WALLA WALLA — Last year Whitman College tapped British-born comedian Eric Idle of Monty Python fame as commencement speaker for the Class of 2013.
This year another British-born person, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, will do the honors on May 25 for Whitman’s Class of 2014.
Before her appointment as Secretary of the Interior in April 2013, Jewell served eight years as president and chief executive officer of Kent, Wash.-based Recreation Equipment Inc., commonly known as REI.
“I look forward to returning to the Northwest to celebrate this milestone with the Whitman Community,” Secretary Jewell said in a Whitman news release.
“Whitman is widely known for its engaged, curious and vibrant student body, and I’m honored to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2014.”
Jewell came to the United States at age 4 when her father accepted a fellowship with University of Washington Medical School, according to a Seattle Times profile of her in 2005. She graduated from high school in Renton, then formally trained as a mechanical engineer at the UW.
Jewell got her start working for Mobil Oil Corp. in the oil and gas fields of Oklahoma before moving into commercial banking — eventually overseeing Washington Mutual’s commercial banking business. Jewell joined REI in 2000 as chief operating officer and was named its CEO in 2005.
During her tenure in the company’s top job, REI nearly tripled its business to $2 billion in annual sales and was consistently ranked one of the 100 best companies to work for by Fortune Magazine.
In nominating Jewell as Interior secretary, President Barack Obama described her as “ an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future.”
“She is committed to building our nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Country,” he said. “She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress; that in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand.”
As Interior secretary, Jewell leads an agency with more than 70,000 employees.
The department is steward of about 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks and wildlife refuges and other public lands; oversees development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters; is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states; and upholds trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.
“Sally Jewell is a natural choice for Whitman,” said George Bridges, the college’s president. “Her personal, academic and professional achievements — from leading one of the most environmentally conscious businesses in the country, to climbing the highest mountain in Antarctica, and today, serving as Secretary of the Interior to improve and protect our precious natural resources — will inspire our many like-minded students and graduates.”
The commencement ceremony takes place at 11 a.m. Festivities will be on the Memorial Building South Lawn.
Ben Wentz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8315.