Despite gray skies and a light drizzle, thousands of family members and friends celebrated and cheered the 291 Westmont graduates who received their diplomas at Commencement May 4.
President Gayle D. Beebe presented Westmont Medals to Rev. Dr. Katherine Wiebe and Lindsay and Laurie Parton.
Wiebe, a Christian pastoral psychotherapist at the Santa Barbara-based Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth (ICTG), said the day before Commencement, a leader of a prominent organization called her for the first time requesting resources to help them cope with persistent stress related to the Jan. 9, 2018, debris flow.
“We can take comfort when we are surprised by joy, even in our grief,” she said. “We know that even though we cannot see them yet, still waters are still ahead. We know our souls will be restored again, so we can be at peace even in times of grieving, and we can help others to do the same.”
Lindsay Parton, a Westmont alumnus and principal of DJM, says it’s important to surround ourselves with people who inspire and motivate us to be the best version of ourselves.
“These friends will forever be your support systems if you’re intentional and purposeful in maintaining those relationships throughout your life,” he said. “The more you give your life away, and the more you fight from becoming isolated in your life, the more rich your life can become from a kingdom perspective.”
Walter Hansen, the Commencement speaker and a Westmont trustee since 2002, offered several glimpses into the graduates’ futures. “All your destinations will be opportunities to find and be found by the love of friends,” he said. “You are going into a world tragically polarized by factions fighting each other. How will you respond to hate speech and hate crimes? You know very well that fighting hate with hate destroys and kills, and by the power of the Holy Spirit you can show that love is stronger than hate. You can speak life-giving words of love. You can do mercy-filled works of love. You can be faithful friends in agreement and disagreement, in peace and in conflict. The healing of our society will come by loyal, forgiving friendship love. So many are caught in the chaos of our world, facing a jumble of confusing paths —they need each of you.”
At the end of his Commencement address, Hansen offered a prayer for the graduates: “Wherever your paths take you, may you always choose to follow the one who calls us to love one another and not hate,” “May you always follow the one who calls us to embrace one another and not exclude. May you always follow the one who invites us to come into the party, and then you will dance and not sit.”
Edee Schulze, Westmont dean of students, presented the Dean’s Award to Libby Dahlberg and Blake Fonda for demonstrating excellence in the classroom, have made superior contributions to an athletic team, and have evidenced a deep faith in Christ.
Dahlberg, the NAIA Leroy Walker Champion of Character Award winner and an NAIA and GSAC Women’s Volleyball Scholar-Athlete, graduated as a double major in chemistry and biology. “You came into the volleyball program as a person who had incredible skill already, but you were never satisfied or complacent,” reported Volleyball Coach Ruth McGolpin. “You continued to give yourself to the sport, your teammates, and your academics 100 percent.” Biology Professor Beth Horvath noted, “You are not only a dedicated and committed student to the study of biology, but you are also a kind, caring and wonderfully reliable student worker in the department. With your busy schedule you have done it all, and done it well.”
Fonda, NAIA and GSAC Men’s Cross Country Scholar-Athlete, graduated with a degree in chemistry. “Coach Russell Smelley thinks you may be the most exceptional individual he has ever coached in his 40 years at Westmont due to your balanced lifestyle and disciplined life choices that allow you to get the most out of your capabilities wherever you apply them,” Schulze said. “In the chemistry department alone, you are not merely an outstanding student; you completed a significant major honors thesis, completed several advanced chemistry electives beyond the graduation requirements, and served as teaching assistant for numerous classes.”
Lucas Viera earned the Dave Dolan Award, honoring his leadership and significant contributions to campus and communities around the globe. He graduated with a double major in philosophy and religious studies. “Campus Pastor Scott Lisea says you are joyful, bold, bright and thoughtful and that you are an outstanding thinker and doer of the Gospel,” Schulze said. “Lucas, your persistent servant leadership has helped point our community toward Christ.”
Olivia Stowell and Kyle Hansen won the Kenneth Monroe Award, demonstrating superior academic achievement in the classroom, excelling as leaders on campus, and influencing other students’ lives through their integrity, character, and faithfulness. Stowell graduates with a double major in English and theater arts. “You are caring and passionate about issues of justice and equity for the world and especially for the church,” Schulze said. “You have faithfully served as a leader for Racial Equality and Justice for two years, and you have led campus discussions on issues of equity and justice within Intercultural Programs and beyond.”
Hansen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science. “You are kind, live a life high above reproach, never judge others, and are patient, diligent, and hard-working,” Schulze said. “You are able to love others well because of your love and devotion to Christ.”
Provost Mark Sargent honored the Faculty Scholarship Award winners, who each earned a 4.0 GPA during their entire Westmont program: Kyle Hansen (mathematics and computer science), Natelli Cripe (mathematics), Matthew Coffman (mathematics and computer science), Noel Hilst (psychology and Spanish) and Ana Bulger (chemistry).
Sargent gave the Outstanding Teaching Awards to Professors Alister Chapman (history), Cynthia Toms (kinesiology), and Don Patterson (computer science). Chapman’s blog, The Rest of the Iceberg, delves into the sources of global dilemmas. “Alister makes the complex both accessible and engaging,” Sargent said. “He helps all of us contemplate the intersections of faith and inquiry, and pushes us toward wisdom and courage rather than pious convention or self-interest. He has that rare ability to critique with rigor and respond with grace.”
Toms teaches about worldwide food systems and draws on students to research food security in our local communities. “Her buoyant, intrepid spirit is often inspirational, and she challenges students to embrace high aspirations for citizenship and service,” Sargent said. “She helps us see the global dimensions of our local domains even as she equips students to promote the health and welfare of others.”
Patterson, who helped create Westmont’s data analytics major, uses machine learning to identify preterm infants who are at risk of developing cerebral palsy. “His own scholarly and creative work models how one blends technological innovation with a social conscience,” Sargent said. “His students have the great fun of helping program drones and robots, all the while pondering themes of ethics, control and deception.”
Beth Horvath (biology) earned the Faculty Scholarship Award for her research on sea corals. Beth has become one of the nation’s experts on gorgonian corals, and has described new species off the coasts of California, Washington and Alaska. “She has been appointed as the main scientific expert on a project by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to categorize deep sea coral and sponges off the western coast,” Sargent said. “While watching on camera, she will help divers know what to look for and how to collect and record what they see.”
Fifty-four Golden Warriors, including former Westmont President Stan Gaede, marched in the procession to celebrate their 50th reunion.