Alumna turned international health advocate to address graduates

Theresa Betancourt '91, internationally known advocate for child health and human rightsThe Linfield Commencement Ceremony will be June 2, at 10 a.m. in the Oak Grove on campus. Theresa Betancourt, a Linfield graduate and internationally known advocate for child health and human rights, will deliver the address. Charles Walker, who served as president of Linfield from 1975 to 1992, will deliver the baccalaureate address June 1.

The public is invited to both events.

Golden Grads, individuals who graduated from Linfield 50 or more years ago, will also be marching in the commencement ceremony, and several will accompany their grandchildren who are graduating.

The school expects approximately 660 graduates during the 2012-13 academic year, including a growing number of multiethnic graduates, especially Latino and Asian/Pacific Islanders. Almost a quarter of Linfield students are Americans of color.

Commencement Speaker 

Theresa Betancourt ’91 will present a lectured titled “The Rest is Up to You.” A Linfield summa cum laude graduate, Betancourt now directs the Research Program on Children and Global Adversity at Harvard University. The center works to protect and promote the rights and wellbeing of children and their families in developing countries, through research, teaching, advocacy and targeted action.

In addition to her directorship and professorship at Harvard, Betancourt teaches at the Center for International Health and Development at Boston University. She also serves as an associated scientist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Betancourt grew up in rural Alaska in an indigenous village with no paved roads, and with parents who made social justice their mission. Her mother established an early-childhood center, flying bush planes to remote villages to help children, and her father, a former Peace Corps volunteer, taught Yup’ik children. The experience shaped Betancourt for life, giving her a respect for other cultures and a sense of familiarity with conditions in the developing world.

She began working with disadvantaged children while she was still a student at Linfield, helping refugee families as part of a work study project. She later served as a senior intern for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and consulted for the International Rescue Committee, designing education programs for use in refugee camps.

Betancourt now works with Partners in Health and other international associations, directing long-term studies and developing intervention programs for children and families affected by armed conflicts, HIV/AIDs and other extreme circumstances. She develops and demonstrates models for governments, non-governmental organizations, charitable foundations and communities, aligning their efforts and increasing their effectiveness.

The common thread in her research is documenting survival strategies. Betancourt studies how some children and families manage to recover from the trauma of war, homelessness, sickness and poverty, and develops tools that will enable other children to heal.

Over the years, she has advocated for and helped thousands of homeless children in India, former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, Rwandan children and families affected by HIV/AIDS, and Eritrean Kunama refugees, among others.

“People who have passion for this work can make a huge difference,” said Betancourt. “If your treatment for a parent can change the life trajectories of the whole family, you can accomplish something tremendous.”

Betancourt graduated from Linfield College with a degree in psychology and minors in French and international studies. She completed her doctoral work in maternal and child health with concentrations in psychiatric epidemiology and health and human rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. Like her parents before her, she involves her own children in her outreach.

Betancourt received a Distinguished Alumna Award from Linfield College in 2010.

Baccalaureate Speaker 

Charles U. Walker, who served as Linfield president from 1975-92, will present a lecture titled “The Question of HOW.”

During his 17 years as Linfield’s leader, Walker built a reputation for community involvement, and his retirement has proven no different. The Linfield president emeritus has been prominently involved in the Ford Family Foundation, serving as vice chair of the board and helping design the foundation’s two major initiatives, the Ford Scholars Program and the Ford Institute for Community Building. Walker was founding chair of the Oregon Cultural Trust, which makes grants to cultural organizations in addition to raising funds toward a $200 million permanent endowment.

His interest in education led to his involvement in the Chalkboard Project, designed to help strengthen K-12 education in Oregon. The project is run by Foundations for a Better Oregon, which he chairs. This association is comprised of the Ford Family Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, James and Marion Miller Foundation, Collins Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation and JELD-WEN Foundation.

A classical music enthusiast, Walker established Neskowin Chamber Music in 1994. He also combines his interest in international education and travel by leading tours around the world. He served as president of his local library board and as board member of the Tillamook County Futures Council. Walker is vice chair of the James and Marion Miller Foundation, which focuses on the arts and education in Oregon.

The baccalaureate ceremony will be held June 1 at 5 p.m. in the Ted Wilson Gymnasium, located in the Health, Human Performance and Athletics Building.

Nursing Closing Convocation

The Nursing Pinning Ceremony will be held at 2:30 p.m. in the Ted Wilson Gymnasium.

Commencement ceremony guests are urged to bring umbrellas and dress for unpredictable spring weather, with appropriate clothing and footwear. For more information, call (503) 883-2408 or visit


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