Last Friday, December 11, we celebrated the graduation of 420 students. They moved the tassels on their caps from right to left, symbolizing their commencement into a new stage in life. They moved from being students to alumni of Fresno Pacific University (joining about 23,000 others). They studied, developed mental and moral discipline and expanded their horizons. They now look at the world differently, from a new perspective. Some studied the liberal arts and science, some primarily professions, all programs included study of Scripture and theology.
At the ceremony, in my official role as provost, I read these words as I present the students to the president for the conferral of their degrees: “Their studies in the liberal arts, sciences and professions have prepared them for careers and leadership in their chosen professions, in their communities and in their churches,” or for graduate students “They have completed intensive graduate studies and have demonstrated their mastery of advanced areas of specialized knowledge.”
Our students came from up and down the Valley—from Bakersfield in the south, to Merced in the north. In past years students in online programs have come from Guam and from the east coast of the U.S. We say that we serve the Central Valley and the world, a very diverse Valley and world. This sums it up. One student’s parents from Mexico attended. Graduates brought extended family, friends, spouses and children. Many supported them in their time at FPU. It was a time of celebration for all 6,000+ of us at the ceremony.
About half of the students at this celebration were “degree completion” students, finishing their bachelor’s degrees after attendance at sometimes many schools. One of our speakers at the cultural celebration noted that he attended five colleges before FPU, where he completed his degree 24 years after beginning college studies. This is the achievement of a dream. Others did not take as long, or attend as many institutions, but the achievement of completing a college degree after a long time and against many obstacles is a common element of most people’s stories. What a celebration for these students, and for all of us who are part of the FPU community.
The achievement of the traditional student is equally as impressive. Four years of continuous work, gaining experience with each class and semester, practicing leadership, trying to find their way and discerning God’s will is no easy task. Many find their vocation—their calling in the broadest sense—during these years. It may be a professor, a co-curricular experience, a trip to somewhere around the globe that grabs them and starts them on their individual path. But they find it here in a unique educational community. Many enter professions or graduate school directly after their four years. It can take a while to be ready for much of our highly specialized world, and graduate students dig deeper, sometimes for a number of years, into the needs and processes of that world with highly specialized study enlivened by deep thinking and reading.
At FPU we strive to see students succeed in ways they had not imagined. It is central to our vision to meet the needs of our students and region through academic programs and experiences that move people into the next stage in their lives. Our vision includes encouraging transformational change and growth in students that leads to leadership in their communities, businesses, schools and churches. We send leaders into all of these areas, ready to “serve God and humanity in this world,” as I read from the presentation of candidates at the commencement ceremony. We work toward and hope for the development of ethical understanding, and the ability of graduates to nurture communities of health and healing, physically, socially and spiritually.
Imagine a university of more than 5,000 students, known throughout the Valley and in places around the world for accomplishing this vision. Imagine more than 1,500 FPU graduates each year serving in schools, churches, community organizations, businesses, health organizations and elected positions as well as missionary and service assignments carrying this kind of transformative experience with them. Imagine them taking a mature biblical understanding to their communities. Imagine FPU graduates becoming models and agents of transformational change and reconciliation. Imagine that when people sense need in our region, or they desire a deeper understanding of the world and their place in it, they remember that they have known, worked or worshipped with, lived near or been served by an FPU graduate, someone who walked across the stage with an FPU diploma on a Friday evening in December. They remember and they turn to FPU to be a part of this unique educational community. That is our vision. That is what we aspire to happen. That is what we will celebrate in the future.
Thank you to all who have a part in achieving the vision of Fresno Pacific University.