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WEST VALLEY CITY — Bibek Neupane, the student speaker at Westminster College's graduation ceremony at the Maverik Center Saturday, said he saw himself differently when he first arrived in the United States four years ago from Nepal.
"I never thought of the privileges I had," Neupane said, from being born into the south Asia nation's highest caste as a male. He was forced to examine what that meant, he said, when he found himself "on the receiving end of stereotypes."
People needed help pronouncing his name and understanding his accent, seldom aware of his background or where he was from, Neupane said, and pushed him to re-examine his views.
Standing before many of the 859 members of the Class of 2016 and several thousand of their family and friends, he said the experience made him more empathetic and a better communicator.
"Don't be afraid to unmask yourself," the double major in economics and theater urged his classmates.
The commencement speaker, journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, reflected on being one of the first two African-American students admitted to the University of Georgia in 1961 under court order.
"Thankfully, none of you have had that challenge," said Hunter-Gault, a former PBS "NewsHour" correspondent who went on to report from Africa for more than two decades for NPR and CNN.
But, Hunter-Gault said she and Saturday's graduating class share something in common. Westminster, she said, is rated one of the nation's top 25 colleges for students who want to change the world.
"Each and every one of you is a pioneer," she said, now equipped with the credentials to make a contribution as part of "the movement of the maladjusted," as Martin Luther King described civil rights activists.
"We are simply not in a new normal but in a new moment," Hunter-Gault said, awash with what has been called a toxic mix of fear, ignorance and hate toward Muslims and others.
She called on graduates to rely on the armor that comes from faith as they meet the challenges ahead, "hopefully following the moral arc of the universe" as it bends toward justice.
Hunter-Gault was awarded a doctor of human letters at the 141st commencement ceremony for the private, independent university in Salt Lake City specializing in liberal arts and professional programs.
This year's graduating class was made up of students from 37 states and 31 foreign countries who ranged in age from 19 to 60 years old. A total of 548 bachelor's and 311 master's degrees were awarded.
The most popular major at the college was nursing, followed by psychology, public health, marketing, management, finance, environmental studies, biology, communications, accounting and economics.