In the final tally, La Sierra University’s graduating class was 507 strong on June 16 surpassing last year’s record number of 501 students to receive degrees from the institution.
This year’s commencement served as La Sierra University President Randal Wiseby’s last in his leadership role. He heads into retirement as of June 30 following 12 years at the university’s helm. On May 30, university trustees announced the selection of Provost Joy Fehr to serve as president beginning July 1.
In his welcoming remarks to the graduates, Wisbey noted their contributions to the campus and the world around them, some while enduring significant hardships. “You have looked for ways to extend the reach God’s kingdom, God’s justice and grace to members who have been underserved and have little or no voice. … You have helped to bring our university national and international attention through your service and through your leadership. The Class of 2019, you have left your mark upon each of us who serve at this university and we are more focused and faithful to our mission because of you.”
Wisbey also introduced commencement speaker Kendra Haloviak Valentine, author professor of New Testament Studies who was a freshman at Washington Adventist University, then Columbia Union College, when he arrived to serve as campus chaplain. Haloviak Valentine gave a commencement address titled “Just Moments.” In her message to the students and about 6,000 of their excited family members and friends, she urged graduates to not only savor their graduation moment, but asked, “…what is the relationship between here and where you want to be?” She advised, “if you want this moment to shape your life significantly, make it more than just a moment, make it a just moment.”
Haloviak Valentine illustrated her point through an analysis of the biblical account of Simon of Cyrene, an immigrant from Northern Africa whom the Romans commandeered to carry the cross of Christ. She noted how Jesus had previously told Simon Peter, the same disciple who later abandoned Christ along with the others, “If anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.” (Mark 8:34)
“But Simon of Libya does what Jesus asked: he literally took up his cross and followed,” Haloviak Valentine said.“The immigrant forced to participate in a system of oppression and torture and death, is the one person in the whole story who is literally doing the will of God,” and in so doing, subverting the regime.
“In an America today where many people of faith claim that their God works with the powerful, Simon of Libya’s story proclaims a counter narrative. God acts in solidarity with the weak of our world, the voiceless, the powerless, the poor, the stranger. Such acts proclaim no person is non-human, sub-human, less human,” she said.
She cited other notable individuals whose lives have been dedicated to opposing injustice by identifying with strangers in need, such as Mary Brewer, a 1929 graduate of La Sierra when it was Southern California Junior College and who became the college’s first missionary. At age 21 she travelled to Pakistan to serve as principal of a girls’ school where she learned the language and recruited students.
The Conferring of Degrees ceremony kicked off with a special recognition of one of Riverside’s chief community and economic development advocates. Wisbey, together with Fehr and John Thomas, dean of the Zapara School of Business, presented Cindy Roth, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce with a Doctor of Laws honoris causa for her wide-ranging contributions to the business community, impact on government and public policy, and support of the city’s higher education institutions.
“Honorary doctoral degrees are the highest recognition a university can bestow. This morning La Sierra University has the honor to recognize an extraordinary individual who represents the deepest values of our university’s mission,” said Wisbey. He noted Roth’s crucial role in encouraging economic development such as the investment in the California Air Resources Board emissions testing facility in Riverside and the establishment of the School of Medicine at UC Riverside. He also cited her contributions to myriad community organizations as well her involvement and support of La Sierra University by serving on the university’s foundation board, support of La Sierra’s students through internships, employment, and chamber grants aiding the university’s Enactus team. Roth is a lifelong resident of Riverside where she lives with her husband, California State Senator Richard Roth who attended La Sierra’s commencement for his wife’s honorary degree ceremony. In 1999 she was selected to lead the chamber, following in the footsteps of her predecessor, mentor, and iconic Riverside supporter Art Pick who also served as a La Sierra trustee.