“No class in the history of Westmont College has endured so much to make it to this day,” said President Gayle D. Beebe as he welcomed the 306 members of the class of 2021 and their families on May 8 to a special, socially distanced Commencement service on Thorrington Field. “Four years ago, you arrived on a beautiful August afternoon, ready to move in, anticipating all that lay ahead, not thinking of the long and arduous journey that would bring you to this moment. Today, we celebrate all that you’ve achieved, all that you’ve learned—your academic, emotional, social, but also spiritual and enduring achievements—that will live on in your life long after today and will prepare you for all that lies ahead.”
Four months into their first semester, smoke from the Thomas Fire—and its relentless movement toward Montecito— forced the college to evacuate in December. A few weeks later, after students had returned for the spring semester, deadly mudflows struck the region in January after a rare, once-in-200-years storm hit the Montecito mountains. Although untouched by the fires and mudslides, Westmont had to evacuate again due to widespread damage that compromised the water supply on campus. Then, halfway through the spring semester of their junior year, students left again when the pandemic shut down campus and nearly everything in the world. Despite the setback, students returned to campus in September 2020 for their senior year, living safely on campus and participating in classes on Zoom or outside under large tents.
In the Commencement address, Sandra Richter, Robert H. Gundry professor of biblical studies, said when she thinks of the class of 2021, she can’t help but hear echoes of James Taylor’s immortal lyrics: “I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.”
“What is the deal with you people?” she asked. “As I told my classes more than once, we need to get you off campus before the 10th plague hits.”
In her talk, “When You Cross the Jordan: Some Thoughts on Liminal Space,” she told the graduates that they’ve passed through the threshold we call college. “You have been gifted with so many precious big and small moments that have populated your liminal space here at Westmont,” she said. “These will be your treasured possessions for the rest of your days. Like the Israelites, you will look back to this simpler time with (mostly) warm nostalgic memories … learning to love your God with all your heart and your mind.”
Some Westmont staff and faculty refer to this class as the mighty 300 Warriors.
Of the 306 students who participated in Commencement, 124 earned honors. The graduating class included two veterans who served in the military before attending Westmont: Esteban Garcia Mares and Steven Carmona. Four students graduated with triple majors: Kimberlee Liang Gong, Zion Shih, Chisondi Simba Warioba and Logan G. Hodgson.
The First Senior Award went to five students who earned straight A’s all four years at Westmont: Karis Cho, Winston Gee, Anastasia Heaton, Jared Huff and Lauren Petersen.
Nick Ruiz and Tori Davis won the Dean’s Award for being outstanding scholar-athletes.
Warioba won the Dave Dolan Award for his leadership in responding to social and spiritual needs.
Shih and Kyle Mayl won the Kenneth Monroe Award for their superior academic achievement, leadership and character.
Rick Ifland, interim provost, conferred faculty emeritus status to Rick Pointer, who retired in August 2020.
Sandra Richter (religious studies), Kya Mangrum (English) and Brad Berky (Westmont in San Francisco) won the 2021 Bruce and Adeline Bare Teacher of the Year Awards. Carmel Saad (Psychology) won the 2020-2021 Faculty Research Award.
Beebe presented the Westmont Medal to Ron Werft, president and CEO of Cottage Health, Westmont’s partner for its new Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program that launches in spring 2022 pending approval from the California Board of Registered Nursing. The medal honors people who provide exceptional leadership in the Santa Barbara community.
“Westmont and Cottage have so much in common, from a commitment to our mission, to a culture of respect, and to common core values that include excellence, integrity and compassion,” Werft said.