Eastern Washington University’s undergraduate commencement ceremony Friday celebrated a lot of firsts.
More than half of Eastern’s freshmen are the first in their family to go to college.
Keynote speaker Gov. Chris Gregoire was the first in her family to graduate from college. Later she became the state’s first female attorney general.
“My dream and my mom’s dream came true when I graduated from the University of Washington,” Gregoire told nearly 2,400 undergraduates at Woodward Field in Cheney.
Gregoire grew up in Auburn, Wash., with a single mother who worked as a short-order cook to support the family.
When she finished college, the country was divided over the war in Vietnam, and the unemployment rate was slightly lower than it is today, the governor said. Although Gregoire had a teaching degree, her first job was as a typist.
One graduate and father, Richard Colton, could relate to that story.
“I’m familiar with the time Gov. Gregoire talked about,” Colton said. “Now I have a great job and I know these kids will have opportunities.”
Colton received his degree from Eastern in 1994 but didn’t participate in commencement at the time. Now living in Denver, he returned to go through the ceremony with his oldest son, Victor, who earned his degree from Eastern in electrical engineering.
Richard Colton was the first child in his family to complete college, and Victor is the first of his four children to graduate.
Firsts and entrepreneurship are what have made Washington successful, Gregoire said.
Seventy-five percent of Eastern graduates remain in the state and contribute to communities and neighborhoods, “working, living and giving,” she said.
“A new generation of Washington entrepreneurialism is taking shape in this great state,” the governor said.
Gregoire listed such Washington success stories as Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks. “Yes, you are in a challenging time to be graduating, but the spirit of innovation opens opportunities for all of you.”
Graduate Amalie Marte, a community health major, found Gregoire’s message inspiring.
“I liked hearing about Medical Lake and the different things Washington state has been chosen for,” she said, referencing industries mentioned by Gregoire.