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The Class of ’04 received a solemn send-off from America’s most trusted
man and poignant reminders from two of its own...
Pomona College’s 111th Commencement on May 16 was, as tradition
dictates, a time of reflection for its approximately 400 new graduates.
The members of the first Pomona class to matriculate in the new
didn’t know what lay ahead when they arrived in August 2000.
There was the naked man running across the field during Homecoming,
their first year. The Sept. 11 tragedies occurred their sophomore year.
Junior year was remembered as a series of all-nighters. As seniors, they
to the raging fires in Claremont, another naked man at Home¬coming and a
troubling series of racially-charged events.
Senior class speaker Olatunji Abdulrahman Balogun summarized four years
of “struggle, pain, hardship, adversity, highs and lows and ultimately
triumphs” in what he said was an unrealistic timeframe of seven
minutes—“as a result, I had to cut a few corners. This speech only
pertains to the first half of this class, Adams to Matute.”
Through it all, the Class of ’04 kept its sense of humor.
Senior class president Jacqueline Karis Wong-Hernandez recalled the
explosive discussions in and out of class following the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks. “Our class was really a family, a family complete
with its arguments, differences and dysfunctionalities, for sure,” she
said. “We cared about, antagonized and shaped each other.”
College President David Oxtoby thanked the class for showing leadership
during the hate-crime incidents at The Claremont Colleges during the
first three months of this year, the most serious of the incidents
alleged by Claremont Police and the FBI to have been a hoax.
“Discussions were held, manifestos circulated, marches organized,
classes were cancelled,” said Oxtoby, who commended the seniors for
turning a “divisive action into a force for positive change.”
For a campus so cozy that Balogun said he knew 99.3 percent of the
audience in Bridges Auditorium, the response brought an awareness: “I
had a friend say to me that it was the first time he ever felt
uncomfortable and unwelcome at Pomona,” he said. “We must all
acknowledge the realities of differences in impressions that exist in
our world. We must look at what happened here in Claremont not as
individual, isolated incidents, but as significant and revealing
experiences that tell us a lot about our world … We share a
responsibility to this world and, more importantly to ourselves, to
challenge and interrogate the systems that keep our society from being
“No fears, no limits, no regrets,” added Balogun in his final charge to
the class of ’04.
Veteran TV newsman Walter Cronkite, who delivered the keynote address,
also spoke of the reality of the time. Criticized in the 1960s for
giving what one distinguished Brandeis University alumnus called a
pessimistic commencement speech, Cronkite—dubbed the “most trusted man
in America” —stood by his words, which he called the truth as he saw it.
Decades later, he again painted a bleak picture of the world that the
graduates will be living in. He noted the Iraq War, an environmental
crisis, collapsing infrastructure, budget deficit and lagging
“So, with all these problems, am I supposed to stand up here today, as
proud as I am, … and give you a message of unqualified hope for our
immediate future? I’m sorry, but that would be outright dishonest.
However, let me now render—a bit anyway—of that inspirational message
that is expected of commencement speakers,” said Cronkite, whose
grandson, William M. Ikard, was one of this year’s graduates.
“All those problems I enumerated before can be solved, or at least
mitigated a great deal, by an enlightened population and courageous
leadership. You—this class of ’04—are particularly qualified by the
education you have received here, to provide both—the leadership and the
Cronkite added: “I believe we’ve got to put idealism on at least an
equal footing with practicality. We’re going to make it, we human
beings. We’re going to make it—if we cling to the belief, if we work for
bringing to reality the achievement of peace.”
He noted: “The biographies of our future leaders may well include the
notation … graduated from Pomona College, 2004.”
Cronkite was one of three recipients of honorary degrees, receiving the
honorary award of doctor of human letters. Known as the “Most Trusted
Man in America” during his career in journalism that spanned more than
65 years, he covered virtually every major news event of the last half
of the 20th century and pioneered the first evening news broadcast
covering history-making events. He is the author of six books and writes
R. Stanton Hales ’64, president of The College of Wooster, received the
honorary degree of doctor of science. A native of Pasadena, he joined
the Pomona College faculty in 1967 and in 1973 was named associate dean
of the College, serving in that capacity for 18 years. He is
treasurer and a member of
the board of directors of the Association of American Colleges and
Universities and chairs the board of directors of the Association of
Independent Colleges and Universities.
Andrea L. Van de Kamp received the honorary degree of doctor of fine
arts. She is chairman of west coast operations and senior vice president
for Sotheby’s, the world’s oldest art auction house, a position she
has held for 14 years. From 1991–2001, she was a trustee at Pomona. She
has served as director of development for the Los Angeles Museum of
Contem¬porary Art and as chairman of the board for the Music Center of
Los Angeles County.