"I'm here because my parents asked me to do the walk thing," said Coulter of Spokane, Wash., who finished this spring with a bachelor's degree in English. He's got a summer job with a local landscaping company. He plans to "ski bum it" for a year or two before heading to graduate school in journalism or creative writing.
Within minutes, the MSU wind ensemble began "Crown Imperial," and Coulter, along with nearly 2,400 other graduation candidates, began filing onto the fieldhouse floor for Montana State University's 109th commencement on May 7. Roughly 6,000 parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, sweethearts, cousins and others filled the seats from floor to curved ceiling.
For Sean McCormick of Bozeman, a business management graduate with an interest in law enforcement, the day would stand out. His father, who McCormick hasn't seen since he was three months old, was in the audience.
"That's a good thing," said McCormick, 22, adding that the story of their separation wasn't a sad one so much as a long one. There wasn't time to tell it. Nonetheless, it drew a shy smile to the young man's ruddy face.
By contrast, Promethea Olympia K. Pythaitha'a story is better known. The youngest graduate in MSU's history, the 14-year-old Paradise Valley resident has drawn media attention, including an inquiry from "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," for earning a bachelor's degree in mathematics at such a young age.
Nearly as tall as some college students, Pythaitha stood out at commencement for other reasons. Rather than the traditional cap and gown, she wore a long white skirt, vest and tunic embroidered with colored strands of wool. The traditional clothing came from friends in Argos, Greece, her mother said.
Samantha Schulz was more causal. She wore turquoise flip-flops, but her parents, Marv and Jolene, didn't care. They were just glad the cell biology and neuroscience major, with aspirations for medical school, was going through the commencement ceremony. Two years ago, the Schulz's drove 12 hours from their home in Edgeley, N.D., to see Samantha's older brother graduate. But Dusty skipped the ceremony. Marv and Jolene went without him.
Julie Albertson and her sister Mary wouldn't dream of missing commencement. Their 76-year-old mother, Patricia Nelson, completed her doctorate in education last August. Nelson lives in Helena, and her husband drove her to Bozeman for classes until he had a heart attack. Then Mary and Julie took over. Nelson's husband died in January.
Up at the podium soon to be filled with dignitaries, Laurel Schlegelmilch ran through some of the sign language she would perform during the ceremony. Now in her 11th year of signing for commencement--which includes the spelling of dozens of names of alumni receiving anniversary degrees--Schlegelmilch hoped the commencement speaker would be brief.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, himself an MSU alum, heeded his wife Nancy's advice when she told him that for his words to be immortal, he need not speak for eternity.
He asked the graduates, many of whom will leave the state, to do two things.
"Be a great ambassador for the people of Montana," he said. "Demonstrate your ingenuity, your work ethic and your sense of humor."
Go out into the world to explore and to learn, he continued. "And then come home. This is the greatest place in the world to start a family, to start a business and to build a community."
Contact: Chuck Nelson, MSU Registrar, (406) 994-2604