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Danny Glover urges USU graduates to be informed, engaged

LOGAN — The first thing that Utah State University graduate Chantelle Vanorden plans to do this summer is to watch a few more Danny Glover movies.

"He's awesome," she said, following his commencement address at USU on Saturday, where she became the first member of her family to earn a college degree.

Although a handful of attendees and community members questioned Glover's appearance, the acclaimed screen actor, political activist and humanitarian did not disappoint, as dozens of graduates followed him out of the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum to snap a picture or get an autograph.

Confronting a fear of speaking in front of people, Glover, 63, talked as though he were leading a movement, hoping to incite the Class of 2010 to action. Global warming, climate change and education were key points in his address as were other topics he is obviously passionate about.

"This may have been, for you, the best years of your life, but certainly the years that you would experience maturity and growing as an adult, something you will rely on, that will bring definition to who you can possibly be," he said.

In addition to his more than 25 years of film credits, Glover has gained respect for his wide-reaching community activism and philanthropic efforts, advancing the causes of hunger, housing for the poor, community safety, equal and fair wages, orphans and other children affected by HIV/AIDS, child victims of land mines and other campaigns worldwide. He is working on a film about former USU football player Lionel Aldridge, who had a successful career in the National Football League but also struggled with a mental illness.

Glover was brought to USU through a connection with Tobijah Tyler, a Salt Lake-based filmmaker and USU alumnus, who is working with him on the Aldridge film.

"His speech was very well thought out," said Vanorden's mother, Debbie Vanorden. "His family has had to go through things we've never even had to understand."

Glover, who serves as a UNICEF ambassador, received an honorary degree during the ceremony. He spoke of many memorable life-shaping and life-changing worldwide events in his lifetime, extending a challenge for the rising generation to think ahead.

"It will take action that only you as informed citizens, as engaged citizens, it would take the action of conviction," he said. "Maybe with all our force, with all our conviction, with all our humility, with all our understanding, we can make something get done."

In her address to graduates as valedictorian, Natali Naegle said, "It will fall to us, the innovators of tomorrow, to find creative solutions for these and other problems." The experience at USU, she said, teaches students how to learn, providing "deeper critical thinking skills and a better ability to solve problems."

USU's newest class, which consists of nearly 2,200 undergraduates, an additional 1,200 last fall and 645 graduate students, was "filled with extraordinary accomplishments," said USU President Stan Albrecht.

"I believe that your preparation will allow you to make the accommodations required to achieve the things that you desire in your lives," he said. "Treat the unanticipated as an opportunity for new experiences and enhanced understandings that otherwise might have been missed."

Albrecht praised the graduates for their accomplishment and noted a number of faculty who earned special recognition and awards, and the excitement brought on a rousing rendition of the school's song, sung by the graduates and members of the audience.

In addition to Glover, Donald R. Quayle, Scott R. Simplot, Paula M. Swaner and Dominic A. Welch, all prominent contributors in the state of Utah and the USU community, received honorary degrees, bestowed by Albrecht during what he calls "a most historic time for our university." The school has just merged with the College of Eastern Utah in Price to offer a comprehensive regional community college for the area. Ground was broken Tuesday for a new teaching and research building on USU's historic quad.