While Saturday was a day to rejoice for the 345 graduates of Washington State University Tri-Cities, Sunday is expected to bring something even more important — freedom, the keynote speaker advised the Class of 2015.
“Freedom to use your knowledge and put it to use for your family, your community and beyond,” said Beatriz Schweitzer, community outreach director for the Pullman-based Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.
It’s a big deal to earn a college degree, which took a lot of time, effort and money, Schweitzer said. And though life after college will certainly bring new challenges, graduates must remember that with each risk is a reward.
“Your education is a great investment. It could make the rest of your life much easier and rewarding, and nobody could take it away from you,” Schweitzer told the rows of Cougars at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
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Noting that 283 students were receiving bachelor’s degrees, 50 master’s degrees and 12 doctorates, she suggested each one of them embrace the upcoming changes and uncertainty, and remember that they’re never done learning.
“You are now on your way to being as successful, productive and happy as you want,” said Schweitzer. “Today you are celebrating your first step to inventing your future.”
Saturday’s commencement included a moment of silence after Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young announced that Dr. David Brenchley, an adjunct math professor, died Friday in a tragic accident.
Brenchley, who was known as “Dr. B,” was involved in a single-vehicle crash on Highway 395, about four miles south of Ritzville. The 75-year-old Kennewick man was pronounced dead at the scene.
This year’s graduation ceremony marks the 25th anniversary for not only WSU Tri-Cities, but for the university campuses in Vancouver and Spokane.
Michael Mays, vice chancellor for academic affairs, told the graduates that during the time they’ve been completing their degrees they have changed themselves and the Richland campus for the better.
He mentioned how the students voted not once, but twice this year to levy a fee upon themselves to pay for a new student union building. On Friday, the WSU Board of Regents approved the project, which is estimated to cost no more than $5.73 million.
“Arriving at this point has required sacrifice, dedication and commitment, not only on your part but also on the part of your families, your friends and also your employers,” Mays said Saturday. He asked the graduates to find their family and friends in the arena and “thank all those for making today possible.”
Valedictorian Melissa Hammock told her classmates they should celebrate this milestone and enjoy the moment. All of the long nights and early mornings lead to this point in the journey, Hammock said, and now it is time to keep moving forward.
Rigo Leon, president of the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities, said he served as Brenchley’s assistant for two years.
“On behalf of the students who took his class, it’s a sad day and he will be greatly missed,” Leon said.
Brenchley also served as an adjunct professor at Columbia Basin College and had been a senior engineer with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for 20 years. He described himself as being devoted to helping others be successful.
The Herald has featured Brenchley over the years for the work he and wife Susan did in Kenya.
Brenchley spent four years in Kenya planning Kenya Methodist University, raised money to get street children into boarding schools and helped Kenyan college students come to the United States for graduate school, finding host families and working to get them scholarships.
According to a Washington State Patrol report, Brenchley was driving a 2001 Lexus LX470 in the left lane of southbound Highway 395 on Friday when the SUV drifted into the dirt median.
Brenchley twice overcorrected, sending the SUV to the right and then back again to the left, at which point it started rotating and slid sideways, the report said. The SUV then rolled in the median and came to rest on its roof.
The cause of the 2:04 p.m. crash is under investigation.
The four passengers — one 10-year-old boy and three 11-year-old boys, all from the Tri-Cities — were treated for minor injuries at East Adams Rural Hospital in Ritzville and released.
Brenchley and the boys all were wearing seat belts at the time of the rollover.