Finding Fresh Water Everywhere

A commencement weekend of elation, contemplation and celebration

A female student stands among sitting fellow graduates at commencement ceremony
Photos by Zack Berlat
May 17, 2024
Dan Nailen | Gonzaga University News Service

It’s not uncommon for a guest speaker at a commencement ceremony to offer the graduates a little bit of life advice.

Edward “Ed” Taylor (’82), recipient of an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree and guest speaker at Gonzaga University’s 131st Undergraduate Commencement May 12, leaned into that tradition. But it’s safe to say Taylor’s life advice was anything but common.

Put your marshmallows directly in the fire, no hovering, when roasting up some gooey goodness. If you’re helping a young bicyclist learn to ride and they ask if you think they can do it, the answer is always yes. And if you find a flat rock next to a lake, you’re required to pick it up, bite your lower lip and skip it as many times across the water as possible.

And if you take away just one thing, make sure that Taylor never spots you biting your lower lip on the dance floor.

“I will swoop in and move you off the dance floor,” Taylor said to loud laughs from the 1,148 graduates and their friends and families filling Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. “Never bite your lower lip. Your parents may have done it. Your grandparents may have done it. It’s not cool. Don’t do it.”

Undergraduate Commencement 2024 guest speaker Ed Taylor at the ceremony
Dr. Edward "Ed" Taylor ('82) combined sound advice with stirring stories.

It was a light-hearted ending to an emotional talk from Taylor, who serves as vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the University of Washington. He’s dedicated his career to inclusivity in education, and in addition to years serving on Gonzaga’s Board of Regents, he spent 17 years on the GU Board of Trustees, earning Trustee Emeritus in 2024.

Taylor started his Mother’s Day address asking each attendee to place a hand on their heart and feel their heartbeat.
“Feel yourself fully here,” Taylor said, “because this moment, this moment will never happen again.”

He then recalled his mother’s 42-hour train journey from California to see his own graduation from Gonzaga in 1982. He didn’t have any presents for his mom that day, he said, nor any money to take her to dinner. So when she got on the train for her trip home, Taylor gave her his graduation cap, his diploma and his souvenir program from that day’s ceremony. He would not see any of those artifacts again until 2011, when his mother died and he was cleaning out her room. He found his diploma and souvenir program in her dresser.

“At the top of her closet was my cap,” Taylor said. “The tassel turned to the left as I had turned it in 1982. She cherished that moment. She was fully here. That was all I had to give her.”

Taylor then transitioned to “what I know to be true about you,” the newly minted Gonzaga alumni. Someone among you will one day be called in to work to deliver a baby, he said. Someone will be called to assist in the last days of a beloved elder, to “make sure that those last breaths are honorable and deep.” Someone will step into a first-grade classroom, ready to teach the next generation. Someone will take up environmental justice “as your cause, your calling, your vocation.”

While these students are part of a greater community of Zags, Taylor emphasized they are also part of a community of students around the world walking across stages in Canada and South Africa, schools from UCLA to Morehouse College to Skagit Valley College. “We are interconnected,” he emphasized.

A graduate raises his arms with joy after receiving his degree
The joy at Undergraduate Commencement was palpable..

Taylor finished with an anecdote about studying in the Crosby Library back in 1980. Daydreaming, he picked up a book that included a story by Booker T. Washington, in which a ship is lost in the Atlantic Ocean and out of fresh water. The ship’s crew spots another ship in the ocean and sends over a message asking for water lest they die of thirst.

The stranded ship gets a message back: “Cast down your buckets where they are.”

Again they ask for help, and again they get the same message back, “Cast down your buckets where they are.” And again. And again.

Finally, they dropped their buckets into the water around their ship and when they pulled them up, they were full of fresh water. They had no idea they were near a point where the Amazon River was dumping clean fresh water all around them.
“These ideals, of freedom, of justice, of a beloved community, the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of a great life of interconnectedness, these are ideals worth fighting for,” Taylor told the graduates. “Wherever you go, there will be fresh water there. This I know to be true.”

Both the Graduate School and Law School held Commencement ceremonies on May 11. The 617 students earning master’s and doctoral degrees heard inspiring words from Angelique Albert (’15, MBA-AIE), an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribe and CEO of the Native Forward Scholars Fund. She encouraged the graduates, who celebrated her with a round dance a couple days prior to the ceremony, to “find value in differing perspectives and voices,” noting, “Your success today is our collective success. You are the legacy of your ancestors and those family and friends who are here cheering you on today.”

The 167 Law School graduates recognized former U.S. Secretary of Defense and guest speaker Robert Gates with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and also honored REI General Counsel and Corporate Secretary Minnie Alexander with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Stitching Together a Community

Undergraduate Commencement student speaker Rachel Gotvald speaks into a microphone
Student speaker Rachel Gotvald noted the strong bonds formed by the "Covid class."

The Undergraduate Class of 2024 Student Speaker Rachel Gotvald noted the unusual circumstances at the onset of the Class of 2024’s experience at Gonzaga, “with masked dorm living and online classes” the norm during the fall of 2020.

She chose Gonzaga as a high school student because of the sense of “togetherness” she felt on campus when she did a tour, and the social distancing necessary to navigate COVID for this graduating class made connecting with new friends a challenge at times during their freshman year.

Four years later, though, there’s no denying the unifying spirit that bonded this unique class in Gonzaga’s long history.

“Our class has been living through ‘unprecedented times’ for years now,” Gotvald said, “but what is really unprecedented is how strong the bonds we’ve made here at Gonzaga are.”

Gotvald, who earned her degree in communication studies, talked about doing research into quilting as a form of protest, and to combat environmental waste, and tied the art form to the experience of this year’s undergraduate class.

“I see my time as a kind of patchwork, little scraps of topics and shared experiences coming together at graduation to form a testament to our time here,” Gotvald said. “Looking back at what we’ve created together over the past four years, I am so proud of how we’ve overcome our challenges, learned from our mistakes, and kept the spirit of Gonzaga alive.

“We truly patched together a class that exemplifies Gonzaga’s humanistic identity, Jesuit values and academic excellence.”

Two women hold up their degrees
Friends make the Commencement celebrations even more special.


More Recognitions and Celebrations

The Undergraduate Commencement is always the largest year-end celebration, but the GU community had myriad opportunities to recognize excellent students, faculty and staff members throughout the final weeks of the school year.

Before commencement weekend, several groups on campus held special events to honor students in various communities. In addition to the annual ROTC commissioning and nursing pinning ceremonies, Gonzaga and community partners held community celebrations for Asian, African American, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ students, plus first-generation graduates, military and veteran students involved with the Transfer, Veteran and Returning Adult Services office. The Center for Community Engagement also missioned students entering a year of service through organizations such as the Peace Corps and Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

At this year’s 28th Annual Native American Community Graduation held April 26 at Gonzaga University, Native families gathered to celebrate graduates from local high schools and colleges. Led by Wendy Thompson and Jeremy Rouse of GU’s Office of Tribal Relations, the event featured ceremonial drumming, and a special blanket ceremony to honor retiring Raymond Reyes, a champion of Indian education in the region for more than 40 years and an educator at Gonzaga for more than 30.

A graduation cap decorated with the words Class of 2024

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