Students celebrate and remember during 2010 commencement exercises

Some students wrapped colorful leis around their necks, searched for their loved ones under the big tent, or slathered on the 75 SPF sunscreen. A few even practiced flinging their caps to make sure they would get it right.

Friday's commencement ceremonies at East Field were a blend of jubilation and relief as hundreds of scholars posed for photographs and capped off their studies at UC Santa Cruz.

Dr. S. Lochlann Jain, professor of anthropology at Stanford University and a 1999 graduate of the History of Consciousness program at UCSC, urged the freshly minted graduates to "strain to look at the world in a new way ... for surprising, unexpected insights and avoidance of clichés."

2010 commencement slideshow (photos by Heimo)

Jain, who had a deeply frightening look at her own mortality after being diagnosed with cancer just after starting her professorship at Stanford, and whose teaching program focuses in part on cancer culture and the politics of uncertainty, urged the class to "take a Polaroid of this moment--are you too young to remember those? Tuck it in your heart. You may not realize until you are 70 or 80 how special it is just to be here, now, celebrating with your peers."

She urged them to strain to find "new ways of looking at the world, ways that might make you feel uncomfortable. It means mining the moments of disjuncture that you may rather ignore ... for the surprising, unexpected insight. The wonderful poet Robin Ekiss reminds us, clichés can mislead. Clichés can discourage us from really looking at how the world works in unanticipated ways." Later, evoking UCSC longstanding traditions of eclecticism, she urged them to take risks "and think outside of narrow disciplinary boundaries."

Indeed, the students who walked across the lawn that day to take their degrees came from a wide variety of disciplines and concentrations.

Many of them, just before taking to the field, spoke of the ways the university shaped their thinking.

Jeannie Traback, 31, is earning her master's degree in education, along with a teaching credential. Though she took part in Friday's ceremony, she will officially graduate on July 16. She said the program gave her plenty of practical, on-the-job training as well as a strong foundation in theory.

Traback served as a student teacher at the Westlake and Gault elementary schools, both in Santa Cruz. "I am ready to be a teacher," she said. She gave special credit to her supervisor Esther Bench of the UCSC Education Department. "She has taught kindergarten for 38 years," Traback said with a touch of awe. "I had the privilege of working with someone who sustained a long career and still maintained her passion, desire, and drive to teach."

That long-term dedication helped Traback and many other students in moments of doubt, she said.

The university also helped shape the artistic visions of Drew Detweiler, 41, who took an MFA degree in the Digital Arts and New Media program. Detweiler, currently featured in UCSC News & Communications' 20 Grads in 20 days video-based news feature, is an artist, activist, and educator who placed video cameras in the hands of youths from a poor area of Rio de Janeiro and had them prepare autobiographical videos. He also taught them web and video mixing.

Before the ceremony, Detweiler said that his advisor, Sharon Daniel, had a profound effect on his projects at UCSC because she did similar videographic work in Angentina. "Here I learned a new programming language and created custom software for the kids [in Brazil]."

Also on Friday, Boaz Vilozny, 34, received his hard-earned Ph.D in chemistry, five years and one quarter after starting the program. Now he's started a research postdoctorate in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering in a lab with sensitive electronic sensors that can detect viruses and toxins.

Vilozny, shortly before the ceremony, described the way UCSC influenced him when he was choosing a field of concentration. He studied organic chemistry, focusing on making minerals that can detect blood sugars for medical diagnostics. "I started out wanting to make molecules but I switched toward analysis and new ways to make measurements in the natural world."

The weekend was full of inspiring and much-talked-about moments, including UCSC senior lecturer emeritus Don Rothman's keynote address to the Oakes College graduates gathered on West Field on Saturday. He billed his speech as an unabashed love letter to Oakes, where he arrived in 1973 when he was 28. He used an anecdote about being a sixth-grade crossing guard "on a dead-end street" as a jumping off point to talk about the role of scholars and professors in the world.

"I took a lot of abuse from my friends for this modest assignment," he said, "but I was very serious about my responsibilities, dreaming of my corner at night, arriving early, staying late. I was struck by its potential, even though no cars came down the street. Until one day, that is, when a station wagon careened around the corner--like a comet that you just happen to notice on a clear dark summer night--just as a little boy ran into the street ahead of his mother. Instinctively, I grabbed him. His mother said I'd saved his life."

"All the dreaming and all the thinking about the post on a dead-end street, all that imagining, was part of being in the right place at the right time," he told the crowd. "Even on a dead-end street, it turns out, you can be useful. Maybe, as professor Elaine Scarry writes, we come to college so that when that comet is streaking across the night sky in all its mysterious beauty, we're more likely to see it. Or when a child needs our intervention, whether it's a cure for cancer, instruction in the U.S. Constitution, or guidance towards leading a productive and creative life, we're paying attention."

These ceremonies were part of UCSC's Class of 2010 commencement exercises hosted by the university's 10 colleges and Graduate Division from June 11-13. The graduating class includes 2,287 UCSC students receiving bachelor of arts, music, or science degrees. An additional 198 students are receiving master of arts, fine arts, or science degrees. Of that group, 97 will complete the Department of Education master's program in late summer. An additional 166 students are candidates for doctorates.