Clif Bar founder tells Cal Poly grads to ‘get lost’ as class of 2017 is honored

Sights and sounds of Cal Poly’s 2017 graduation

Approximately 40,000 people were expected at the graduation of about 4,500 Cal Poly students, one of the largest classes in university history, during commencement ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, June 17 and 18, 2017.
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Approximately 40,000 people were expected at the graduation of about 4,500 Cal Poly students, one of the largest classes in university history, during commencement ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, June 17 and 18, 2017.

It made total sense that the founder of a company that makes energy bars often consumed during outdoor pursuits would tell Cal Poly graduates to “get lost” before they find themselves.

That was the message from Gary Erickson, the founder Clif Bar & Company, in his keynote addresses to the estimated 4,500 students during the university’s 76th annual commencement ceremonies this weekend. It is one of the largest graduating classes in the university’s history.

“No matter how certain or uncertain your path will stay, like mine, it is a journey that will unfold through incredible opportunities, abundant stretches of being completely lost and a smattering of defining moments,” Erickson said in Saturday morning’s ceremony.

Erickson, who graduated with a business administration degree in 1980, confided in the audience that he was a “solid C student” at Cal Poly, and he told the story of how he wandered somewhat aimlessly after graduating, before being inspired in his mother’s kitchen to launch a baking business that would one day grow into a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

“The greatest joy in my life has been getting lost, so I can find my way out,” he said. “Whether it’s up a towering rock face or over a high mountain pass, these experiences have taught me how to face life’s obstacles as well as its opportunities, to embrace the unknown, to act in those rare and precious moments of total clarity and, above all, to trust my gut.”

Outgoing College of Science and Mathematics Dean Phil Bailey, who has been with the university since 1969 and dean since 1983, is scheduled to speak Sunday. Associated Students Incorporated President Jana Colombini, graduating from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences as an outstanding senior for university contribution, also spoke Saturday and is set to again Sunday.

Clif Bar founder Gary Erickson, a Cal Poly alumnus, offered some advice to new Cal Poly graduates in his keynote speech Saturday, June 17, 2017.

An estimated 40,000 visitors are expected to attend the commencement ceremonies.

“Graduation is the culmination of years of dedication and hard work,” President Jeffrey Armstrong said. “Pride resonates throughout the Cal Poly community as these future leaders ready for their next challenges. Learn by Doing helped them get here, and it will help them as they begin their careers or pursue graduate studies.”

In addition, nearly 1,000 students made the dean’s list.

The university also awarded three honorary doctorate degrees, with retired Congresswoman Lois Capps, Cuesta College President Gilbert Stork and the late dairyman Doug Maddox named as recipients.

Notable graduates include:

▪ Martin Alfaro (College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences), a 26-year-old transfer student from Soledad, where he has a wife and son. Alfaro, a first-generation student, commuted six hours a day, up to five days a week, while pursuing a degree in agriculture and environmental plant science. He graduated with a 3.4 grade point average.

▪ Cameron Andrews (College of Liberal Arts), a 21-year-old from Paso Robles. Andrews plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology at the University of Michigan but first will head to Alaska as part of the AmeriCorps program, where he will be working with veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as integrating the homeless population into society.

▪ Camille Chabot (College of Science and Mathematics), a 22-year-old from Dublin, California, whose pursuit of a liberal studies degree to become an elementary school teacher was complicated by a diagnosis of Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the most advanced stage of the cancer of the lymphatic system. Chabot underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, all while taking online classes.

▪ Carlos “Charly” Flores (College of Engineering), a 23 year-old transfer student from San Pedro. Flores graduated with a degree in electrical engineering with a focus on power electronics. Flores served as president of the Cal Poly chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, was an academic tutor for the Boys & Girls Club and was awarded the College of Engineering’s Outstanding Student Award for Service to the Off-Campus Community.

▪ Iris Huang (Orfalea College of Business), a 21-year-old from Monterey Park and business administration major. Huang is the first Cal Poly Scholar to graduate from the Orfalea College of Business.

▪ Carla Simental (College of Architecture and Environmental Design), a 23-year-old from Santa Clarita graduating from the architectural engineering program. A first-generation student raised by a single mother, Simental went on to become a campus chapter president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and plans to eventually obtain a structural engineering license.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler