Nearly 1,000 Washington State University Vancouver students graduated Saturday.
Shortly before taking the stage at the Sunlight Supply Amphitheater, Debika Finucane, a 21-year-old psychology student, looked at Paula Achter, 62, who after eight years was receiving a certificate in human development. “We made it, Paula,” Finucane said.
“We did; we all made it,” Achter replied.
The two students met after Achter founded a student program at the university for disabled students, now known as the Student Accessibility & Empowerment Club. Finucane, who graduated in three years, plans to get her doctorate and not let her cerebral palsy hold her back for a moment. Achter, who is blind, plans to continue working with visually impaired younger students and help them as they transition out of high school.
“It’s an emotional day,” said Achter, who dealt with ever-changing technology to reach her goal.
The 2016 graduating class included 29 doctoral candidates, 102 master’s candidates and 844 students who received bachelor’s degrees.
Some students earned more than one bachelor’s degree, including husband-and-wife team Jonas Calsbeek, 32, who double-majored in neuroscience and psychology, and Caitlin Calsbeek, 28, who majored in anthropology and psychology. The couple met while serving in the Navy. They were able to attend college while raising a young family, thanks in large part to the GI Bill.
The following special honors were conferred at Saturday’s WSU Vancouver graduation:
• Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence: John Harrison
• Chancellor’s Award for Service to WSU Vancouver: Dan Harmon
• Chancellor’s Award for Student Achievement: Allegra Koupal
• Students’ Award for Teaching Excellence: Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens
Jonas Calsbeek plans to attend the University of California, Davis, in the fall to study for his doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology. Having left the Navy with a case of post-traumatic stress disorder, he’s eager to research drug treatment and delivery methods. Caitlin Calsbeek is heading to Peru to work as a research assistant focusing on primate cognition and will then join her family and continue her research remotely.
But first, after the graduation ceremony, they planned to barbecue with their family.
Commencement speaker Shain Wright noted that graduation day was about “more than the individual” and thanked the support system — family, friends, faculty — that helped the students achieve their goals.
Emile “Mel” Netzhammer, the chancellor, reminded the new graduates of the expectations now placed upon them. “In short,” he said, “we expect you to transform our world.”