June 17, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Eastern Oregon Universitys Class of 2001 was eloquently urged to maintain a teachable spirit during Saturdays commencement at Community Stadium.

Senior Andrew Kurkinen, EOUs Presidents Scholar, told his classmates that it is critical they continue to be open to new ideas.

Being teachable leads to wisdom and wisdom leads to peace, said Kurkinen, who is from Corbett.

Kurkinen received the Phi Kappa Phi Graduate Fellowship National Award of Excellence earlier this year.

Kurkinen also told his classmates Saturday that it is important to remember that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom and that they are obtained through different means.

Knowledge is gained by interacting with knowledge. Wisdom is gained by interacting with humanity.

Kurkinen said he came to Eastern looking for knowledge and a degree. The most meaningful thing he found, he said, was the wisdom gained from his association with professors, students and community members.

Kurkinen said he now realizes that knowledge is fleeting but wisdom is everlasting. He quoted the 19th century English poet, Alfred Tennyson, to make his point. Knowledge comes and goes but wisdom lingers.

State Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner) also addressed the graduates Saturday. Smith, a 1992 graduate of Eastern, spoke as the recipient of EOUs Distinguished Alumni Award.

Keep in mind the feeling you have today and remember all the people who gave so much so that you could be here today, Smith said. The sacrifices they made for you are priceless.

Smith, the assistant majority leader in the House, asked Easterns graduates to give back to their alma mater.

The education you have received is a gift and that gift must be returned to ensure that good things continue to happen at Eastern, Smith said.

The state representative asked something else of EOUs class of 2001 to always do three things when making choices and decisions.

Smith asked the students to consult their conscience, trust their instincts and remember the values they have been taught.

Smith and Kurkinen spoke to 370 seniors who received their diplomas Saturday. The Class of 2001 includes more than 700 graduates.

More than 2,000 family members and friends attended Saturdays ceremony.

Graduates were led in and out of Community Stadium by bagpipe players Ben Ward of La Grande and Jeremy Gordon of Kennewick, Wash.

Ward is a student at Eastern and Gordon is a graduate of the school.

The national anthem and Easterns alma mater were sung by graduating senior Jamie Jacobson. The colors were posted by members of Boy Scout Troop 514.