The weather on Saturday, Washington State University Vancouver’s graduation day, was just like the state of our world now: churning and unpredictable.
But that never dampened the spirits of the graduating class of 2022 as they gathered, marched and received their diplomas.
“Truly unstoppable” is how student body president Armando Antonino described a student cohort that persevered despite a global pandemic that shut down their campus and sent everyone home for two years of virtual learning amidst deep uncertainty.
“Today is a reminder that anything is possible,” Antonino told his classmates from the stage of the amphitheater (now known as the RV Inn Style Resorts Amphitheater) at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield.
Antonino’s admission to WSUV was “the golden ticket to bettering my family, my community and myself,” he added. “It’s been the greatest honor of my life, being student body president.”
WSUV Chancellor Mel Netzhammer remembered that when the COVID-19 pandemic first closed the campus in March 2020, everyone assumed the closure would last a few weeks. It wound up lasting 17 months — and during that time, many other challenges piled up, Netzhammer said, from police shootings that sparked mass protests across America to forest fires that clogged local air with smoke.
Despite seriously troubled times, Netzhammer said: “We are a resilient community, and WSUV remains strong.”
A student protest against college debt took the form of white ribbons on graduation gowns and displays of individual debt burden. Pointed out by Vice Chancellor Renny Christopher, the demonstration drew applause from the audience of graduates’ parents, families and friends.
Graduating Saturday were 563 Washington State University Vancouver students, including 504 earning undergraduate degrees and 59 earning master’s or doctoral degrees.
One of those doctoral students was Brittany Allison, whose new Ph.D. degree is in nursing. Allison’s mother, Thomy Hamilton, traveled to Ridgefield from Renton to cheer her daughter on. Hamilton said Allison took classes and earned her nursing degree across 10 years, two children and her military husband’s tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“She always loved it, and he encouraged her to keep taking more classes,” Hamilton said, adding that she was overwhelmed with pride.
Graduate Alex Yeang, pulling on his robe and mortarboard in the rainy parking lot beforehand, said he almost didn’t walk in the commencement ceremony — but was glad he decided to go through with it.
Yeang used to watch job opportunities slip by that he knew he wasn’t qualified for without a degree, he said. Then he got laid off just before the pandemic, he said, and decided it was the right time to hit the books and get qualified.
“It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” he said.