Parents cried, friends cheered and congratulatory balloons swayed in the breeze Saturday as the 252 members of Woodbury University’s Class of 2011 stepped up one by one to receive their diplomas.
“It is a really strange feeling to look out at all my friends and colleagues and know that the all-nighters and the midterms and sneaking out of studio and running up to Woody’s to grab a snack are all over,” said architecture major Stephanie Byrd, one of three student speakers to her address her classmates at commencement.
The undergraduate ceremony filled the central quad at the university’s Burbank campus. It was preceded by one day by the graduate student commencement, where 143 students received advanced degrees.
Founded in 1884, Woodbury University was originally in Los Angeles but moved to Burbank in 1987. It is best known for its arts and design programs, particularly architecture.
Among those receiving degrees Saturday was commencement speaker David Warren, president of the National Assn. of Independent Colleges and Universities, who was given an honorary Doctorate of Business Administration. It was his 17th honorary degree, according to college trustee Robert Kummer.
Warren played a key role in shaping federal education policy, including the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, signed into law in 2008, and the new GI Bill. He described Woodbury University as a place where the American dream comes alive.
“It has about it … a sense of possibility and opportunity and choice and chance,” Warren said.
The commencement speaker noted historic challenges faced by past generations of Americans, including during the Great Depression, World War II and the civil rights movement. The next generation of leaders will be responsible for addressing Social Security and the scientific manipulation of DNA, among other things, he said.
“I believe that your generation will make decisions sooner than later which will shape the destiny of this country,” Warren said.
He encouraged the graduates to do something in service to their nation, their community and their alma mater.
“Support a candidate or a policy with time, give money, be a candidate, vote,” Warren said. “But put your values in a place where they will make a difference.”
Interdisciplinary studies major Karen Cooper Minnicks said her degree was a long time coming. Several decades ago, she abandoned a course of study at Los Angeles City College to focus on what would be a successful career in the television industry. In 1998, she was hired at Woodbury University and eventually decided to pursue her degree there.
“I sometimes wonder what I might have accomplished had I stayed in college originally,” Minnicks said. “But that is really not important, not now. What is important is that in Woodbury I found the support and encouragement to help me achieve my full potential. It is not important when we bloom, it is only important that you recognize that you never lose the opportunity to do so.”