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Graduation is only the beginning, retired major general tells Gonzaga students

UPDATED: Sun., May 12, 2019

When Joseph Caravalho took the stage at his own college graduation in 1979, he had no idea that 40 years later, he would be the keynote speaker addressing a new generation of fresh-faced Gonzaga students.

Since graduating, the now-retired Maj. Gen. Caravalho became a doctor, a staff surgeon at the Pentagon, spent 38 years in the military, became the president of a nonprofit, married, had two children and a granddaughter.

Before the awarding of degrees to the more than 1200 graduates of the 2019 class of Gonzaga University at the Spokane Arena, GU alum Gen. Joseph Caravalho, right, received an honorary doctor of laws from university president Thayne McCulloh, left, Sunday, May 12, 2019.   Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Before the awarding of degrees to the more than 1200 graduates of the 2019 class of Gonzaga University at the Spokane Arena, GU alum Gen. Joseph Caravalho, right, received an honorary doctor of laws from university president Thayne McCulloh, left, Sunday, May 12, 2019. Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

“I have led an amazing life,” he said. “In a blink of an eye, a similar story could be yours.”

Caravalho, speaking to a crowd of more than 1,200 students waiting for their diplomas, told his story of becoming the first in his family to go to college, and asked the new graduates to think about the legacy they will create.

Born in Hawaii to a policeman and a cook, Caravalho said he worked at a Dole pineapple cannery before going to college. He said joining ROTC was the only way he could afford an education, and eventually he became the class speaker at his own graduation.

He said that since graduating, the connection and values he gained from going to Gonzaga have followed him throughout his career. He encouraged the students receiving their degrees to continue leading and learning, whether they continue their formal education or not.

“Become an inspiring leader, be happy with what you do and in who you are,” he said. “(And) create a proud legacy that will transcend your time on Earth.”

Maj. Gen. Joseph Caravalho, a retired Army doctor and surgeon, speaks to the more than 1200 graduates of the 2019 class of Gonzaga University, who fill the Spokane Arena Sunday morning, surrounded by several thousand family members and friends for graduation Sunday, May 12, 2019. Caravalho, a GU alum, received an honorary doctor of laws. Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (The Spokesman-Review)
Maj. Gen. Joseph Caravalho, a retired Army doctor and surgeon, speaks to the more than 1200 graduates of the 2019 class of Gonzaga University, who fill the Spokane Arena Sunday morning, surrounded by several thousand family members and friends for graduation Sunday, May 12, 2019. Caravalho, a GU alum, received an honorary doctor of laws. Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (The Spokesman-Review)

This year’s class speaker, Olivia Roberts, a broadcast and electronic media major, said this year’s class should be proud to be a part of the Gonzaga community when the rest of the country, and a late night TV host, learned Gonzaga was a real university, with a real campus.

“Although we have many reasons to be proud today, perhaps there is none greater than knowing that we were students here when the world learned that Gonzaga University actually does exist,” she said.

Hundreds of excited families also filled the Spokane arena, screaming and cheering for their graduates, many of whom wore mortarboards decorated with stickers, memes, glitter and flowers.

During her speech to the crowd of graduates and their families, Roberts shared a story of being hit with a tetherball as a child, breaking her glasses. She joked that the pain, shock and confusion that accompanies being struck in the face was comparable to many students’ freshman year at Gonzaga, or their graduation day. She said that feeling of uncertainty, however, isn’t necessarily something to be afraid of.

“The next time a tetherball strikes us straight in the face, leaving us without breath, vision or balance, let’s embrace the discomfort,” she said. “We’ll pick up our shattered glasses and remind ourselves of the gift of this education.”

More than 1200 graduates of the 2019 class of Gonzaga University fill the floor of the Spokane Arena Sunday morning, surrounded by several thousand family members and friends for graduation Sunday, May 12, 2019.  Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
More than 1200 graduates of the 2019 class of Gonzaga University fill the floor of the Spokane Arena Sunday morning, surrounded by several thousand family members and friends for graduation Sunday, May 12, 2019. Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

She said Gonzaga was the place where many students learned to orient themselves in the world, and found their voices, which have the power to make a difference in the lives of others.

“Together we’ll use our voices to serve, to empower, to lead and to inspire,” she said. “These voices that have been so carefully constructed over the past four years have transformed us into forces equipped to change the world.”

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