving seamlessly from Blaise Pascal and his assertion that distance lends perspective, to Donny in "The Big Lebowski," Weaver related his experience of moving from Minnesota to California to work and study writing at Stanford University. Just as Donny is constantly reminded by his friends in "Lebowski," Weaver found himself so far out of his element. And he learned so much from it.

"Being out of our element," Weaver said. "I can't recommend it enough."