About 328 students received diplomas at Westmont Commencement on May 5, but none with more courage than Connor McManigal, who was seriously injured, but survived the Jan. 9 mudslide in Montecito.
“He was literally swept out of his home and swept more than a mile downstream and ended up on the 101,” President Gayle D. Beebe said as McManigal received a standing ovation. “He is truly a profile in courage. It’s amazing that he is even here and able to walk in today’s ceremony. Connor, we are incredible thankful and proud of you.”
About 5,000 people came to celebrate the graduates who’ve endured a record five evacuations since the smoke of the Thomas Fire blanketed the campus Dec. 9.
Beebe presented the Westmont Medal to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown and the KEYT NewsChannel 3 team for their exceptional work and courage during the fire and resulting Montecito debris flow.
Brown recalled how he first came to know Westmont when his father, who served as president for Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures, produced a film, “A Time to Run,” which starred his mother and was shot on the Westmont campus in 1973. “After the filming, I remember my parents both commenting favorably about Westmont,” he said. “Later, as the sheriff of Santa Barbara County, I would discover for myself what a fine school Westmont College really is.”
C.J. Ward, who spoke for John Palminteri, Tracy Lehr and Beth Farnsworth, explained that everyone at the TV station played an important role in disseminating vital information during the Thomas Fire and mudslides. “As you head off into the world and get your first job or start your career you can be low on the totem pole — and you are low on the totem pole, don’t get me wrong here — but don’t take it that way. Believe you have more worth than that, that you are part of a much bigger team, and that when the call comes you are going to be ready for it.”
Tom Nguyen, Westmont trustee and managing director of U.S. sales for China International Capital Corp. (CICC), offered the Commencement Address, “In His Will.”
Nguyen, who as a child narrowly escaped capture by the North Vietnamese army, told the graduates that they suffer from ‘Instagratification,’ being constantly bombarded by images of people who have seemingly perfect lives.
“Everyone but you seems to be swinging for the fences and hitting homeruns,” he said. “Graduates, let me be one of the few people to urge you to step up to the plate today and bunt. It’s OK to bunt. There is nothing wrong with taking baby steps and taking the scenic route through life. As you can see, I have been bunting for 50 years. I bunted from Saigon all the way to Santa Barbara to stand before you today.
“It is nothing short of a miracle that I am standing before you. Nothing could have prevented this. Look around you graduates, no drought, fire, storm or earthquake could have stopped any of us from coming here to celebrate your graduation.”
Edee Schulze, dean of students, presented Lauren McCoy (basketball) and Luke Whalen (tennis) with the Dean’s Award for their excellence in the classroom, superior contributions to their team, and deep faith in Christ.
McCoy, who graduates with a bachelor’s degree in political science, has rewritten the Westmont women’s basketball record books. She is the new school record holder in eight categories, including points, rebounds, and blocked shots for her career. She has earned the prestigious Golden Eagle Award for three consecutive years, leading her team to 111 wins, two Golden State Athletic Conference(GSAC) Championships, three consecutive GSAC Tournament Championships and this year led the Warriors to the National Championship game. “Your professors Drs. Covington and Noell note that you have demonstrated outstanding character over the last four years,” Schulze said. “In the classroom, you have shown not only intelligence and discipline like any very good student, but they have seen that you are curious, humble, and cheerful.”
Whalen, who double majored in engineering physics and philosophy, was a First Team All American in 2017. He co-captained this year’s team while volunteering weekly at the Santa Barbara Mission Parish Youth Group. “Professor Jim Taylor shared that you invest your entire self—heart, soul, mind, and strength—in your love for God, love of learning, and love of tennis and the tennis team,” Schulze said. “You take your faith, education, athletic involvements, relationships, and personal growth seriously. But you also enjoy these things, and your enthusiasm for them makes an impact on others.”
Brittany Bland-Boyd, who earned a bachelor’s in psychology, won the Dave Dolan Award, which honors the outstanding graduate whose campus leadership has made significant contributions in our awareness and response to social and spiritual needs. She orchestrated campus-wide programs to give voice to black identity at Westmont, worked as a residence assistant, and served on two international service trips with Emmaus Road and Potter’s Clay. She planned and fundraised for a group of students to visit the new African American History Museum in Washington, D.C., over Easter Break. “Your leadership goal is provide many opportunities for students so that they can contribute to the Westmont community in impactful ways,” Schulze said. “And, you have done just that; you have enriched the Westmont community with your hard work and leadership.”
