Honorary graduates, U.S. ambassador highlight Pomona graduation

Pomona College graduates were treated not to one speaker, but 4, as they celebrated their commencement on Saturday, May 12.

The first 3 speeches came from a diverse group of luminaries on whom the college conferred honorary degrees. Occidental College president Jonathan Veitch; David Keith Murray, a former Pomona College student who has gone on to distinguish himself in the world of jazz music; and Marigold Linton, a cognitive psychologist who became the first Native American from a California reservation to go to college.

Next, commencement speaker Cameron Munter brought both a local and international flavor to the podium.

Mr. Munter is a U.S. diplomat who has served in conflict-plagued regions like Iran, where he got “acquainted with the sound of rockets” and Serbia, where he learned what it’s like to have an “embassy burned out from under you.” Most recently, his work has taken him to a post as American Ambassador to Pakistan. He took the position in 2010, and announced his resignation on May 9, 2012.

Though he’s ranged far and wide, Mr. Munter grew up in Claremont, attending schools in the district.

Things have changed, he said, harkened back to long-gone Claremont businesses like The Village Theatre, Spaghetti Village and Bentley’s Market. Nonetheless, he was pleased to return to “a town that, to me, will always be a vision of peace and harmony.”

When Mr. Munter wanted to talk about those same values in Pakistan, the conversation always started with a meal, he shared. It’s a gastronomically oriented culture, in which Pakistanis “eat so they can talk.”

He described gathering with countless people over tea and samosas, waiting for that moment when they inevitably would utter these words. “I’m no diplomat, but I’m going to be blunt with you.”

Many Pakistani people are disillusioned, Mr. Munter said, feeling there’s a wide gap between American democratic ideals and policies that, among other side effects, leave “innocent Pakistanis unable to travel to the US.”

While it’s “hard to identify with a country that allows Osama Bin Laden to live for 5 years a few miles from its capitol,” Mr. Munter believes bilateral communication and cooperation are the only way to foster peace there.

“It’s not a matter of Pakistan doing what we think is right, but of Pakistan fulfilling its own potential,” he said.

At times, he acknowledged, it’s been hard for him and for other Americans working in Pakistan to stamp out terrorism and strengthen infrastructure because of the sense of grievance held by many in the nation. To convey the atmosphere, he quoted the Randy Newman song, “Political Science”. “We give them money but are they grateful? No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful.”

“To teach myself humility, I went to Pakistan,” he said.

Mr. Munter, who attended Cornell University in Ithaca and received his PhD in modern European history from Johns Hopkins University, says he retains the sense of optimism that first brought him to serve.

“Your ideals can not only remain in tact, but can grow,” he promised the new Pomona College alums.

–Sarah Torribio



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