NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma conducted its 120th commencement ceremony with trumpet fanfares, bagpipes and high spirits, in spite of an indoor relocation Friday evening.
Compassion, empathy and excellence were overarching themes in the evening’s addresses by OU President David Boren and commencement speaker Ruth J. Simmons, president of Brown University.
Boren began by noting the year’s outstanding student achievements in arts, athletics and academics, praising, in particular, winners of such prestigious honors as the Goldwater Scholar Award and Fulbright scholarship winners.
The commencement class of 2012 also boasted 58 graduates with perfect grade point averages, earning an “A” throughout all 120 hours of coursework.
In his address, Boren told the class of 2012 that the faculty and administration has come to believe in, know and love their students, reminding them that they will be missed.
“My hope for you when you came here was that you would find purpose in your lives by investing yourselves in causes larger than yourselves,” Boren said. “You fill us with hope for tomorrow. Thank you for giving us the gift of optimism ... and making this university a place where we have come to understand that how we treat each other, as much as any other single thing, will shape the future of our society as a whole.”
After receiving an honorary degree from OU, Simmons began her address by joking that she was initially hesitant to accept this honor due to her loyalty to Ivy League football and her Texas roots.
“Though the Texas/Oklahoma rivalry runs deep, I think the OU spirit is stronger than anything Texas can muster,” Simmons said to enthusiastic applause.
Simmons called the graduates “a picture of what makes this country so remarkable and promising,” due to their diversity and collegiate experience of a “community of difference.”
Simmons built on the concept by warning graduates that, after leaving college, they would likely fall into habits of segregating themselves.
“Maintaining a broad and inclusive life will take more commitment and attention than you can imagine, for it will seem to you that it is more natural and expected to re-shape your lives to the norm,” Simmons said. “This would be fine, were it not for one fundamental problem: Our nation is, and must be, one.”
Speaking on the unifying virtue of empathy, Simmons said, “Empathy elevates the plight of the less fortunate and moves us to help even those a world away, experiencing the effects of war, famine and catastrophe.
“I ask you today, graduates, that as you look ahead to a long life, which I hope will be bountiful and satisfying, you commit some part of your aspirations and goals to this ideal of this broader and inclusive beloved community.”