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There's more to the college experience than the daily grind of going to class, cranking out papers and studying for tests.

For Courtney Van Stolk, who received a master's degree in geography at Oregon State University's commencement exercises on Saturday, it was the sense of shared purpose she found within the groundwater resource management program.

"The community of people all studying waters together — it’s been wonderful being a part of that," she said shortly before the ceremony.

"Knowing they're all passionate about the same things I am — that’s been great."

Van Stolk, a 27-year-old from Memphis, was one of nearly 4,200 members of OSU's graduating class of 7,202 who walked in Saturday's commencement ceremony in Reser Stadium. Her plans include finding a job in groundwater resource management that will keep her in the Pacific Northwest.

Dino Ko, 27, came to OSU from Taiwan to study chemical engineering. He's hoping his newly minted master's degree will translate into a job in recycling or the green power industry.

"I'm really happy to meet people from different countries and cooperate with people from different cultural backgrounds," he said of his OSU experience.

"Learning to work with different cultural background people — I think that is one of the biggest things young people must learn nowadays."

For Emily Johnson, a 24-year-old from Sacramento graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a process control job with Intel in Hillsboro, one of the biggest lessons she learned at OSU was perseverance.

"I took six years to graduate," she said. "Being persistent is important — you can do anything if you keep trying."

Chris Philipson, 24, of Corvallis wore a hard hat instead of a mortarboard to pick up his bachelor’s degree in construction engineering management.

He's headed for a job in the Portland-area town of Fairview with Moore Excavation, a heavy civil engineering firm where he'll put his skills to work laying out subdivisions, roads and underground utility lines.

What did he learn outside the classroom?

"Check your math," he said. "You put the decimal point in the right place, it's the difference between bidding a job at $1,000 or $1 million."

Jonathan Fitch, 23, of Redding, California, is leaving OSU with a bachelor's degree in forest management and a job with Crane Mills in Corning, California. At Oregon State, Fitch said, he acquired "an ability to learn and a great group of buddies," and he doesn't plan to forget either.

"I'll come back up to hunt and fish," he said.

Sara Kerr dyed her long locks purple for commencement. A 30-year-old from upstate New York who moved to the Portland area 10 years ago, she's been commuting to Corvallis for school for the past five years.

The hard work paid off on Saturday with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She has an internship lined up at OSU starting in September, and after that she plans to take her registered dietician's exam.

Kerr was an artist before deciding to become a dietician, and during her time on campus she was inspired by meeting a number of professors who were passionate about pursuits outside their primary field of expertise.

"I hope to take some of what I've learned in science and apply that to my art," she said.

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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