La Sierra graduates record crowd, ADRA prez calls for pilgrims

On June 14, the largest crowd of students in La Sierra University’s 19-year history filed on stage to collect the largest number of diplomas awarded since the school came into its own.
On June 14, the largest crowd of students in La Sierra University’s 19-year history filed on stage to collect the largest number of diplomas awarded since the school came into its own.

June 16, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( )For La Sierra University graduate Roberto Ayala, Sunday’s commencement was particularly poignant. The exercise science major is the first in his family to attend college.

“Today is wonderful,” Ayala said after posing for photos with a friend following graduation. “It went smoothly. The speaker was really good.” Ayala and about 378 other graduates, the university’s largest contingent since its inception in 1990, had just received their diplomas during a thankfully cool June morning commencement.

Ayala’s La Sierra experience was a bumpy but grace-filled ride. “It was hard, especially financially. I had to leave for a year. But with the help of God I was able to come back and finish,” he recounted. His continuance at the school hinged in large part on the contributions of two La Sierra staff members, Gene Edelbach and Sam Acosta. Edelbach served as La Sierra’s vice president for enrollment through 2007 and Acosta holds the position of ministry outreach manager. Edelbach and Acosta both personally helped Ayala financially, as did his parents, Ayala said. The two La Sierra employees walked the student through the maze of necessary paperwork and Edelbach helped him secure a couple of scholarships, said Ayala. He plans next to attend Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health and study nutrition and diatetics. Ayala is considering a health career that focuses on issues related to diabetes and obesity.

On June 14, the largest crowd of students in La Sierra University’s 19-year history filed on stage to collect the largest number of diplomas awarded since the school came into its own. La Sierra graduated about 379 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students who collectively earned 382 degrees. The majority of graduates emanated from the College of Arts and Sciences which sent off 162 students. The School of Business followed closely with 148 graduates. The School of Education graduated 53 and the School of Religion graduated 17 students.

The School of Business set its own milestone by enrolling more than 400 students, a record for all Adventist business programs in North America. Additionally this year the school graduated 84 Master of Business Administration students, more MBAs than neighboring University of California, Riverside and more MBA graduates than all North American Adventist business schools combined.

La Sierra gave out its next largest batch of degrees in 2005 when it issued about 363. La Sierra University, once the Riverside campus of Loma Linda University, separated from Loma Linda in the summer of 1990. The newly organized school held its first graduation in 1991 and awarded 281 academic degrees.

Sunday’s commencement took place under white canopies on the university’s Founders’ Green, the main campus mall fronting the Dining Commons and Administration building. While waiting in line to file into the graduation ceremony, vocal performance major Rrian Patterson praised La Sierra and her teacher, Raejin Lee, the music department’s director of vocal studies.

“La Sierra taught me academically, but most of all it taught me to grow as a person,” Patterson said. Of Lee, her voice teacher, Patterson commented, “she’s a really wonderful woman, a great person, a great teacher.” Patterson plans to launch into a musical performance career and audition in Los Angeles for singing and acting roles.

Graduates’ emotions ran high as they waited to receive their hard-earned diplomas and degree titles.

“I’m definitely excited. I can’t believe it’s here,” said graphic design major Brandon Grainger. La Sierra’s Brandstater Gallery exhibited his work and that of several other senior artists through graduation weekend. The young designer is also looking forward to another milestone this September when he gets married to a Loma Linda University dental hygienist graduate.

La Sierra’s art professors enriched Grainger’s four-year experience at LSU, he said. “The professors made it the best, and all the art majors. Just their knowledge and support of projects.”

Senior fine art majors and Brandstater exhibiters Scott Shakespeare and Amy Cronk have plans to move to Minnesota and Chicago, respectively. Shakespeare, who completed degree requirements last August, plans to go forward with an artistic and teaching career. Cronk will enter The School of the Art Institute of Chicago to pursue a Master’s of Art in Art Therapy. “There’s a lot of really good people [at La Sierra], the faculty especially,” Cronk said. “I don’t think I would be where I am today without the art department faculty.”

“I really like my advisor, Rob Thomas. He’s really helpful,” said exercise science graduate Ashley Anderson as she waited in line with other students to march to “Pomp and Circumstance.”

“It’s [La Sierra] a really close, connected friendly place,” added exercise science grad Leila Abufarie.

Krunal Patel, a biochemistry major, plans to attend pharmacy school after taking a year off. “I’m kinda’ excited actually,” he said about the pending commencement ceremony. Patel, who is not Seventh-day Adventist, described his four years at the Seventh-day Adventist institution as “fun. It was a good experience, something new.”

Charles Sandefur, a La Sierra alumnus and president of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, or ADRA, gave a graduation address titled “Stubborn Pilgrims.”

