Early on June 18, under a cool sky, La Sierra University, together with hundreds of graduates’ family members and friends, celebrated the Class of 2023 with a traditional Conferring of Degrees ceremony on Founders’ Green.
Graduation Sunday, which fell on Father’s Day, saw a total of 363 students receive 367 degrees on an outdoor stage set up under canopies on the university’s grassy mall. The annual weekend of activities commenced Friday, June 16 with a consecration service at the La Sierra University Church featuring guest speaker Mark Tamalea’a, youth director of the Hawaii Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, followed by a Saturday morning baccalaureate at the church with featured speaker Maury Jackson, associate dean of La Sierra’s H.M.S. Richards Divinity School. Andrea Luxton, president of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States, delivered the commencement address on Sunday. The three events were livestreamed with replays currently available on the university’s website.
On Saturday afternoon, the university also held dedication services for graduates of the School of Education and the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School. Additionally, a senior art exhibit titled “Aura” was on display in Brandstater Gallery through June 18.
Luxton’s address to La Sierra graduates marked her last official act as Andrews University president, a position she has held for seven years. Beginning July 1, she will serve as an associate director of higher education for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.
Luxton began her talk by citing the famous opening line from Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” Luxton correlated Dickens’ French Revolution-era depiction to other historical ages, including Earth’s current era with its enormous advancements, innovations, and complexities. “And graduates, it could also be said of today, 2023,” Luxton noted. “Never has there ever been ever so much knowledge in the world. And that can lead to huge amounts of wisdom, [but] knowledge not used wisely can also lead to foolishness, and that takes over as false news or fake news or slanted news. We live in an age where ... belief is clouded by growing incredulity and doubt.”
She cited statistics indicating a continuing decline among Americans of a belief in the God of the Bible, as well as an increase in teenagers’ perceptions of stress compared to their parents’ youth and the high percentage of teens diagnosed with a mental health condition.
“So what does your graduation mean in this context?” Luxton asked La Sierra’s graduates. “How can your degree from La Sierra University help you navigate this world of possible opposites and lean into Dickens’ descriptors of the best of times, rather than the worst of times?” She suggested three ways.
“First of all, make sure the skills you’ve learned through what we broadly call a liberal arts education are not left behind you as you continue to make life decisions,” she said. “I know that during your time at La Sierra you’ve been taught to critically analyze data and through the humanities in particular, but also in other areas, you have wrestled with ambiguity. You will know that there is a distinction between a quick and easy judgement and wrestling with integrity to actually find out what is the truth.
“I’d like to suggest that now to transfer those skills into the way you live your life and the way you make your decisions and the way you do your future jobs may be even more challenging.... Add to that an education that weaves in faith, and you have a strong foundation to navigate the complexity of today’s misinformation and communication overload.
“Number two, I’d like to suggest, graduates, that all the good research techniques you have learned should not stop now,” Luxton continued. “Because it’s that research and way of thinking that stops you from getting misled or you misleading others.”
Third, “Do remember the God of hope you’ve experienced here at La Sierra. A God who walks with you in every dark space and points out the lights. A God who tells you not to be one of those statistics of those living in despair, but to live in hope. A God who asks you to believe, but to reason with Him in coming to that belief. This is a God who gives us hope.
“The Christian parallels are [for you] graduates going out to the world that is in the best of times, but in many ways, potentially the worst of times. How are you going to write the continuation of your lives, your stories? How will you use your degree to strengthen the impact of your story on your families, the local communities, your nation, your world?”
Goals and Purpose
Commencement also honored students whose achievements were recognized by the president’s office. La Sierra president Joy Fehr presented the 2023 President’s Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Student to Megan Eisele, who graduated summa cum laude with degrees in communication-public relations and business marketing. The 2023 President’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Student was presented to Devin Shaw, who earned a Master of Business Administration while pursuing a doctoral degree from Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
Eisele was commended for her contributions to the university in supporting individual students, and as a residence hall assistant and an assistant student manager at the Zapara School of Business. She was also honored for her leadership as a former president of the business school’s Enactus team, where her work in driving impactful projects has empowered local and international communities.
Shaw was noted for his diverse leadership in education, athletics, and music, his volunteer work during the COVID-19 pandemic, involvement in missions, and mentoring of at-risk youth. Going forward, he aims to manage a faith-based healthcare organization.
This year’s graduating class included Matthew Talukdar, who earlier in June celebrated his 19th birthday. He is the youngest member of the Class of 2023. A participant in the university honors program with a strong aptitude for mathematics, he graduated cum laude and received a Bachelor of Science degree in biomathematics from the College of Arts and Sciences. He is applying to medical schools with a specific interest in attending Loma Linda University. “I know it’s going to hit right when I walk up the stage, right when we’re marching down, that’s when it’s really going to hit me,” he said in an interview prior to graduation weekend. “I’ll be happy, overwhelmed, sad that it’s over, but happy that I made a lot of memories.”
Some students face extraordinary hurdles in achieving graduation — criminal justice major Gabriela Hernandez’s educational goals were nearly derailed by a catastrophic car accident during winter break that resulted in the loss of her right arm. She pulled through the ordeal and completed her coursework with the dedicated support and assistance of her department directors, professors, and classmates. More than 20 friends and family members attended commencement to watch her walk the stage and receive her diploma.
“This graduation weekend came by so fast; time goes by so fast, especially with my accident and arm amputation. I did not think I was going to make it to graduation, but this weekend means to me success,” she noted. “This graduation showed me that I can do anything if I push myself harder and surround myself with the right people. When I walk across the stage, tears of joy will probably come out of my eyes because I have accomplished something that not everyone can do, and I am one step closer to my career.
“I know I have made them [friends and family members] so proud, and I will continue making them proud. God kept me alive from that accident for a reason. Now I have to go out there with my degree and find out what that reason was for. Everything in life has a purpose.”