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U of R 113th Commencement ceremonies celebrate change and resilience

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For the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Redlands community gathered to celebrate graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business & Society, and the School of Education during Commencement Weekend. The three ceremonies graduated 1,535 students combined.

U of R President Krista Newkirk took part in the weekend’s events for the first time in her role and congratulated students, acknowledging the challenges they overcame throughout their educational journeys. “As you cross this stage and receive your diploma, you are commencing upon a new beginning, where you will continue to grow, learn, and excel,” she said. “I am honored to share this critical moment of celebration with you. Your accomplishments are tremendous, and your future is bright and filled with opportunity.”

Images from U of R's Commencement Weekend

‘A process of transformational growth’

Following the baccalaureate and student recognition ceremonies, the School of Education was the first school to hold its ceremony on April 22, graduating 463 students, including 304 first-generation students.

“You are a School of Education graduate,” Naslund Endowed Dean Mario Martinez said, addressing the crowd of degree recipients. “This means you have chosen a life of service; you have found the others you wish to serve. [They] include those who you will teach, those who you will counsel for educational and mental health purposes, and those who you will serve alongside in school districts and institutions of higher education.”

Student speaker Lorén Rae Bassil ’22, who received a master’s degree in higher education with an emphasis on student affairs, spoke to the personal and academic transformations she and her classmates experienced while pursuing an advanced degree amidst a pandemic. In addition to developing new skills, graduates are entering a professional field that has drastically changed within the past two years, with the implementation of distance learning and telehealth practices.

“We each made the decision to either begin or continue a process of transformational growth while the world we knew continued to change at an alarming rate,” Bassil said. “As graduate students during a pandemic … we’ve experienced first-hand some of the changes made to the education system.”

She continued: “However, along with our professors, we learned how to hold meaningful discussions in virtual breakout rooms. We utilized technology to enhance our learning and practice and formed connections despite the distance.”

Gholnecsar Muhammad, a professor of literacy, language, and culture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, delivered the ceremony’s address. Muhammad aims to reframe curriculum and teaching practices by working with teachers, leaders, parents, and youth to implement culturally and historically responsive instruction. Throughout her speech, she referenced Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, and other important Black scholars while encouraging students to lean on their intellectual rigor and the people they’ve surrounded themselves with. She offered tips for “cultivating genius” which included approaching work and relationships with compassion, love, and benevolence.

“We must love ourselves, our great histories, our students, our educators, and the communities we serve,” she said. “If the road feels troubling, exhausting, and difficult, where everything feels impossible in the moment, know that difficulty does not equate to impossibility. Remember your genius.”

commencement_680x450.jpgDoers, dreamers, and trail blazers’

At 10 a.m. the next day, School of Business & Society students gathered on the Greek Theatre grass to receive their degrees. The School graduated 451 students, including the first group of 4+1 pathway students, who matriculated into the School of Business & Society in pursuit of a one-year graduate degree directly after four years of undergraduate study in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We're here not to just celebrate your graduation today, but also your dedication to achieve this milestone in your life during these unparalleled times,” Senecal Endowed Dean Thomas Horan said.

Sebastian Brown ’16, ’18, ’22, who received a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in location analytics, delivered the student address. Thanking his parents, brother, friends, professors, and colleagues, Brown emphasized the power one person has to change another person’s life.

“Each and every single one of us is more than just a Redlands School of Business & Society graduate today. Going forward, we will be regarded as doers, dreamers, and trailblazers. You have the ability to create long-lasting change in yourself and those around you.”

Workforce futurist Terri Horton delivered the ceremony’s keynote address. Her expertise sits at the intersection of the future of work, artificial intelligence, and the impact on business and people strategies, and her remarks encouraged graduates to take risks in their careers.

“You are graduating into one of the most transformational decades of our lives, particularly as it relates to the future of work,” Horton said. “Here you sit, center stage, poised to be the architects of the future of work and help organizations combine data, technology, and people in game-changing ways.”

‘You are resilient’

During the final Commencement ceremony, 624 students graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). Newkirk congratulated the group, which included 183 first-generation students, 51 scholar-athletes, 170 Greek life participants, 119 dual degree recipients, and 85 non-traditional or transfer students. While Johnston Center for Integrative Studies students participated in the CAS ceremony, they also took part in a personalized event on Bekins Lawn.

Other celebrations for 2022 CAS graduates included the Senior Honors Convocation, the Student of Color Recognition Ceremony, the Lavender Recognition Ceremony, and the Medallion Ceremony for Legacy Graduates.

“The lesson you can teach us, and the lesson I’ve learned from you, is that the relationships we forge in this place are durable, lasting, and meaningful. Celebrate them today; treasure them and invest in them in the future as you move forward,” Interim CAS Dean Steve Wuhs said in his opening remarks.

This year’s ceremony included the bestowal of two honorary degrees to Life Trustee Alice Mozley ’70 and American Council on Education Senior Vice President Terry Hartle; both received an honorary doctor of humane letters degrees. Mozley blazed a trail in her own career as a woman in many male-dominated industries before retiring in 1993 and spending subsequent decades serving the University community by participating in search committees, chairing fundraising campaigns, and establishing two endowed scholarships. Hartle has spent his professional career at the intersection of higher education and the federal government and most recently led the successful effort to secure federal government support to help institutions and their students during the pandemic.

Another honoree had four legs—Official Bulldog Mascot Adelaide “Addie” Victoria of Redlands crossed the Greek Theatre stage to receive a degree in philosophy and leadership and accept the distinction of Mascot Emerita. Installed as the mascot in January 2018, Addie spent four years attending athletic and student-led events, as well as larger celebrations such as Inauguration, Homecoming, and Commencement. She was the seventh live mascot selected to serve in the position.

During the ceremony, student speaker Montserrat Pineda ’22, a first-generation student who earned a degree in political science, encouraged her classmates to savor the moment while also illustrating her own journey to and through the University of Redlands. Referencing her parents, mentors, professors, friends, and neighbors from Long Beach’s Ramona Park neighborhood, Pineda offered thanks in both English and Spanish.

“Class of 2022, remember that you are resilient. You are powerful. You are breaking down barriers, beginning legacies, accomplishing your goals, reaching the stars and the moon, and have all the capability to do what you desire. Remember that, in this world, we must uplift those around us, fight for what we believe in, do what scares us, and remember that this is only the beginning,” Pineda said.

National Geographic Society Chief Executive Officer Jill Tiefenthaler, who gave every graduate a free year-long digital subscription to National Geographic magazine, offered graduates a few pieces of advice during her Commencement address.

“My advice to you is to have a plan but focus on the present and be willing to change course when opportunity knocks,” she said. “Explore the unknown, and develop your passions with confidence, courage, and conviction, even when you stumble along the way. Have realistic expectations—life is not easy—every day will not be picture perfect, but happiness emerges if you let some things go and enjoy the small moments that make a life.”