On Sunday, June 12, for the 114th time on its campus, Pacific Union College celebrated its commencement exercises, with 393 students graduating.
The college proudly awarded 413 associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees to the 393 graduates, 53 of whom are from Napa County. The largest departmental groups represented were nursing and health sciences (178), communication (29), business administration (28), biology (22), and exercise science (20). One hundred and twenty-seven students received academic distinctions and honors, with 15 summa cum laude graduates, 40 magna cum laude graduates, and 60 cum laude graduates. Eight students from PUC’s Honors Program and four Maxwell Scholars were also represented, as were two Student Association officers. Also of note, 16 members of the class served in countries around the world as student missionaries and task force workers.
Commencement weekend began Friday afternoon with a dedication service for social work graduates. They shared stories of their internship experiences and how their faith was a fundamental part of their work as well as read the social work oath alongside other social workers present. Each student was also awarded a social work pin, and several had the honor of being pinned by their internship supervisor. Social Work Program Assistant Margaret Roy said, “It shows the depth of their mentorship when supervisors take the time to travel and attend the consecration service.” In a separate service, department of religion graduates were dedicated as well.
Later that evening, the Consecration service was held in the PUC Church, and featured a praise service, several musical selections, and a presentation to parents from the senior class. The address was given by Laffit Cortes, senior pastor at the Miami Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church and former campus chaplain at PUC. He encouraged the graduates to stay resilient, and to keep going forward no matter what challenges they may face post-college, and to be willing to fail and start again. “When things go wrong, you need to have spiritual resilience. … Take the hardships and challenges life throws at you and to just keep moving,” he said. “If no one has your back, remember God has your back.”
Sabbath morning, PUC President Dr. Heather J. Knight officially welcomed parents, family members, and friends of the graduates to campus at the Baccalaureate service. Following a performance by the graduation choir, Dr. Hyveth Williams blessed the congregation with her message, where she inspired the graduating class to be a bright light in a dark world. “Go forth confidently in the spirit of God, holding tightly to His promise of a great future and hope,” she said. “God has plans for your lives, plans you can’t even imagine to give you a great future and a hope. Go in the name of Jesus Christ and shake up the world and make a difference in this church and world.” Dr. Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (SDATS) at Andrews University and is also the senior pastor at The Grace Place Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Bend, Ind. She was the first black female pastor and the first female senior pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.
The nursing graduate recognition service took place later that day. Interim chief patient care officer for UC Davis Medical Center and PUC nursing graduate Toby Marsh spoke for the program. He impressed upon the graduates the significance of their service, compassion, and care as he shared experiences from his nursing career. “As you begin your practice as a professional nurse, you will be transforming the human experience, literally like no other profession. You have the unique opportunity to be a part of people’s lives at the highest of their highs and literally at the lowest of their lows, and it’s a beautiful thing. When you experience it, I hope you savor and embrace each and every moment,” he said. Both the associate’s as well as the bachelor’s of nursing classes received their ceremonial nursing pin, which symbolizes the relief of suffering by nurses who give love, caring, and healing. Gideon Bibles were also presented to the graduates, which is a tradition of Gideons International, an organization whose primary activity is distributing copies of the Bible free of charge. The program also included a tribute to the graduate’s families and a slideshow celebrating both graduating classes.
The teacher dedication was also held in the afternoon, which honored the 21 early childhood, elementary, and secondary education graduates. A special part of the service included a prayer of dedication for each graduate. Chair of the department of education Tom Lee said, “It is so awesome to see the support from friends and family that our teacher candidates receive at this time of spiritual dedication. It is a blessing for all of our department.”
In the evening, Dr. Knight hosted a reception in the Dining Commons for graduates and their parents, as well as college faculty members.
The weekend culminated with the Commencement service bright and early Sunday morning. Bradford Newton, executive secretary and ministerial director of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and chairperson of the PUC Board of Trustees, started the service with the invocation and welcomed over 3,500 guests in attendance to Commencement Grove.
Senior class president Aaron Jewett presented the class gift, a memorial honoring each of the PUC students who have passed away in recent years. “It is a memorial to symbolize not only the members we have lost and the family that is now partially broken but it is also more importantly to symbolize the eternal hope we have to see our family again,” he said. The memorial has already been installed on campus, near the Campus Center mall and across from the fountain.
Afterwards, he gave the valedictory, where he discussed “eight distinct points of focus” as he removed eight t-shirts inscribed with inspirational quotes and tied each of them to pieces of advice for the senior class. “Remember, wear what you have learned proudly. Share your sense of adventure, your compassion for people and your dedication to your dreams so others will be inspired to do the same,” he said.
California Congressman Mike Thompson gave the commencement address, where he urged graduates to build a life of purpose and become valued members of society. “While your degree will allow you to create many opportunities for yourself professionally, it also gives you the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others and in the communities you will call home,” he said.
Following the address, Dr. Knight with the assistance of Academic Dean Dr. Nancy Lecourt conferred degrees upon the graduates. Mark Ishikawa, associate vice president for advancement and strategic partnerships, warmly welcomed the class to the college’s alumni family. Beloved professor emeritus and senior class faculty sponsor Lary Taylor closed the service with the benediction. The class of 2016 marched one last time down the aisle, surrounded by friends, family, tortillas, and confetti, as they headed out eagerly into the world to make a difference following a weekend of celebrating their accomplishments.