Grads Urged to Sink Their Roots
by Scott Craig, photo by Brad Elliott
Under scattered skies two days after a rare May rainstorm, the 332 graduates of the Westmont College Class of 2023 marched to Thorrington Field on May 6 led by bagpipe fanfare. The celebration, which featured the inaugural graduating classes in both engineering and nursing, included speeches full of colorful imagery from the class verse, “Let your roots grow down into Him.” (Colossians 2:7)
Mercy Milliken, the Outstanding Graduate of kinesiology and modern languages, spoke about being from Omaha, Neb., growing up in South Korea, and searching for a sense of belonging when she arrived at Westmont four years ago. “Think about belonging and how it can be cultivated and shared wherever we go,” she said. “And please, please share it. There are too many people hurting, lost, having panic attacks, and Christ’s love is too good not to root us down and grow us up and out and into those realities,” she said.
Tobi Oyebade, an economics and business graduate from Jos, Nigeria, said when you’re rooted in Christ, you’re signing up to love and listen well. “It’s easy to grow when the soil is filled with love, but when love is lacking, when the right soil is not cultivated, it’s hard to grow,” he said. “As we leave this place today, I pray that we will all find where we can take root and thrive and also create fertile land where others can experience the same.”
President Gayle D. Beebe presented the Westmont Medal to alumnus Jonathan Walker (’91), cofounder and chief technology officer for AppFolio, which develops software for property managers.
“I am really the world’s most average person,” Walker said. “My one gift is attracting great people around me and appreciating them for who they are. The best news is that we’re all meant to be in a relationship with each other. And if someone as average as me can have that gift, then all of you can have it, too.”
Beloved history professor Chandra Mallampalli, who is moving to Boston after teaching at Westmont for 22 years, began his Commencement address with his love for the film Top Gun: Maverick and our need to have the patience to allow its powerful inner story to unfold. “I’d like to make a case today for a different and better kind of slow, one that restores our sanity and humanity in a fast-paced, high-pressure world,” he said. “What does it mean to apply the brakes in this age of acceleration?”
Mallampalli spoke about the importance of slowing down to sink deep roots, linger, and find meaning in the gaps of our lives when it feels like we’re living in limbo. “Being rooted in Christ not only provides an anchor, but also opens up an alternative way of being in the world, one that preserves our humanity, core relationships and values in this age of acceleration,” he said.
Using a phrase from England’s subway trains, he suggested we mind the gaps, those moments of the day or seasons of life when we don’t feel productive or important. “We have learned to despise these moments, but I would suggest that these are precisely the times when God meets us outside of that speed zone if we’re willing to be vulnerable,” he said. “Instead of being moments when we panic and do anything to jumpstart the machine as quickly as possible, gaps can become moments where we sink deeper roots and really discern what God is asking us to do.
“Think of this transition to life beyond Westmont as a chance to be repotted into new communities, churches, jobs, degree programs, or internships. You’re not launching off the ground on some Darkstar supersonic jet but are sinking your roots elsewhere.”
Edee Schulze, vice president for student life, presented the Dean’s Award to Reese Davidson and Danny Rubin, given to the outstanding male and female graduates who have demonstrated excellence in the classroom, have made superior contributions to an intercollegiate athletic team, and have demonstrated a deep faith in Christ.
Emma Mitchell won the Dave Dolan Award, which recognizes the outstanding graduate whose campus leadership has made significant contributions in our awareness and response to the social and spiritual needs of the community, the nation, and the world.
Ebun Kalejaiye and Caleb Marll won Kenneth Monroe Awards, given to the outstanding male and female graduates who have demonstrated superior academic achievement in the classroom, excelled as leaders on campus, and shaped other students’ lives through their integrity, character, and faithfulness.
Provost Kimberly Battle-Walters Denu gave Teacher of the Year Awards to Steven A. Rogers, professor of psychology, Daniel Jon Gee (’13), assistant professor of music, and Meredith Whitnah, assistant professor of sociology.
Benjamin Carlson, assistant professor of physics, earned the Faculty Research Award for his ongoing study of dark matter with the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, a particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.
As students received their baccalaureate degrees, Dan Jensen, founding professor and director of the engineering program, introduced the inaugural eight engineering graduates as they walked across the stage with their diplomas.
Carol Velas, the founding professor of Westmont’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, introduced the eight members of the initial nursing cohort, five of whom had already earned a bachelor’s degree at Westmont. A special pinning ceremony and a separate luncheon in the Global Leadership Center celebrated their accomplishment.
In his closing charge to the graduates, Beebe recalled the extensive efforts the college took to sustain the Pickle Tree, the towering redwood on Kerrwood Lawn that eventually withered and died.
“It’s such a graphic metaphor of the importance of rooting our life in Christ, versus rooting our life in the world,” he said. “I hope as you go forward in life that you always look back to the people, ideas, and experiences you’ve had that shaped the beginning of your adult journey and find in Christ a source of companionship and growth that will sustain you the rest of your days.”