Skip to content
  • Print

College of the Pacific Commencement Address 2019

Dean Rena Fraden

Tehipite ValleyGraduates of the class of 2019: Has anyone heard of Tehipite Valley? 

Been there? Stand up, if so? OK, no one? Very, very few? I'm going there this summer. I'm going to try, anyway.  

Our very own John Muir visited it, at least once in the 1870s, and you can read what he said about it online.  

If you Google "Tehipite Valley, John Muir and the University of Pacific," John Muir Papers Scholarly Commons will shoot right up! Yay! We own the Muir Papers now outright!  

Tehipite (meaning high rock, we think) is in our neighboring Fresno County, in Kings Canyon, part of the Sierras, and Tehipite Dome is the biggest dome in all of the Sierras, bigger than El Cap, bigger than Half Dome . . . but . . . no one goes there

Tehipite DomePeople are into seeing the biggest this, the biggest that, so why aren't millions of people going to Tehipite Valley to look up at Tehipite Dome, the biggest dome in the Sierras the way they go to Yosemite Valley to gaze up at El Cap? Well, maybe because it's a 15-mile hike in from the nearest road, 11 miles in and then a 3,500-foot drop to the valley floor.  

It's not as wide or as long as Yosemite Valley but it sure is more wild, with multiple falls running down its massive canyon walls, the middle fork of the Kings River cutting through it, Native American petroglyphs and a nicely entitled Gorge of Despair with some of the finest technical rock climbing in the Sierras found there. Also, there are rattlesnakes and poison oak, which might be further reasons, along with the brutal hike in, which makes it less visited.

So I think it's a little crazy that I'm heading there at my age this summer. But I grew up with my parents taking my brother and me to the Sierras, and my brother and I took our children to the Sierras when they were growing up, and after many years, my kids and his kids are looking at us, or anyway looking at me, and saying - hey, we have to go again - (before it's too late I know they're thinking, but not saying). And so, I'm going to give it a shot. The gear, thank goodness, has gotten lighter over the past 40 years.       

I now have a lightweight backpack; a one pound sleeping bag. And I think about what is absolutely necessary to carry and what it will weigh: a rain jacket; a hat; one pound of food for the six days we'll be out. And also, for me, six days of coffee grounds, and a book, the pages of which, after I've finished reading, I'll burn before leaving the valley floor. 

So Class of 2019, here is the lesson, my blessing, and a charge. As you leave our Central Valley, being young in body and in spirit, educated with the life-sustaining liberal arts you have been exposed to here, we know you will summit the heights of your future life. Being young, your strong backs will lift with ease the pack of your desires and ambitions. We wish your pack to be filled with worldly goods. 

Pacific tigerBut as you grow older and your back begins to curve, we trust you will figure out what is most necessary to carry. And you may come to see that those things that are most precious may, in the end, be weightless after all - the joy that comes to you from singing a song with a friend, the sight of dawn breaking and dusk falling. Above all else, keep close the people you love; they will be there in the end to lighten your load, to steady you across the river, to share with you the fruits of all your labor and dreams. 

And remember us. Come back to tell your favorite teachers of the domes you have seen, the valleys you've passed through, of all your triumphs. We will rejoice together in our lives forever intertwined, in lives well-lived.