The rain just kept coming, but the graduates kept walking.
Sunday was the first ever on-campus commencement ceremony at OSU-Cascades, and the wet conditions meant most of the audience had to don rain jackets and ponchos, but their support for the graduates was evident amid the cheers of joy.
“It’s a pretty joyous event, and truly a landmark historic day to have our first on-campus commencement ceremony after decades of having commencement ceremonies elsewhere,” said the university’s Director of Communications, Christine Coffin. “Of course our campus opened in 2016, about six years ago, so I think students are excited, faculty are excited, and of course we’re so excited to have about 2,000 guests today to celebrate our students.”
Led by the Bend Fire Pipes and Drums bagpipe player, the 216 graduates walked across the campus and down to the stage on the oval green, situated in the center of a former pumice mine.
There were 290 total graduates this year, but not all were there to walk in the ceremony.
Commencements had never taken place there before due to the lack of event space, but this year, the pumice mine was remediated by engineers and construction staff and made into a grassy area.
“It will eventually be surrounded by academic buildings. But for right now it’s an event space, and I imagine in the future we’ll see students playing frisbee on it,” Coffin said.
The ceremony started with words from Interim Vice President Andrew Ketsdever, Chair of the Board of Trustees Kirk Shueler, and President of the Associated Students of Cascades Campus, Taha Elwefati.
“We’ve all had the opportunity to learn so much, from sharing a screen on Zoom, to finding the perfect Quizlet to help you learn,” Elwefati remarked, receiving hearty chuckles from the graduates. “In all seriousness, we’ve gained skills that will truly mold who we become and what we are able to do in the future.”
“The hope is that your time and education here carries more value than a piece of paper,” he added. “That the late nights, early mornings and seemingly endless homework left you with the ability to adapt. For better or for worse, the world has changed drastically over the past few years.”
Student speaker Yadhira Chavez also took to the podium to address her fellow graduates.
The commencement address was delivered by Becky Johnson, the former Vice President of the university for 13 years before she left to take over the Interim President role at the Corvallis campus.
“She has said that working here at OSU-Cascades was the most significant part of her 40-year OSU career,” Coffin said. “We’re really glad to have her back. And Kirk Schueler…will be giving her the distinguished service award, which is an annual award given to somebody who has really contributed to the campus, to Central Oregon, and to the state of Oregon.”
A record number of graduates from the graduating class are veterans, making up 8% of the total number, while 19% of the class are students of color.
224 of the graduates are Bachelor’s degree students, while 66 of them are Master’s students.
Graduate ages range from 19 to 85.
“This class of graduates has been through so much, the pandemic, a full year of remote learning,” Coffin said. “This past year has been not quite fully back to normal traditions, but 80% back. I think they’re going to leave here with a tremendous sense of resilience. I think they’re also going to leave here incredibly proud of their alma mater. They saw buildings come up while they’re here, and we hope that they come back and visit and become really engaged alumni and are just so proud of how they contributed to OSU-Cascades.”
She said the day was an achievement for more than just the students.
“I think not only is this a wonderful event for our campus community, it’s a wonderful event for Central Oregon too,” she said. “Central Oregonians fought so hard for a university here in Centra Oregon, and the commencement is evidence that all of their wonderful support worked, and so we’re so grateful to them.”