Growing enrollment and requests by graduates to include more family and friends in their special day prompted the move to downtown Fresno's Chukchansi Park, home of the AAA Grizzlies baseball team. To avoid the heat of California's Central Valley, graduates and faculty took the field at 7:00 p.m.
A brisk wind did play with the banners and video screens hanging above the stage set up along the first base line and cause some to clasp their mortarboards more tightly to their heads. Nothing, however, dampened the festive atmosphere in the stands, where visitors enjoyed soda, hot dogs and hamburgers as they cheered on their loved ones.
Speaker Randy White, D.Min., caught the spirit of both the occasion and the location, calling on the newest flock of Sunbird alumni to be "bat-wielding, screaming, winged players, diving from a thousand feet in the air, crying ‘let me in this game!' ready to wage peace in the name of Christ."
Scripture for the ceremony was Jeremiah 29:4-7, which advises Jews exiled to Babylon to, in part, "seek the peace and prosperity of the city." White, executive director of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and associate professor at FPU, has lived that verse. An urban activist for more than 20 years, White and his family have lived and served in some of Fresno's most vulnerable neighborhoods. Begun in 2012, the CCT connects the university with Fresno's 500 churches and 100 faith-based nonprofits to improve the region.
Congratulating the about 340 bachelor's, master's and seminary graduates on their achievement, White said it is not a deficit of knowledge that has kept people from solving, "the conundrum of homelessness, the complex reality of gang violence, (or) the inequities of a system that requires the poorest laborers to live in the shadows."
Intelligence alone has never been enough to bring change. "Only love can do that," White said. "Jesus didn't say, blessed are the smart for they will save the world. No. He said, blessed are those who do what it takes to make peace—shalom—for they shall be called the children of God."
Their FPU education has given these graduates the personal and professional tools to make a difference. What should they do? "Swing!" White said. As a teacher, business person, pastor, health care worker, counselor, social worker and more. "We can't wait to see you swing for the peace of your city," he said.
Some were honored for hits already scored. Anthony Fredette, B.A. in philology, received the Harold Haak Award, and Kaitlyn Goslinga, B.A. in social work, won the Academic Award. Kenneth Martens Friesen, Ph.D., associate professor of political science/history, was given the Nickel Excellence in Teaching Award, and My Sister's Closet Ministry received the Seminary Service Award. Part of United Faith Christian Fellowship, My Sister's Closet is a Fresno agency helps women through career development and professional attire.
And if the graduates sometimes strike out during their lifetime at bat? "Here's the thing: it's not how well you bat that matters. What's more important is now much you love," White said.
Watch the ceremony at: www.fpu.edu/live