| 03.24.2018

A graduation 40 years in the making – 72-year-old alumnus to walk 40 years after he earns degree


During the University of Idaho commencement ceremony of 1976, Gordon Snyder, 72, was in Montana in the middle of a forestry lab.

On that day 40 years ago, Snyder was supposed to receive his doctorate on water quality. On May 14, Snyder will be hooded for his degree by his former professor Mike Falter, who would have done the honor 40 years ago.

“From about the middle of April to the end of May, we had water sampling “¦ we were out in the field with our teams,” Snyder said. “There was no way I could interrupt what I was doing over in Montana to come back for graduation.”

At the time, he said he wasn”t too torn up about missing the ceremony.

“The only graduation I ever remember attending was my eighth grade one,” he said. “So, it wasn”t high on my list.”

Several years ago, Snyder said his wife, Chris, returned to school to become a nurse practitioner. That”s when Snyder said he began to think about what he missed.

Six months ago, Snyder said he gained his “robo-knee,” which would allow him to walk across the stage. So, he set the wheels turning.

“My grad school said that would be no problem, we”ll figure it out,” Snyder said. “It”s been a crazy idea that”s turned into a lot of fun.”

When he began to tell people about his plan, he said everyone thought he was crazy – that is until they thought about it.

“At first, my wife rolled her eyes, and then after a moment or two of laughing at me, she thought it was a good idea,” Snyder said.

The day of commencement is Falter”s 75th birthday. When Snyder gave him a call, he said Falter had the same response as everyone else.

“It took him a couple of minutes and then he was like, “Oh what a hoot, let”s do it together,”” Snyder said.

Falter said the decision was simple.

“It was a request I couldn”t turn down because he was one of my earliest graduate students,” Falter said.

He said he enjoyed working closely with the approximately 60 graduate students he had during his more than 30 years at UI, which he officially retired from in 2002, although he”s having trouble staying away.

“It was a good feeling of camaraderie and everyone working together,” he said.

Falter said Snyder was a cut above in terms of maturity, perhaps because he had out-of-classroom experience before entering the program.

“Sometimes I had to persuade him, try to persuade him, for ways to do things and sometimes I learned from him,” Falter said. “We had a good time. He was hell-bent on going to work for the Forest Service, and he did. That was a real good start to his career.”

Snyder and his wife have two children, Brooke and Barry.

“My daughter will be there, Chris will be there, two field technicians that I worked all those years with will be there,” Snyder said. “We”ve got some of the old core together which is pretty much a hoot.”

Initially, Snyder said he came to UI for several reasons. He was raised and completed his undergraduate years in California, which meant he hadn”t seen snow.

“I just thought I would head this way if I had the opportunity, to get out of the desert,” he said.

When he graduated in 1967, drafting for the Vietnam War was in effect, but he said his employer was able to secure a deferment for him.

He then looked to get out of a laboratory and into the field, which UI allowed him to do while studying water quality. He said his fieldwork resulted in life-long friends.

“It was good times, really good times. I used to say, “people are paying me to do this,”” Snyder said. “You”re out there working and you”re out there having fun, but it”s also very dangerous if you”re not careful.”

He earned his master”s degree in watershed science in 1974 and then completed his doctorate in 1976. He spent time at the Forestry Sciences Laboratory before starting his own consulting company, which included work for companies such as NASA.

Now, he has a variety of projects, including helping students with science fair projects around the Seattle area.

“Some of them have gotten scholarships based on their science projects,” Snyder said.

He said he had simple advice for graduates, and it comes from Pink Floyd – “Shine on, you crazy diamonds.”

“You”ll probably end up doing something better than what you thought, but you won”t if you never tried,” Snyder said.

Katelyn Hilsenbeck can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @Katelyn_mh

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