University of Idaho students who graduated Saturday are in a safe harbor now, but it is time for them to sail, said Janet Nelson, UI vice president for research and economic development.

Nelson delivered the commencement address Saturday at the Kibbie Dome.

"Now is the time to take the initiative and get in the game," Nelson said.

Nelson said many of the life lessons she learned came from sailing. She shared those lessons and advised the newest UI graduating class.

"Some of you may think you know where you're going," Nelson said. "Some of you might not have a clue. But you won't get there unless you embark."

She said the path to a person's destination is not usually a straight one. Often, one cannot sail straight to a destination due to the direction the wind is blowing, she said.

Nelson said life tends to present unexpected challenges, and while a person may have clear goals, he or she will find the need to adjust and adapt to new situations.

"Adjusting your attitude, like adjusting the sails on the boat, will keep you pressing forward despite occasional setbacks," Nelson said.

Nelson's last piece of advice was to follow the sailing racing rule of do not throw anything overboard.

"Leave this world a better place than you have found it," Nelson said. "Give back. Go out and make a difference."

UI President Chuck Staben told the graduates he is confident their degrees will lead them to success.

Staben asked the graduates to remember what they accomplished at the UI after they cross the stage and take their next steps in life.

"You have overcome challenges, and you've embraced opportunities," Staben said. "You've shown what you can do. You're a college graduate, and more than that, you're a Vandal college graduate."

Staben said that of the more than 4,000 institutions of higher education in the U.S., there is only one Vandal mascot.

Saturday's graduation meant more to some than others.

It meant the world to LoVina Louie, a Coeur d'Alene tribal member who said her Native American name is Xastnma. Louie said she graduated Saturday with a bachelor's degree in organizational sciences and community leadership.

Louie, 45, said she earned her degree online while working as director of the Marimn Health and Wellness Center - the Coeur d'Alene tribal wellness center in Plummer - and helping to support her five children and three grandchildren.

She said she was overjoyed to graduate.

"I'm going to walk across the stage for my children and my grandchildren and all the Indian kids who aren't born yet," Louie said. "It doesn't matter what comes your way, you can do it."

Johanna Tollefson, a 31-year-old who graduated with a bachelor's degree in English, said she walked at the ceremony for her parents since she is the first to graduate from college in her family. She said she was excited but also stressed since she still has a lot of school work to do, including finishing her thesis, writing two essays and completing a final.

Geoffrey Vonbargen, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, was yet another student who walked Saturday but still has work to do before receiving his official diploma.

Vonbargen, 24, said he was awake until 5 a.m. Saturday working on a take-home test. He said he had another project to work on Saturday night so he said he will not be able to relax until this week.

Vonbargen said he has a job lined up with an engineering contracting firm in Clarkston after he graduates.


Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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