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May 08, 2014

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Robert Pirtle ’14 will be the student speaker at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement on May 10. A committee of seniors, staff, and faculty selected Pirtle, a physics major from Harwich, Massachusetts, during the annual Senior Speaker Competition.

We talked with Pirtle about his time at Lewis & Clark and how a liberal arts education has prepared him for the future.

What are some of your reflections on your college experience?

I have had a really amazing time at Lewis & Clark. I can’t imagine a better place to have spent the last four years. I love everyone I’ve met, and everything I’ve done—or, if I didn’t love it, I’m at least grateful for the opportunity. I am really going to miss this place.

What are your happiest recollections of your time at Lewis & Clark?

It’s hard to condense four years into only a few words. My a cappella group, Momo and the Coop, is one of the first things that comes to mind. When singing with them, I can think of nothing but what’s happening right then and there. Going abroad to Chile was incredible. I also can’t help but think of my professors and how amazing and dedicated they are. Also, many of my favorite moments were spent sitting with my friends and enjoying each other’s company.

What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?

It’s a funny story because this is the only school I applied to west of the Mississippi, and I only did so as an excuse to visit the Pacific Northwest. I heard about how beautiful and great it was here. I visited for a week in April and it was awesome. I fell in love with all of the people and the area and decided to move 3,000 miles away from the only place I’d ever really known. Also, I realized I wanted a small school. Most of the other schools I applied to were big, East Coast technical colleges where I’d study physics and math and only ever physics and math, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The liberal arts are the way to go.

Besides singing with Momo and the Coop, were you involved with any extracurricular activities during your time here?

Phew! Too many. I also sing with Cappella Nova. I was on the Student Academic Affairs Board (SAAB), and am a teacher’s assistant in a physics lab. I was really involved with the slam poetry club during my first two years at Lewis & Clark. Also, I led an Alternative Spring Break program to El Salvador this past March.

What was your favorite class? How did it expand your knowledge?

Again, I have too many! My top two are probably Thermodynamics with Michael Broide and Computer Graphics with Jeff Ely. Other classes I loved were Electromagnetism, Calculus IV, Spanish conversation, Philosophical Methods, Jerry Harp’s Exploration and Discovery section…I could go on.

The thing I learned about in Thermodynamics that really changed my perspective was entropy, the idea that things tend to happen in the way they are most likely to happen. It’s awe-inspiring because one of the only assumptions you make is that anything is possible. There are just infinitely more ways for my room to be messy than there are for it to be organized, so it’s usually pretty messy.

How has your time here helped you grow as an individual?

Again, it’s hard to sum up the experiences of four years briefly, and that growth is still happening. I’m certainly much more mature than I was as a first-year student. But I’m also very much the same. My time at L&C has given me the opportunity to view my life in reference to everyone around me. I would like to think I’m a lot less selfish and more caring towards others. Since being here, I’ve learned even more about how much I don’t know, too—which my dad’s always said a good measure of intelligence. I’m learning that I know less and less every day.

What message do you hope to convey to your fellow graduates at commencement?

I just want everyone to appreciate the day. We’ve all done a lot to get here and we should take a moment to really treasure our accomplishments. But then I also want to get everyone excited! I don’t really anticipate people remembering most of what I say, but hopefully they’ll take away feelings of gratitude, jubilation, and wonder.

What do you think you’ll do after college?

I’m headed back to Massachusetts for at least the summer. I’ll be taking the GREs and applying to graduate programs in physics between now and next fall. I’m hoping to sort out my priorities and maybe do some traveling or get a job. I’ve always wanted my serious endgame to be going into space, but I’m just taking it one thing at a time.

Commencement Academics