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SOU launches 89th graduating class

Southern Oregon University awarded diplomas to over 1,000 graduates in Raider Stadium Saturday, with 1996 graduate Mark Helfrich, University of Oregon head coach, giving the new grads four big tips for a happy life.

Spinning nostalgic yarns about the Ashland of his youth, Helfrich, a highly successful Duck coach (24-4) since 2013, entertained the crowd with a joke-laced sermon advising grads 1) don’t kill your roommate, 2) surround yourself with people who matter and learn from them, 3) love to work and find the work you love, learn to make mistakes and learn from your mistakes, take risks and experiment and learn all you can in youth and, finally, 4) have a great attitude and learn to be unrealistic about your goals.

To debt-laden students now graduating with a national average of $30,000 in loans, Helfrich noted that a year of college when SOU began in 1872 was the price of a small latte now — $4. The present price tag is not cheap, but “zero percent of the battle goes as planned,” he said, and it can be turned into unimaginable opportunity.

A biology graduate who wanted to be a surgeon, Helfrich played quarterback for the Raiders and, as a grad student at the University of Oregon, stumbled into helping an offensive coach. He now makes $3.5 million a year.

“I guarantee you it’s worth the investment,” said Bill Thorndike, chairman of the SOU Board of Trustees and member of the State Board of Higher Education.

Graduate and student speaker Patricia Halleran gave an homage to outgroups — immigrants, single moms, people of color, veterans, the disabled, indigenous people — and lauded SOU for proactively opening doors to higher learning for them.

“Use your education to make a better world for all of them,” she urged, noting the prejudice and suffering of her immigrant ancestors. “Live a life that earns you the title of good ancestor hundreds of years from now.

“There is only one of you. Life is brief, my friends, so grab hold of hope and goals and love and follow all you’re passionate about. Be bold and brave, someone your ancestors will be proud of.”

Halleran is a summa cum laude graduate in anthropology, with a certificate in Native American studies. Vance Beach, a graduate in communication and management, spoke for the SOU Alumni Association. SOU students Sabrina Podsobinksi and Hayden Teachout received the Dankook Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Students. This award commemorates more than 30 years of friendship between SOU and Dankook University in South Korea.

SOU President Roy Saigo extolled the many benefits of the university and the community that surrounds it. Jefferson Public Radio’s Colleen Pyke and Geoffrey Riley read the names of grads as they strode forward and walked across the stage to much hooting and clapping of friends and family. It was the 89th commencement for SOU.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


A Southern Oregon University graduate salutes his achievement. Qamuuqin Maxwell photo
A Southern Oregon University graduate quotes Bilbo Baggins. Qamuuqin Maxwell photo