Handshakes, hugs, and smiles were plentiful at the university’s 114th commencement in Newberg. More than 600 graduates and about 5,000 of their loved ones gathered in Newberg to observe the passing of academic milestones. Yet, on a day set aside for celebration and family, reminders of wars and storms still intruded. Commencement speaker Fred Gregory (’66) warned the graduates that the world is becoming more perilous. A veteran of four decades of international relief work, Gregory currently oversees the work of Mercy Corps in afghanistan. “Your world needs you,” he told them.
New Orleans to Newberg
An onslaught of storms could only delay Bill Stieber from becoming the first in his family to graduate from college.
After hurricanes Katrina and Rita blew him from University of New Orleans to Oregon last September, Stieber enrolled at George Fox this spring. The university took him in as a guest student and paid the costs of his final semester’s tuition and books. At age 41, Stieber completed his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Thousands of miles from his own university, Stieber donned cap and gown and walked the commencement stage at George Fox. President David Brandt gave him a ceremonial University of New Orleans diploma — a symbol of an achievement long in the making.
In the mid-1990s, Stieber spent months recovering and adjusting to medications after epileptic seizures ended his career in trucking and construction. He started taking classes at a community college in 1997 and transferred to University of New Orleans. When he was just two classes short of graduation, Hurricane Katrina struck, flooding his basement apartment and destroying most of his possessions. He sought refuge in Galveston, Texas, and eventually made his way to join his parents in Oregon. A referral from friends led him to George Fox.
Hours after the commencement ceremony, Stieber proposed to his girlfriend, Susie. She said yes. Two days later, he started his new career in a management position. Stieber’s season of storms has passed.
Wearing a pink dress, 8-year-old Georgina Fernandez walked across the graduation platform to receive a diploma at the university’s ceremony for graduates of the professional studies, master’s, and doctoral programs. Georgina took the place of her father, MBA graduate Greg Fernandez, who recently deployed with the Oregon Army National Guard to Afghanistan. Greg requested that the older of his two daughters receive his degree at the ceremony. Georgina shook President David Brandt’s hand amid cheers from the graduates and guests packed in Wheeler Sports Center.
Invisible children, visible love
Kevin Bennie made his graduation night about more than celebration. Hours after receiving his diploma, Bennie and about 20 other recently minted graduates joined more than 140 George Fox students in downtown Portland for a public demonstration calling attention to the plight of children in Uganda. “I felt it was important to make a statement about the world and the way I want to live my life,” said Bennie.
More than 1,000 participants — many from local colleges — walked to Pioneer Courthouse Square for an all-night vigil. Called the Global Night Commute, the event was sponsored by the Invisible Children organization to illustrate how thousands of threatened Ugandan children leave their homes at night to sleep at public places to avoid being kidnapped. Event organizers said more than 30,000 children have been abducted and forced to join rebel forces fighting a two-decade war with the government.
“We took time to talk about the somberness of the event,” said Nicole Bresnahan, a senior from Woodland, Wash., and an event organizer. “It sparked a lot of good conversations.” Bresnahan said George Fox students made up the largest single group at the Portland event and several volunteered on the security and registration staff. Many of the participants wrote letters to American and Ugandan political leaders. Others created art to send to the children. Invisible Children organizers estimated that more than 50,000 in 130 cities participated in the Global Night Commute.
The Invisible Children organization takes its name from a documentary created by three 20-something Californians to show the plight of the “invisible” Ugandan children, the film has been shown across the U.S. at churches, schools and universities. The George Fox screening attracted more than 800 students, the largest single audience on the West Coast according to Invisible Children organizers. As the temperature dipped near 40 degrees, Bennie and the others lay down to sleep on the square’s cold brick surface in sleeping bags. “It was not the most comfortable place, as you can imagine.”