600 graduate under sunny skies

Commencement for the Class of 2019Reprinted with permission of the News-Register. By Starla Pointer, May 27, 2019. Find more News-Register stories here.

The sun smiled on members of Linfield College’s Class of 2019 just as they marched onto the graduation green Sunday morning.

More than 600 graduates received bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, or BS in nursing degrees under the bright skies.

“We’re going to be amazing!” one student’s mortarboard read. “I’m breaking free,” read another. “Hi guys, I’m like super smart” and “Chance to shine,” said others.

The graduating seniors cheered for their parents and other supporters; cheered for speakers such as Judge Adrienne Nelson, the first African American on the Oregon Supreme Court; cheered for President Miles Davis, overseeing his first Linfield graduation; and cheered for themselves, as suggested by David Baca, chairman of the board of trustees.

“Congratulations on your success and accomplishments in academics, arts, service …” said Baca, who graduated from Linfield 40 years earlier.

“We look forward to what you’ll do to serve and enrich the lives of others and make our world a better place,” he said.

Chaplain David Massey followed a similar theme with his invocation.

“We hope that the cries of pain from around the world” are addressed by Linfield graduates and others, so that the hurting people will be healed and they can “join us in celebration.”

Davis started his first graduation by shouting, “What team?”

Students shouted back the name of the college mascot, “Wildcats!”

“What team?” the president called as he’s been greeting students throughout his first year on campus.

“Wildcats!” the Class of 2019 responded, louder.

“What team?”


Since he arrived for the start of the Class of 2019’s senior year, Davis said, he has learned many things. “Foremost, the sense of community” present on the McMinnville and Portland campuses and amongst alumni.

Like Baca, he reminded students they will always be part of Linfield.

“You are permanently woven into the fabric of the college.”

In addition to handing out 600 diplomas, Davis conferred emeritus status on 17 faculty members who are retiring.

Eleven were present to receive the honors: Deborah Canepa, biology; Martin Dwomoh-Tweneboah, computer science; Michael Huntsberger and Brad Thompson, journalism, who opened his coat to reveal a T-shirt saying, “Journalism Matters”; Thomas Love, anthropology; Ronald DeWitt Mills-Pinyas and Elizabeth Obert, art; Martha VanCleave, math; Barbara Valentine and Susan Barnes Whyte, librarians and library science teachers; and Dawn Graff-Haight, health education, who received a huge round of applause from students.

The other retirees who received emeritus status were Stephen Snyder, religion; Faun Tiedge, music; William Bestor, anthropology; Peter Buckingham, history; Thierry Durand, French; and Christopher Keaveney, Japanese.

Judge Nelson, the keynote speaker, told students she wanted to talk about justice because, as Alexander Hamilton said, “the first duty of society is justice.”

She described growing up in a small town in Arkansas. She had a happy life, she said, until her senior year of high school.

Although she had the highest grades in her school, some school board and community members wanted to name a white student as valedictorian. Her mother sued, and many community members supported her.

The incident shook her faith and her hope, she said, but it ultimately put her on a quest to seek justice in every case and for everyone. She quoted a Bible verse, Isaiah 1:17, “learn to do right; seek justice.”

She encouraged Linfield’s Class of 2019 to do the same.

“I want you to ‘reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul,’” Nelson said, quoting Mother Teresa. She continued the quote, “Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.”

Nelson offer three pieces of advice:

First, she told them, life is not about being perfect, but about “being inspiring, being flexible.” She asked them to be positive; that attitude will be reflected back to them, she said.

Second, she said, “never let others define you.” Make your own decisions about what you’ll be and how you’ll act.

Third, she said, “have the courage to follow your heart.” Take risks. “Look beyond what you see to what is possible,” she said.

Nelson also asked the new graduates to help the world by working for civility and justice. “Hold everyone accountable,” she said. “Have compassion toward one another.”

Remember every page of history, she added, not just the ones that show us in a positive light. “It’s the obligation of every citizen to speak out when you see wrong.”

Her address was followed by a song, “Rise,” that spoke of some of the same themes. It was performed by a student a’cappella group, Not Your Forte, that included two graduating seniors, Antoine Johnson and Melory Mirashrafi.

The graduation stadium was packed for Sunday’s ceremony, which started at 10 a.m. Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and other supporters lined the stands and filled seats on the lawn.

Gunnar Braden, who just finished his junior year at Linfield, came to support his friends, especially girlfriend Hailey Hecht. She received her degree in public health.

“She’s an amazing person, extremely talented, extremely intelligent,” he said. “She will do great things.”

Braden knew Hecht in high school in Lake Oswego and followed her to Linfield.

He said the McMinnville college offered him his best options for playing football and earning a degree in business management. “It’s a great school,” as he and friends looked for good seats prior to the ceremony.

January Johnson, 10, of Corvallis was eager to see her cousin, Sophia Lieberman, receive a degree in psychology.

“She’s a really nice, kind person,” January said.

When she was a child, Sophia always included her in things. Even though she was a lot older, she played with January at family gatherings.

“She’s always been there for me,” January said.

Gayle Thomas of Beaverton came to McMinnville Sunday to see her youngest, Elissa Thomas, receive her BS in nursing.

Elissa’s older sister, Lindsey Thomas, graduated from Linfield two years ago. And so did her grandfather, Gayle’s dad, John Shapland; he went to Linfield following service in World War II.

Sunday’s date, May 26, also coincided with Thomas’ 40th wedding anniversary, so it was a special day of celebration all around.

For awhile, she said, her daughter considered skipping the ceremony. She received her nursing pin in December and works for Oregon State University Hospital. Thomas said she was really pleased Elissa decided to take part in graduation, even though she worked the night before.

“She’s in the right field,” Thomas said of her daughter the nurse. “She’s always been nurturing. She loves helping others.”

Heidi, one of the youngest people at graduation, searched the crowd of black-robed students for her father, Donovan Douglas.

When she heard President Davis call her dad’s name, she turned to her mother, Holly Douglas. “Did Daddy do it?” she asked.

Assured that her father had, indeed, received a degree in creative writing, Heidi turned back toward the stage. “Da-da! Da-dah!” she called, waving madly.

Diploma in hand, the new Linfield graduate waved back.