Sahmyook University prez challenges grads to seek the impossible
Under a hazy sky and warm temperatures, 366 excited La Sierra University students graduated from their respective programs June 15 during the annual Founders’ Green commencement ceremony.
Liberal studies Cum Laude graduate and Ontario resident Durrell Smith could not hide his joy as he waited in a long line of black-robed graduates to march down the sloping mid-campus walkway toward the commencement venue. His graduation, the result of a rigorous school and full-time work schedule, was an improbability years ago when he was a ward of the foster care system. Now he looks forward to earning a Master of Social Work degree on a $30,000 scholarship at the Brown School of Social Work, at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Smith said. “To work so hard and get to this point is Godly.” His grandparents, Joanna and William Smith, who adopted him at age 12, were in attendance to celebrate his achievements.
Smith’s accomplishments against great odds exemplified the ideals set forth by commencement speaker Sang Lae Kim, president of Sahmyook University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Seoul, South Korea. Kim told the story of his own difficult rise out of extreme poverty in a talk that challenged graduates to raise the bar beyond their current situations and abilities. “Unless we set impossible goals and suffer to achieve them, we will not make any breakthrough in life,” said Kim during his address titled “Why not Challenge the Full Marathon of Your Life?”
Kim recalled his arduous upbringing in a poor Korean village without electricity. “It was tough to find food, and the food we found was tough,” he quipped. His parents sent him to school in a city where he developed a dream of becoming an English teacher. But Kim’s mother died when he was 15 years old and he had to drop out of school because there was not enough money for tuition. His dreams faded away.
Life took a turn, however, on May 11, 1974, when a friend invited him to a picnic on a beach with a group of Christian high school students. “I was so inspired by the group’s atmosphere that I determined right there to become one of them. I learned new songs, new things I’d never heard before. To my surprise I found that all of them had a common dream -- their dream was to get accepted into Sahmyook University.”
Their enthusiasm rekindled hope in Kim’s heart. He asked the group’s leader how one might gain admission to study at Sahmyook. “He said, ‘pray and pray,’” recounted Kim, “‘then maybe you can graduate from high school, go to university and who knows, maybe you can get to study abroad.’ That was music to my ears and inspired with me with hope.”
Kim described the many open doors and miraculous moments that propelled his transition into Sahmyook where he earned degrees and later came to hold various positions. By this time his teaching dream had broadened into a desire to be a theology professor. Another series of providential events that included six denials of his visa application to study in the United States, brought him to the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. There he earned a doctorate in Old Testament studies and Jewish literature on full scholarship from the prestigious Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom, an advocacy organization now called Universities UK.
“My dreams came true one by one,” he said. In closing Kim described two marathons he ran in November 2012 and again last November, the latter with the president of Sahmyook’s student association.
The first race in 2012 Kim feared he would not finish, but he completed the course and discovered a metaphor for his life’s journey.
“A marathon is a symbol. Then why don’t we challenge the full marathon of our life? Set yourself an impossible dream …and the strategy to breakthrough to excellence,” he said to the graduates. He informed them he will run a marathon next February in Huntington Beach with student and faculty representatives of his university and invited others to join them.
Throughout the morning, graduates, their family members and friends talked about the meaning of the day’s events, their own redemptive moments and dreams come true.
“We’ve anticipated this day for a long time. We see God’s leading in the education of our graduate, and La Sierra was a part of it,” said Janelle Maynes, a member of the Mt. Rubidoux Seventh-day Adventist Church. She attended commencement in support of church family member Gabriel Moxely.
“The La Sierra experience, …it’s a priceless venture,” said Moxely, an international student from the Bahamas. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and a minor in biology. “I got to go to a super diverse school, and the atmosphere was just warmth. This is a school that encourages change and growth. Our motto [To Seek, To Know, To Serve] means something to me.”
“It’s amazing,” said Jongin Chun, a native of Korea and Bachelor of Science in biology recipient. “I’ve been here for five years. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. I’m hoping to get into the Loma Linda School of Dentistry.” About 15 family members and friends, some from the Riverside Korean Seventh-day Adventist Church, joined Chun in his celebration.
Twins Isaac and Israel Carreon, residents of Oceanside, graduated together, Isaac with a bachelor’s degree in history, and Israel with degree in English. Isaac plans to pursue a master’s degree at Marist College in Florence, Italy, while Israel will enroll in the Master of English program at La Sierra.
Isaac Carreon said it was “pretty spectacular” to graduate with someone he grew up with and who is his best friend. “It’s an honor, really,” added his brother Israel. “Last year he finished before me and decided to wait for me. It’s extra special because of that.”
Sunday’s commencement was also significant as Isaac Carreon has battled cancer much of the past year and underwent surgery in February. He faced radiation treatments the week after graduation. “It’s a big deal for him to be able to accomplish this,” said his mother, Edith Carreon.
Edith also attended La Sierra as did her husband and the twins’ father, Israel Carreon. Edith graduated in 2000 with a degree in education and now teaches at Oceanside Adventist Elementary. Her husband graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in ministerial studies.
Edith remembered when her two young sons scampered around the grassy campus while she attended class. “They felt like La Sierra was their second home,” she said.
Click this link to access photo albums of various graduation weekend events: lasierra.edu/graduation/