ADRA is based in Silver Spring, Md. It is an international humanitarian organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that seeks to identify and address social injustice and deprivation in developing countries. ADRA has a presence in more than 125 countries with more than 4,000 staff members worldwide aiding millions of people. The organization’s primary directives are individual and community development and disaster relief.

Sandefur asked graduates to become “pilgrims” and to be committed to bringing justice to the poor. “It is not swine flu, it is not HIV/AIDS, it is poverty and injustice” that comprises the world’s greatest crisis, he said. Sandefur told graduates they are better educated than most of the world, better educated than King David, than Ellen G. White, than Jesus. “What will you do with this privileged life God has given you?” he asked.

“Life is complicated and we cannot just retreat to a pious, righteous place, to our sentimentality and emotions,” he said. While the world is full of dread and despair there is a victory, he said. He asked graduates not for their sadness or pity over the world’s suffering masses. “I am asking you to be angry, I am asking you to be stubborn,” Sandefur said.

He cited the sacrifice the work of ADRA sometimes requires in its efforts to aid the illness, deprivation and repression of millions around the world. Over the past seven years, 19 ADRA workers have lost their lives through accidents, illness, executions, murders. They worked in Honduras, Bolivia, Sudan, Liberia and other countries, he said.

“…You and I are asked to live out” the Second Coming right now. “If in the New Jerusalem there is clean water, we dig wells now. …We need no more of the imperialism of sincerity and good intentions,” he said. “I am asking you to give your life to this. It is an acquired taste. …Some of you will walk out of here and drive Mercedes, but some of you will walk out of here and drive the devil crazy” with your vision of hope, Sandefur said.

During the commencement ceremony, La Sierra University presented Sandefur with an honorary Doctor of Humanitarian Service. Sandefur has headed ADRA since 2002. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1968 from Loma Linda University-La Sierra campus. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. Before taking ADRA’s helm, Sandefur led the Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists in Lincoln, Neb., spearheading the church’s efforts in nine mid-western states.

During commencement the university also presented an honorary Doctor of Science to renowned sports medicine doctor and La Sierra alumnus Frank W. Jobe. He is known around the world for his practice and research of orthopaedics and sports medicine.

Jobe graduated from La Sierra College (now University) in 1949 and from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1956. While at La Sierra, Jobe edited the college paper, the Criterion. In 1964 he and Robert Kerlan co-founded the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles.

In 1968, Jobe became the team orthopaedic doctor for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1974 he made his mark in baseball history by performing a new surgical procedure on the ruptured medial collateral ligament in the left throwing elbow of pitcher Tommy John. By removing a tendon from John’s forearm and repairing the elbow, Jobe fixed a previously incurable injury and changed the game of baseball forever. Over the years he performed more than 1,000 ‘Tommy John’ surgeries on pitchers of every level, helping to resurrect the careers of countless big leaguers.

Jobe worked as team doctor for the Dodgers for 43 years. He is now special advisor to the Dodger’s chairman. Jobe has served as orthopaedic consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and the California Angels baseball team. He currently serves as orthopaedic consultant for the PGA Tour and Senior PGA Tour. He is a clinical professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. Jobe has written more than 140 medical publications and seven books and has received numerous awards and recognitions.

During commencement La Sierra presented to management/pre-medicine major Juliana Muchinyi its 2009 President’s Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Student. Muchinyi, a native of Nairobi, Kenya, combined business and medicine because she wants to understand and influence healthcare delivery systems.

The university awarded student Ron Williams, recipient of an Ed.D. in administration and leadership, with the 2009 President’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Student. Williams is curriculum coordinator for secondary school reform and support for the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools. In that role, Williams supports roughly 420,000 students in ways that help the district increase academic achievement, reduce drop out rates and close achievement gaps.

Williams’ wide-ranging community service includes supporting a homeless community and volunteering for youth events. At La Sierra he has assisted doctoral students and lectured on current educational issues.

The university awarded psychology Professor Adeny Schmidt the Distinguished Service Award. During her 35 years at La Sierra, Schmidt has received numerous awards for teaching, research and service. She variously served as department chair, dean of the College of Arts and Science and University Provost. In 2003 she implemented the Office of Service-Learning, a program that currently involves more than 800 students and has been instrumental in securing La Sierra’s recognition on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2007 and 2008.

Theology Professor V. Bailey Gillespie received the Anees A. Haddad Faculty Award for Excellence in Advancing the Effectiveness of Faculty Governance at La Sierra University. Gillespie has taught at La Sierra since 1975 when it was part of the Loma Linda University system. His various campus governance positions have included serving as faculty moderator following La Sierra’s separation from Loma Linda, representing the faculty on multiple university committees and chairing the Faculty Senate. He currently chairs the Senate Task Force on Faculty Governance.

Graduation 2009 Photos

PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)

  • Last update on  December 07, 2009