By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Linfield graduation draws crowd

Marcus Larson / News-Register
1984 alum Steve Lopes addresses Linfield College s Class of 2014.
Marcus Larson / News-Register
1984 alum Steve Lopes addresses Linfield College's Class of 2014.

About 740 students from the McMinnville campus, the nursing program in Portland and the adult degree program marched onto the graduation green on the overcast but dry morning. They were accompanied by the faculty and a group of “Golden Grads,” who earned their degrees at least 50 years ago.

“You are permanently woven into the fabric of this college,” President Thomas Hellie told both the Golden Grads and the Class of 2014. And that sentiment was repeated many times during the nearly three-hour ceremony.

Sonny Jepson, head of the alumni association, encouraged new graduates to continue the friendships they made on campus, get to know fellow alumni and help future Linfield students.

Student speaker Clara Martinez urged her classmates to face the unknown with the assurance “our Linfield education has prepared us for any challenge.”

The keynote speaker, 1984 grad Stephen Lopes, told the Class of 2014 that the friends and mentors they had met at Linfield would be among the people defining their future.

“It’s up to you to take advantage of that,” he said. “Your journey is just beginning. Your future is yours to determine.”

Lopes said he was just an average student, joking that he spent a semester on “double-secret probation.”

He came from a small town and was the first in his family to attend college. His parents had convinced him that he could succeed if he worked hard and treated people with respect. And his high school coach believed in him enough to encourage him to apply himself at a small school with a great football program.

“That was life-changing for me,” Lopes said. “Linfield College was the best decision I’d made.”

Lopes played on the national championship Wildcat football team in 1982, earning all-America honors along the way.

After graduating, he went on to a graduate assistantship at the University of Southern California. He earned master’s degrees in sports administration and business, and later received his doctorate in higher education administration.

His job didn’t require those advanced degrees, he said, but he wanted them. “I believe learning and knowledge is powerful,” he said, encouraging each of the new graduates to “be a lifelong learner, stretch yourself, set goals, keep that student spirit.”

Graduating is great, Lopes said, but “don’t believe your accomplishment today will carry you through life.”

He takes that sentiment personally. Thirty years after receiving his Linfield degree, he said, “my journey is not over.”

In addition to honoring the new graduates, Hellie conferred emeritus status on seven retiring faculty members: Richard Bourassa, who joined the college in 1992 to teach music theory and composition; Michael Roberts, who has taught biology at Linfield since 1981; Juan Gomez, who has taught Spanish there since 1981; Carol McCulley, reference and distance education librarian since 1998; nursing professors Sue Butell and Noreen Johansson; and the late Nils Lou, who taught art at the college from 1984 until his death in December 2013.

Members of the Class of 2014 were the stars of graduation day.

Albert and Candis Talley drove from Renton, Wash., to see their grandson, Cameron Talley, receive his diploma.

“He’s a great kid,” Albert said. “We always come to his events.”

They saw their share of Wildcat football games when Cameron was playing linebacker during his first two years of school. Then he left sports in order to concentrate on his studies in education and history.

“Cameron knows what he wants and he moves in the direction to accommodate that,” his grandfather said. “He’s developing himself to be the kind of teacher he wants to be.”

Cameron is following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. His dad is a teacher, and his grandfather teaches community college classes and serves on the local school board.

He has already landed a job at his old high school.

Albert said his grandson is going to be a great teacher. “He’s a kind person, very respectful, never in trouble,” Grandpa said.

Before receiving a diploma, each graduate dropped an acorn into a bowl fashioned from wood from the Old Oak, Linfield’s iconic symbol, which fell several years ago. Students now receive symbolic acorns when they start school as freshmen or transfer students, then leave the acorns for future students as they move on with their lives.

As each student crossed the stage, his or her family whooped, rattled noisemakers or shouted out a personal greeting.

“Yay, Paige, we love you!” called out the family of Paige Bosch. “Go, Big D!” cried the family of Dillon Casados.

The family of a Carlton native held up a three-part sign: “We Love Cassidy!” A big red heart represented the word “love.”

“I loved the signs!” Cassidy Davis said later.

Having her family there was the best part of graduation, she said. The next best part was seeing everyone cheering for everyone else.

“I felt was very proud about the whole thing,” said the Yamhiil-Carlton High grad — “all the Linfield pride and about being a college graduate.”

Davis, who has lived on campus throughout college, moved back to her family home after receiving her degree in mass communications. Before she starts her career in video storytelling, she plans to take a few weeks off.

After all, she said, she needs to get used to the idea that after all these years, she’s no longer a student.

“That feels really weird,” she said. “And very good.”

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