A record graduating class and recognition of a local pioneer were two highlights of Fresno Pacific University’s spring commencement Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Some 705 students were eligible to graduate in the ceremony, held in Selland Arena with more than 7,000 people in attendance. The bachelor’s degree completion class had 336 members, with 175 traditional undergraduates, 168 master’s degree candidates and 26 from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.
FPU presented its first honorary doctorate to Fitzalbert “Bert” Marius. Marius was the first African American to perform open heart surgery in Fresno, and he was involved in more than 11,000 such surgeries during a 50-year practice before retiring at age 91. He and his team became the first African American interns at Fresno County General Hospital (now Community Medical Center). Marius remains active in the community through speaking, writing and working with young people. A World War II veteran of the Pacific theater, he is involved with Hometown Heroes and Central Valley Honor Flight.
Featured speaker Johann Matthies, director of mission development in Europe and West and Central Asia for Multiply, the Mennonite Brethren-based mission agency that serves cross-denominationally to facilitate church planting locally, nationally and globally, urged graduates to “Live a big life.”
Matthies’ own life did not get off to a big start. Growing up deep in the old Soviet Union, to which his mother’s family had been deported by the victorious Russians after World War II, he was twice hated: for being German and for being a Christian.
“My people were despised and oppressed,” he said of himself, his parents, grandmother and siblings.
Nothing then would suggest he would ever be in the spotlight speaking to more than 7,000 people in Selland Arena, under flowing blue banners and behind a row of orange and white roses and white gladiolus in pots covered with gold foil.
“There is joy today,” he told the crowd. Joy and more: “Every single person in this room has a challenge. A battle others don’t even know about,” he said.
Whatever those battles, Jesus has the power to put us back on our feet. That process started for Matthies when he was 13 and his family was allowed to emigrate to Germany, which opened up his life.
“I know God as a God of invitation,” he said.
God has invited Matthies to mission around the world, to smuggle Bibles into countries where they are illegal, to study at Fresno Pacific College and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (now Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, a school of the university) and today to be director of mission development in Europe and West and Central Asia for Multiply, an international mission organization. He is also involved in the Evangelical Bible Institute, which provides biblical and theological training for young growing leaders.
Living a big life means continuing to learn and grow and staying close to Jesus. “Take steps of faith, of courage and of obedience,” Matthies said. “How will your life be big? I wish you a big life.”
Other participants included President Joseph Jones; Joshua Wilson, chair of the FPU Board of Trustees; Samra Gebretsadkan, president of the traditional undergraduate student body; and student ensembles, including the Chamber Choir and Pacific Brass.
Members of the Pacific College Class of 1969 were honored as Golden Grads. Dick Cornelsen, Anna Marie Entz, Mary Nickel, Bob Guichard and Kathie Smith attended commencement and a luncheon.