An uncertain economic future couldn't compete with a sunlit ceremony and a throng of ambitious graduates, who on Saturday donned mortarboards and gowns to mark their achievements before setting out to explore, dream and discover some more.
"I feel most fortunate," said Matt Flatlip, a graduate in Native American studies and anthropology, wearing a mortarboard individualized with an eagle feather tassel. Flatlip intends to spend the summer fighting fires with a crew from the Crow Indian Reservation, and finishing work on a movie script.
"Fire and writing," Flatlip said of his combined summer plans.
More than 3,000 University of Montana graduates took part in Saturday morning's outdoor ceremony, which was the first of its kind, held on the Oval in front of Main Hall rather than inside the Adams Center. The idea for a commencement al fresco was proposed by President George Dennison, who is retiring in August.
And much to the outgoing president's delight, the plan came off without a hitch, with graduates and their family members enjoying the warmth of the sun as it rose high over Mount Sentinel, glowing with the verve of aspiration and achievement, as well as with with the excitement of venturing into terra incognita.
But the beauty of Saturday's fete was in its pleasant familiarity, and classmates and faculty members who forged lasting relationships during their academic careers greeted one another with genuine felicitation.
Before the procession, graduates huddled with their families and friends, lining the sidewalk outside the Lomasson Center and posing for photographs. Some were entering the work force or would be keeping jobs that had helped them finance their educations. Others opted to spend the summer traveling before heading back into academia to pursue advanced degrees.
"It is nice to have a full-time job lined up," said Tyler Grimm, a Helena native who graduated in recreation management, but has a social work job in Missoula.
Josh Herring earned a degree in wildlife biology and will spend the next year teaching math at Sussex School before pursuing a master's degree in education. Herring, who graduated with honors, said his family was visiting Missoula from Pennsylvania for the festive weekend.
"They've pretty much been sold on Missoula, so they keep on coming back," he said.
Brenda Taulbee and Aimee Mason both earned degrees in anthropology, and intend to pursue advanced degrees soon enough - but not before a few summer roadtrips.
Dylan Laslovich acquired his second degree from UM on Saturday, a master's degree in political science, but he will also rely on his undergraduate journalism degree to earn chops this summer in Washington, D.C., where he landed a paid internship on the Senate Finance Committee's press team.
"I didn't even know they still had paid internships," said Laslovich, who previously worked on Sen. Jon Tester's campaign.
As President Dennison noted again and again in his commencement address, each graduate from the class of 2010 had his or her own success story, due in no small part to what the president characterized as their decision to compete.
"You cannot win unless you choose to compete," Dennison said, quoting the board chairman of Intel Corp. Craig Barrett, who reportedly gleaned the aphorism from a fortune cookie. "You graduates today have done your part. You have chosen to compete."
In his two decades as president, Dennison has conferred degrees to more than half of UM's alumni, and is an alumnus himself. He will retire on Aug. 15, 20 years to the day after assuming his position as president in 1990.
"I particularly cherish this moment because it is my final commencement," said Dennison, who earned a standing ovation after finishing his speech. "Thus, you and I depart together."
Dennison was not alone in a departure tinged with bittersweet sentiments, and many graduates had tears in their eyes as they embraced after the main ceremony.
"It all began here, with a solid education that I received from this university," said Dennison, who encouraged graduates to seize the opportunity of an international experience.
One graduate's devotion to UM and academics has kept him coming back for 40 years, and he earned a Master of Science in geography on Saturday.
"I think I've taken more courses at the university probably than anybody alive," said Dan Yochim, 58, who first enrolled at UM in 1970.
It was not until 2000, however, that he took his first geography course and discovered his love for the field.
"It just opened my eyes," Yochim said. "I thought immediately that this is the field I should have gotten into right out of high school, because I sure tried everything else."
Yochim, a Missoula native, took classes in pre-med and ancient studies, and launched a potato chip distributorship, a tour bus company and a successful trucking business before returning to UM and happening upon geography.
"I never wanted to be a businessman. I always wanted to be a scientist. Well, finally I'm a master at something," said Yochim, who will apply to 20 Ivy League doctoral programs. "There is still hope."
So when Dennison spoke his final truisms, which were met by raucous applause and airborne beachballs, he spoke as much to the 58-year-old businessman-turn-academic as he did the 20-something graduate.
"Go forth, do good things, have good lives, but stay in touch," Dennison said.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at email@example.com.