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Originally published June 15, 2013 at 6:28 PM | Page modified June 15, 2013 at 9:38 PM

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UW grads celebrate amid job worries

As about 5,000 graduates received their degrees Saturday from the University of Washington, there was concern about getting jobs, but an upbeat vibe as well.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Maybe later, some University of Washington graduates partied at Pioneer Square nightclubs. And maybe some sent out more résumés.

But for one sunny afternoon at CenturyLink Field, about 5,000 UW students accepted their diplomas to the cheers and adulation of some 40,000 friends and family.

“She’s the first female in our family to graduate college,” Ma Yang said of his sister, Yeng Yang, who graduated Saturday with a degree in communications and international studies/Asia.

Ma Yang was the first man in the family, graduating last year in humanities and social sciences from Western Washington University. He found a job in finance with T-Mobile about four months later with help from a Western Washington alumnus.

His sister, one of seven Yang children all at Saturday’s ceremony, has been working at Target for about a month.

“She’s had a couple interviews,” Ma Yang said before family friend Janice Korsmo piped up, “Put in there, ‘Hire this girl!’ ”

That upbeat vibe permeated the stadium Saturday, from a commencement speech by politician Jon Huntsman to parents hopeful their children will find work.

Young adults continue to be pummeled in the job market, where the jobless rate for 20- to 24-year-olds is nearly double that of the general population.

“He says, ‘Don’t worry about it, Mom. I’m going to make it here,’ ” Ines Torres said of her oldest son, Gary Morales. Torres traveled from Los Angeles with her sister and two other children to see him graduate with a bachelor’s degree in math.

“He’s frustrated,” she said. “I say, ‘You can come back with us.’ ”

Many graduates volunteer or take unpaid internships to gain experience they hope will translate into good-paying jobs in their fields. In the meantime, they work in restaurants and retail.

Among them is Erin Libsack, a psychology major.

“From talking to other people, that’s where you should start to get experience,” said Libsack, who plans to go back to school for her doctorate in a year or two.

Huntsman, a Republican presidential hopeful in 2012 who has been governor of Utah and ambassador to China and Singapore, gave a 15-minute pep talk about the power of following your heart.

He encouraged students not to feel down, “even with student loans, and maybe a little bit of uncertainty about your future.”

Veering slightly into the political, he talked about previous generations, including his own, setting out into a world that seemed beset by troubles.

“We recover. We learn our lessons. We become more resilient as a people,” Huntsman said.

The UW also gave Seattle lawyer and philanthropist Bill Gates Sr. an award that is its highest honor for UW graduates. Gates received his bachelor’s and law degrees from the UW and has served as a regent and in other roles there.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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