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More than 2,000 University of Montana students flipped the tassels on their graduation caps Saturday morning during the university's 122nd commencement ceremony at the Adams Center.

“It’s just a starting point for another adventure,” said Esmaeil Parsa, an international student from Tehran who earned his Ph.D. in mathematics on Saturday.

Esmaeil said he learned a lot from his time at UM not only in his studies, but also in his personal life.

“I learned a lot from people in Missoula,” Esmaeil said. “It’s a nice culture, although it’s a different culture … Life here is not complicated.”

Esmaeil said in addition to bringing home his degree which he hopes will help him get a better job, he plans to bring back some new traditions, like potlucks.

Jake Person was another one of the 2,000-plus graduates. Person said he was excited to earn his bachelor’s degree in forestry, although it wasn’t his first time around the block. Person, a Pennsylvania native, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from UM several years ago but decided to pursue a different degree after realizing teaching wasn’t for him.

“I loved how hands-on the program is here,” Person said, noting that UM’s setting lends to the program’s strength. “They get you out in the woods in a professional setting and really prepare you for that."

The Saturday morning ceremony — which included departments and programs within the College of Humanities and Sciences, Missoula College, the School of Journalism and the College of Visual and Performing Arts — kicked off with the national anthem led by Marin Sewell, a UM student, an address by UM President Seth Bodnar and an honor song by Chief Earl Old Person of the Blackfeet tribe.

An afternoon ceremony included departments and programs within the College of Business, the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences and the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, as well as the Master of Public Administration program.

Denise Juneau, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2009 to 2017 and the first Native American female elected to a statewide office in Montana, was given an honorary doctorate.

William “Bill” Reynolds, a doctor who served the Missoula area for 40 years and played an active role in more than 20 community organizations, was also given an honorary doctorate.

Lisa Parks, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology media scholar and professor who was named a 2018 MacArthur Fellow — as well as a Hellgate High School and 1990 University of Montana graduate — was the commencement speaker.

Parks’ work explores the global reach of information technology infrastructures such as satellites, internet cables, power poles and drones and the cultural, political and humanitarian implications of the flow of information.

“When I graduated from UM, I had no idea what my life would become and I certainly never dreamed I’d be standing here right now,” Parks said.

Parks described the process of exploring what she wanted to do following graduation, which included work as a paralegal and receiving numerous rejection letters from graduate schools before she was accepted at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Parks said her UM experience taught her not just how to describe the world, but also how to analyze and work to change it.

She urged students to do the same to address the many challenges the world faces today, including political polarization, racist and xenophobic attacks, the crisis surrounding missing and murdered Native American women, opioid addiction, climate change, school shootings, and the dissemination of false and credible information.

“As you leave this lovely campus, I hope that you will work together to confront these issues rather than be gridlocked in partisanship,” Parks said.

Parks encouraged graduates to avoid reductive black-and-white thinking and instead consider different perspectives and recognize the complexity of issues.

“Despite the virtues of the information age, not all questions can be answered by Google, Siri or Alexa; not all problems can be solved by an app,” Parks said.

She also gave graduates an important reminder that “having a higher education equips you with specialized knowledge and skills and gives you an advantage in the workforce but it does not put you above others.”

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