Today's graduates may feel like their college careers are ending just as the "wheels are coming off the bus," but there have been other turbulent times, Huntsman said, referring to his own youth during the Vietnam War.
"And in each case, we recover, we learn our lessons and we become ever more resilient," Huntsman said.
"Hold on to your sense of optimism," he said. "Despite our dysfunction, we are still as full of potential as ever."
Pianist Fan-Ya Lin, the student speaker at commencement, told how she passed up admission to Juilliard to enroll at WSU in 2008.
Her first formal piano lesson at WSU, she said, lasted six hours.
"I was thinking … what was I signing myself up for?"
But such personal attention from faculty is what drew the native of Taiwan, who soon won a national college student competition sponsored by educators. Last month, she performed at Carnegie Hall.
Lin, who wants to become an international concert pianist, is headed next to Juilliard for graduate work.
Gentry Phillips, 24, of Ogden, said she also found personal attention to be a hallmark during her years at WSU. She was awarded a bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in sociology on Friday.
Phillips, who also works as a pharmacy technician, will continue research with WSU professors as she applies to doctoral programs.
"There's a joke that you 'go to 'Just Weber,' " she said. "But I've loved it."