RIDGEFIELD — They started college before the COVID-19 pandemic. They lived, worked and studied through it, seeing the global health crisis impact every aspect of their lives, especially their education. And this weekend, they were lucky enough to actually have their friends and family with them to celebrate their graduation from Washington State University Vancouver.
WSUV graduated 847 people Saturday at the RV Inn Style Resorts Amphitheater in Ridgefield, including 40 people who received doctoral degrees, 68 who received master’s degrees and 739 who received bachelor’s degrees. More than 500 graduates participated in the day’s festivities, which also saw the presentation of five chancellor’s awards for service, equity, research and student achievement, as well as a student award for teaching excellence.
“I’d like to say that commencements are both endings and beginnings,” university Chancellor Mel Netzhammer said. “Our commencement ceremony today is the end of this chapter of your life, and today you start the next chapter.
“This community, this state and this nation need your leadership,” he continued. “They need your thoughtfulness and compassion. They need the skills you have learned.”
The chancellor went on to thank the families and friends of the students who had gathered for the celebration.
“It’s a really big deal,” said Makenzie Yancey, who was cheering on her husband, Austin Yancey, as he crossed the stage to get his bachelor’s degree in English.
Austin Yancey is the youngest in his family to get a bachelor’s degree, she added. And he’s only the second family member to do it.
“So education is something that he’s really passionate about,” said Makenzie Yancey. Her husband, who already works as a substitute teacher, is now pursuing a master’s degree and plans to become a teacher.
“Seeing him do all these accomplishments while he’s subbing full time and going to class is really awesome,” she said.
By a show of hands, the vast majority of students who graduated Saturday worked while they were pursuing their degrees, and many were the first in their families to graduate from college.
Luck of education
When Vancouver’s Jacob Boucher chose to attend WSUV, he wanted to be near his friends and family, and he wanted to save money on housing.
He found not only those benefits but also the benefits of having smaller classes and a smaller campus, which allowed him to get to know his professors better and to make one-on-one connections. He graduated as the school’s student body president and gave Saturday’s commencement address.
“Due to the mere fact that we’re here today, we are some of the most well-educated, luckiest people in the history of the world,” Boucher told his peers.
“You don’t need to move mountains to do good in the world,” he said. “All you need to do is nudge the world into being a brighter place — person by person, day by day. Let’s leverage our position to do the most good we can.”
Freedom in the future
The Hedy family came out to celebrate their daughter Jasmine Hedy, who was getting her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She graduated magna cum laude, her father said, beaming with pride.
“We’re very proud of her,” said mom Michelle Hedy.
Emily Hammer joined the family to honor her friend Jasmine Hedy. The two were roommates in college.
“She really put everything into it,” said Hammer. “She worked so, so hard for this,” she added, calling it a huge accomplishment.
Jasmine Hedy’s father, John Hedy, said his daughter’s newfound degree will open doors for her.
“No one can ever take away that accomplishment,” he said.
Earning this degree, he continued, will give his daughter the freedom to do whatever she chooses in the future.
This was a sentiment reinforced by the university’s leadership during the ceremony.
“You have accomplished so much already, and your potential is unlimited,” Netzhammer told the graduating class before they collected their degrees.