For nearly 16 months, Megan Tuttle commuted 56 miles a day to take classes at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.
Her reward: a bachelor’s degree with a focus in hydrology and fishery management.
“Evergreen definitely has this stigma around it, ‘Oh hippies,’ you know, and it’s so untrue,” said Tuttle, 26, of Aberdeen. “I mean, there’s a very small percentage of hippie-dippy whatever, but our science programs are intense. You have to work your butt off to really get through it.”
Tuttle was one of nearly 1,000 students who participated in Evergreen’s colorful, musical and rain-filled commencement on Friday afternoon. A sea of green mortarboards and large umbrellas filled Red Square for the college’s 45th commencement ceremony.
“We are very excited to celebrate you today,” Evergreen president George Bridges told the graduates during his first commencement at the school.
“Evergreen is a little bit like the Hotel California. Today you get to check out, but you never really leave.”
About 90 percent of the graduates belong to at least one group that is traditionally underserved in higher education, according to statistics released by the college. Among the class of 2016:
▪ 76 percent met the federal government’s standard of low-income.
▪ 10 percent have a disability.
▪ 32 percent are the first in their families to receive a baccalaureate.
▪ 7 percent are veterans.
▪ 56 percent are older than what’s considered typical for college-age students.
▪ 28 percent are students of color.
Many were students such as Brandon Pearson, 34, of Olympia. He worked and helped raise his son while completing a night and weekend program to earn a bachelor’s degree with a focus in cultural studies.
He described graduation day as the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
“It’s just really the culmination of a huge lack of sleep and a lot of hard work,” Pearson said.
Courtney Howard, 25, of University Place said her Evergreen experience included challenging math and science classes, an amazing trip to Greece, and some incredible memories including an electrical shock during one of her welding and metal work classes.
But she’s OK, and can giggle about that last experience.
“I don’t think I would have gotten that anywhere else, to be able to explore the field I was in, and just go where my heart desired and wandered,” said Howard, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in graphic design. “ I’m glad to be done, and I’m glad to get out of here and show the world what I’ve learned.”
Dana Moor, 22, described graduation as a bittersweet day. She twirled and danced in the college’s Red Square with her nieces before the ceremony.
She said she was trying to soak up her last moments at Evergreen, and in Olympia, a city she’s grown to love, before lining up to receive that bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in fine arts and cultural studies and humanities.
“It’s a mixture of, like, happiness, elation and existential crisis,” said Moor, who is originally from Washington, D.C. “I get to go on to the next chapter of my life, which is scary and amazing.”