SOU commencement speaker Erim Gomez

SOU alumnus and former McNair Scholar to headline 2021 Commencement

(Ashland, Ore.) — Erim Gómez was a McNair Scholar and first-generation college graduate at SOU, a co-director of what is now the SOU Environmental Resource Center and an active member of the SOU Alumni Association Board of Directors. On June 12, the newly minted Ph.D. and assistant professor at the University of Montana will also serve as SOU’s commencement speaker.

Graduates and others participating in SOU’s live-streamed commencement ceremony will hear about Gómez’s compelling personal story, his heartfelt mission to encourage under-represented and other students to pursue and achieve their higher education dreams, and his passion for environmentalism and the sciences.

Erim GomezGómez is proud of his family’s farm-working and immigrant roots, and that both he and his brother Edrik – who died in a 2008 helicopter crash while serving as a wildland firefighter – were part of the prestigious McNair Scholarship program at SOU. Gómez received his doctorate in environmental and natural resources science from Washington State University last fall. He was hired at the University of Montana in August 2020 as an assistant professor in the school’s highly regarded Wildlife Biology Department.

“I challenge you to not fear failure and to take risks,” Gómez is expected to tell SOU’s new graduates on Saturday. “I learn a lot more from my failures than my successes. If you don’t occasionally fail, you need to set larger and higher goals. 

“Your SOU degree will and has already opened doors for you,” he will suggest. “Make sure that you keep the doors open for those who come after you.”

Gómez will anchor the list of speakers at this year’s SOU commencement, a hybrid day of activities that will include an in-person, live-streamed opportunity to walk across the stage at Raider Stadium, a wide-ranging online ceremony and a variety of events in which individual programs will recognize the accomplishments of their graduates.

The in-person photo opportunity at Raider Stadium – at which no guests will be allowed – will begin at 9 a.m. The virtual ceremony – live-streamed on the SOU Commencement webpage and the university’s social media platforms – will start at 2 p.m.

This will be SOU’s second consecutive year of virtual commencement ceremonies, a result of the global pandemic. The online events will include a life-streamed ceremony with Gomez and other speakers, Zoom parties and private, dedicated social media engagement. A number of the university’s academic programs and divisions also have created virtual or hybrid events that celebrate their graduates’ accomplishments.

About 1,100 degrees are expected to be conferred.

Gómez received his bachelor’s degree in biology from SOU in 2007, then went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate in natural resources sciences from Washington State. He won national recognition in 2011, when he was awarded the Bullitt Foundation’s Environmental Fellowship – which offers $100,000 over two years of graduate study for students focusing on environmental issues in Washington, Oregon or British Columbia. Gomez used the fellowship to study Palouse Prairie amphibians in eastern Washington.