Westmont graduation features David Brooks

Alister Chapman, associate professor of history, gives the invocation Saturday at Westmont College's commencement. KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS
Alister Chapman, associate professor of history, gives the invocation Saturday at Westmont College’s commencement.

More than 300 member of the Class of 2015 received their diplomas Saturday at Westmont College’s commencement at Russ Carr field.

A small cadre of students and instructors were furthered honored for excellence in their field before the main ceremony, which featured hymns and a commencement speech from New York Times columnist David Brooks, whose new book, “The Road to Character,” is a summation of the course he taught on humility at Yale University (and makes for good advice to grads.)

Mr. Brooks’ thesis is that success doesn’t make happiness, but a deep commitment to five ideals can provide something that is more than fleeting.

He used the example of Dorothy Day, the Catholic convert and social activist who rose from poverty and jail time to found the Catholic Worker Movement and advocate for the homeless.

She committed “down in the valley of humility,” which Mr. Brooks defined as “radical self-awareness from a distance.”

The five commitments he listed are to vocation, to marriage, to a settled philosophy of life, to community and to faith. Graduates have 15 years, he said, to figure this out.

“A person of character is able to make amazing commitments, and the person of depth is judged by the strength and enduring role of those commitments over time.”

The ceremony also honored the Class of 1965, many of whom had returned for the day to sit in a group behind the podium. Also honored was Rolf Geyling, who founded the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and was on hand to receive the Westmont Medal.

Outstanding Teachers of the Year awards went to Paul Delaney, English professor; Heather Keaney, associate professor of history; and Andrea Garney, psychology professor. Faculty Researcher of the Year went to Ed Song.

This year produced four perfect 4.0 GPAs by Nicole Blois, Sophia Meulenberg, Heidi Walberg and Benjamin West.

The Dean’s Award went to Elysia Mitchell and Joshua Barnard, The Dave Dolan Award went to Rob Limkeman, and the Kenneth Monroe Award went to Elizabeth Simoneit and Matt Brown.

For Mrs. Mitchell, 22, it was

the culmination of years of hard work in which she balanced academics with track and field — so much so that on Saturday she was spoken of as “our best female track athlete in the history of Westmont” by the school’s Edee Schulze.

Mrs. Mitchell won two NAIA national championships and is a 10-time NAIA All-American. When she and her husband (another Westmont grad from a few years earlier) move to the Bay Area, she will be focusing on the Olympic trials. She graduated with a bachelor’s in kinesiology.

She credits God for getting her through her workload and “being present in the moment and not worrying about everything.”

“If I hadn’t gone to Westmont I’d be a very different person,” she said. “The way the professors and coaches really invest in their students, they walk alongside you in your journey and answer all your questions. They let you know that you are more than what you accomplish.”

Similarly, Nick Kennedy, 21, had a struggle over the last two years, physically, and made his graduation full of gratitude. Last year he was bitten on the foot by a small shark just off shore at Butterfly Beach. He had to undergo two foot surgeries and still has a tiny shark tooth in his foot.

Unrelated, but even more grievous, Mr. Kennedy developed a burst appendix, which required another stay in hospital, where he nearly died. He says he put his faith in God to come through, but then also found the hidden strength to get back to full health.

“I clung to my faith during those times and was at peace,” he said.

Mr. Kennedy graduated in December with a bachelor’s in English returned Saturday for the full ceremony. He works as a substitute teacher at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

“I’m only here today because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants — the support of my family, the encouragement of my friends, the patience of my college professors, my community of faith,” he said.

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