Magazine Fall 2023 Grads Urged to Grow Roots

The 332 graduates of the class of 2023 marched to Thorrington be in relationship with each other. And if someone as average I

Field on May 6 for a celebration that featured inaugural graduating classes in both engineering and nursing and speeches reflecting on the class verse, “Let your roots grow down into Him” (Colossians 2:7).

Mercy Milliken ’23, a Nebraska native who grew up in South Korea, talked about searching for community when she arrived at Westmont four years ago. “Think about belonging and how it can be cultivated and shared wherever we go,” she said. “And please, please share it. There are too many people hurting, lost or having panic attacks. Christ’s love is too good not to root us down and grow us up and out and into those realities.”

Tobi Oyebade ’23, an economics and business graduate from Jos, Nigeria, said that when you're rooted in Christ, you're signing up to love and listen well. “It's easy to grow when the soil is filled with love, but when love is lacking, when the right soil is not cultivated, it's hard to grow,” he said. “As we leave this place today, I pray that we will all find where we can take root and thrive and also create fertile land where others can experience the same.”

President Gayle D. Beebe presented the Westmont Medal to alumnus Jonathan Walker ’91, cofounder and chief technology officer for AppFolio, which develops software for property managers.

“I am really the world’s most average person,” Walker said. “My one gift is attracting great people around me and appreciating them for who they are. The best news is that we're all meant to be in relationship with each other. And if someone as average as I can have that gift, then all of you can have it too.”

Beloved history professor and Commencement speaker Chandra Mallampalli (read more on page 18) shared his love for “Top Gun: Maverick” and said viewers need patience to allow its powerful inner story to unfold. “I'd like to make a case today for a different and better kind of ‘slow,’ one that restores our sanity and humanity in a fast-paced, high-pressure world,” he said. “What does it mean to apply the brakes in this age of acceleration?”

He spoke about the importance of slowing down to sink deep roots, linger and find meaning in the gaps of our lives when it feels like we’re living in limbo. “Being rooted in Christ not only provides an anchor but also opens up an alternative way of being in the world, one that preserves our humanity, core relationships and values in this age of acceleration,” he said.

Edee Schulze, vice president for student life, presented the Dean’s Award to Reese Davidson ’23 (soccer) and Danny Rubin ’23 (cross country/track and field), outstanding male and female graduates who have demonstrated excellence in the classroom, made superior contributions to an intercollegiate athletic team and demonstrated a deep faith in Christ.

Emma Mitchell ’23 won the Dave Dolan Award, which recognizes the outstanding graduate whose campus leadership has made significant contributions in our awareness and response to the social and spiritual needs of the community, the nation and the world.

Ebun Kalejaiye ’23 and Caleb Marll ’23 won Kenneth Monroe Awards, given to the outstanding male and female graduates who have demonstrated superior academic achievement in the classroom, excelled as leaders on campus and shaped other students’ lives through their integrity, character and faithfulness.

The First Seniors, who completed their Westmont education with perfect 4.0 GPAs, were Alison Thomas, Ellie Hagemeister, Mercy Milliken, Maddy Simonsen and Emma Mitchell.

"Let your roots grow down into Him."

Colossians 2:7

2023 Class Verse

Provost Kimberly Battle-Walters Denu gave Teacher of the Year Awards to Steven A. Rogers, professor of psychology, Daniel Jon Gee ’13, assistant professor of music, and Meredith Whitnah, assistant professor of sociology.

Benjamin Carlson, assistant professor of physics, earned the Faculty Research Award for his ongoing study of dark matter with the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, a particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland.

As students received their baccalaureate degrees, Dan Jensen, founding professor and director of the engineering program, introduced the inaugural eight engineering graduates when they walked across the stage with their diplomas.

Carol Velas, founding director of Westmont Downtown | Grotenhuis Nursing, introduced the eight members of the initial nursing cohort, five of whom had already earned a bachelor’s degree at Westmont. A special pinning ceremony and separate luncheon in the Global Leadership Center celebrated their accomplishment.

In his closing charge to the graduates, Beebe recalled the extensive efforts the college took to sustain the Pickle Tree, the towering redwood on Kerrwood Lawn that eventually withered and died.

“It’s such a graphic metaphor of the importance of rooting our life in Christ versus rooting our life in the world,” he said. “I hope as you go forward in life that you always look back to the people, ideas and experiences you’ve had that shaped the beginning of your adult journey and find in Christ a source of companionship and growth that will sustain you the rest of your days."

Commencement also marked the final chapter for two long-serving trustees who retired from the board after 25 years of faithful and productive service to the college: Carol Houston and Steve Stong. The board announced it had raised $1 million to launch the Carol Houston Center for Biblical Justice and Reconciliation. “Carol embodies the rare and remarkable gifts of a bridge builder,” Beebe said. “Through the center, Westmont will continue her legacy as an agent of God’s reconciling work in the world and her faithfulness to Westmont’s mission.”

Stong, who graduated from Westmont in 1975 and earned an MBA at Harvard Business School, served in a variety of capacities on the board. “We’re grateful for Steve and his wife, Robyn, and their legacy of service to the college,” Beebe said. “We deeply appreciate these committed and faithful servants.”