Hannah Belk and Jordan Balridge earned the Kenneth Monroe Award, given to the outstanding graduates demonstrating superior academic achievement in the classroom, excelling as leaders on campus, and influencing other students’ lives through their integrity, character and faithfulness.
Belk, who won the David K. Winter Award for 2017, served as a residence assistant and a leader for Racial Equality and Justice with Intercultural Programs. She graduates with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. “While traveling with Dr. Dunn in Northern Ireland and on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, you showed incredible patience with others, ability to endure hardship without complaint, and ability to inspire confidence among your classmates,” Schulze said. “Your joyful spirit has been seen by all.”
Balridge, who graduates a degree in history, researched the political and institutional responses to the Rodney King trials for his capstone paper. He served as a Westmont College Student Association (WCSA) senator, member of the Chapel Band and contributor to the student newspaper Horizon. He interned at Vega Coffee, a Guatemalan-based company training farmers in sustainable and fir trade roasting practices. “Your team’s proposal of an event space, called Unidos, brought non-profits and social businesses together to rent space on the Westside while also providing a community hub for the neighborhood,” Schulze said. “This work will grow in partnerships and launch by fall 2018.”
Mark Sargent, Westmont provost, gave the First Senior Award, which honors the senior with the highest cumulative grade-point average, to Ariel Adams. Adams, a biology major from Castle Rock, Colo., earned a 3.97 GPA. This summer, she will be taking the Dental Admission Test. “Before attending dental school, she will be working at an orthopedic surgery unit in town as a medical assistant— and finding time for some rock climbing, surfing, music and cooking,” Sargent said.
Sargent announced that Tremper Longman III, former professor of religious studies, has been elected to the emeritus faculty, an honor granted to retired faculty after 10 or more years at the college.
This year’s winners of the Bruce and Adaline Bare Outstanding Teacher Awards are Jesse Covington, associate professor of political science; Steve Julio, associate professor of biology; and Paul Willis, professor of English. Caryn Reeder, associate professor of religious studies, received the Faculty Research Award.
Willis, winner in the humanities, is a poet and essayist, a teacher of Shakespeare and syntax. “In his own poetry and essays (including three books published just this year), Paul calls us to see what is beautiful, ironic and sacred in our habitual and our luminous encounters with nature,” Sargent said. “As the former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, Paul has welcomed so many of our student writers into the local literary world and helped stir their imaginations by wandering with them along the water’s edge or into the high Sierras.”
Covington, winner of the social sciences, has spent a full academic year at Princeton as a visiting fellow, exploring topics of religion and public life. “That study drew him further into the writings of North African bishop St. Augustine,” Sargent said. “He returned to Westmont to learn that the college was launching the new Augustinian Scholarship program, and he accepted the challenge of developing the primary honors seminar. He has done so with remarkable energy, thoughtfulness, and care for detail.”
Julio, winner in the natural and behavioral sciences, has steadfastly examined the virus that causes whooping cough. “That project earned him a major grant from the National Institutes of Health and an invitation to speak to a gathering of international scientists in Argentina,” Sargent said. “Along the way he has invited students to be his apprentices and collaborators.”
Reeder, who spent a year working with the International Fellowship of Christian Students in Israel, has devoted much of her scholarly life to exploring the interface of religion and violence, in both political and domestic landscapes. She won a Fulbright Scholarship in 2013 to return to the West Bank at Bethlehem University, where she studied families and war in biblical and classical antiquity, and considered both the realities and rhetoric of violence in ancient texts and the modern world. Her latest book on war, peace, and gender in the Gospel of Luke will be published in the coming months by Cambridge University Press.
“My hope for you, the class of 2018, is that you will learn how to see God at work in all aspects of your life and that your life work will be one that brings honor and glory to Him,” Beebe said.
Forty-seven Golden Warriors, who graduated in 1968, attended the event to celebrate their 50th reunion.