EPA Administrator Christie Whitman told the 1,200 graduates of Lehigh University’s Class of 2002 on Sunday, June 2, that she faced challenges at her graduation in June 1968 similar to those faced by this spring's graduates.
Speaking at Lehigh's 134th commencement, Whitman noted that her graduation from Wheaton College took place right after the assassination of Martin Luther King and right before the assassination of Robert Kennedy, when campus unrest, urban riots and an unpopular war rocked the nation. As then, today's students have responded.
The former governor of New Jersey said the "9/11" generation's response demonstrated the strength of the nation, as college students across the country came together to support each other and showed that they can and will make a difference in the world.
"As I have traveled the nation, I have seen the dawn of a new generation that is committed to a new standard of service to others," said Whitman, noting that Lehigh students have already demonstrated that commitment, logging 26,000 hours of community service this past academic year.
As they serve others, Whitman cautioned graduates to carve out time for family as well.
"I have had had some impressive titles-- governor, EPA administrator, Lehigh commencement speaker-- but the most important titles in my life have been that of mother and wife. Your parents know this. Family is what truly gives meaning to your life."
Whitman also noted her pleasure at being at Lehigh since attendance at the then all-male school was not an option for her when she was a high school student.
"I'm delighted (Lehigh) is now celebrating 30 years of women in these hallowed halls," said Whitman.
That historical development was also cited by Lehigh President Gregory C. Farrington, who highlighted some of the accomplishments of female students in his address.
"Just think, it was only 30 years ago that Lehigh decided trying to solve 100 percent of the world's problems with only 50 percent of its brains," he added.
During the ceremony at Lehigh’s Murray H. Goodman Stadium, attended by 5,000 family and friends, Whitman received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
The university conferred 1,164 degrees to undergraduates and graduate students from the across the U.S. and 18 countries. They included 45 doctoral, 199 master's and 920 bachelor's degree recipients.