BOWLING GREEN - In the course of living your life, this is the time to pursue any dream you may have because you'll never be freer to do so, several hundred graduating students in Bowling Green State University's college of arts and sciences were told yesterday.
Dr. Thomas Gouttierre, in his commencement address, acknowledged that this advice was from his own life, in particular when he graduated from BGSU in 1962 with a major in history.
“An overseas experience was a faraway dream I had entertained for most of my life,” he told the 587 graduates convened in Anderson Area. “Seeking to make the dream come true, I applied for study-abroad scholarships to Rotary and other sources - unsuccessfully.
“But this was the Kennedy era. The Peace Corps was a new and exciting option and challenge. My choices after graduation: Should I use my degree and hit the job market, or pursue that dream of an overseas experience? In the early '60s, still a few years before hippies and the free-speech movements, heading abroad to work for 11 cents an hour in an impoverished Third World country was not a common choice.”
The Toledo native and Maumee resident did go abroad with the Peace Corps - to Afghanistan, a place he knew nothing about, except that “it was in Asia.” Thus began a lifelong intellectual romance with that country. Today, Dr. Gouttierre, 60, is dean of international studies and programs at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, where he directs the Center for Afghanistan Studies.
Considered one of the United States' leading experts on Afghanistan, Dr. Gouttierre has given briefings on that part of the world to committees of the U.S. Congress, the British Parliament, the French National Assembly, and the United Nations. He was a senior political affairs officer on a U.N. peacekeeping mission to Afghanistan in 1996-97.
“So off to Afghanistan it was. My very first airplane ride - 10,000 miles away - and my very first step on foreign soil,” Dr. Gouttierre said.
“That first step has made all the difference in the world for me, personally and professionally, as well as for my family. It is most unlikely, had I not taken this chance, that my career would be international education,” he said.
“If there is a dream in the back of your mind, give it a try. It may make all the difference to you as well. Avoid regretting 20 years from now that you wished you had taken the chance.”
BGSU conferred an honorary doctor of international relations degree on Dr. Gouttierre in recognition of his career in international education, international relations, diplomacy, and conflict resolution.
The college of arts and sciences' ceremony was one of five BGSU commencement exercises held in Anderson Arena and at the university's Firelands College in Huron, Ohio. Two thousand students received diplomas. Other colleges conferring degrees were Firelands, the graduate college, the college of musical arts, the college of education and human development, the college of technology, and the colleges of business administration and health and human services.
Lindsay McClure of Pittsburgh, an arts and sciences graduate majoring in graphic design, said Dr. Gouttierre's remarks resonated with her. “It's important to get out and try new things, even if they're not what you've been planning to do. This is what makes you grow,'' she said.