Fresno Pacific University graduates encouraged to ask, ‘What if?’

897 FPU graduates participate in May 4 graduation celebration

Brian Ross, D.Min., associate professor of pastoral ministries at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, places a master’s hood on a graduate of the M.A. in Ministry, Leadership & Culture program. Photo: FPU

God doesn’t want you to live a normal life,” Matthew Dildine told an arena full of graduates and their loved ones during Fresno Pacific University’s 2024 commencement ceremonies May 4. “He wants you to ask, ‘What if?’”

Oscar was Dildine’s “What if?” A former gang member raised in a part of Fresno then known as “The Devil’s Triangle,” Oscar was a janitor at the Dildine family’s church. Already operating a makeshift park in that same neighborhood on his own time and feeding kids hot dogs on his own dime, Oscar was looking for more ways to give back and needed someone to file legal paperwork so he could start a nonprofit.

Unintentionally, Oscar challenged Dildine’s definition of success. “He was giving quite literally everything he had to kids who had next to nothing,” Dildine said.

Since law school, Dildine had been running through his checklist of earthly achievement, including partner at a local law firm: better house, better car, better job equals better life, right? “My life was awesome—until it was wrecked” Dildine said, “in the best way.”

Now Dildine wondered: “What if what God gave me were there not make my life more convenient, but were there in order to serve him?”

One “What if?” changed two lives.

Today, Oscar Rodriguez is executive director of Martin Park, Inc., overseeing inner-city parks and operating after-school and community ministries. The vision: “to see Fresno’s Inner-city communities transformed by a commitment to continual investment in their families, giving hope to each other through their relationships with Christ.” (Martin Park – Parks With A Heart)

Dildine is CEO of Fresno Mission, which launched City Center, bringing together more than 25 organizations to provide housing, food, education, medical and mental health care, a youth drop-in center and a human-trafficking youth shelter. Dildine is also president of Martin Park, Inc., and chairs the board of Citygate Network, America’s largest association of homeless services providers. His wife, Kym Dildine, is co-CEO of Central California Food Bank.

Meanwhile, Dildine reminded the graduates they attended a university whose mission is to develop students through leadership and service. “When we act on our ‘What ifs?’ when can see our simple acts turn into something that impacts eternity,” he said. “I hope you have an amazing ‘What if?’”

Some 979 students were eligible to graduate in one of the two commencement ceremonies in Selland Arena in downtown Fresno, according to university estimates, with 897 confirmed to participate. In all, 217 graduates came from traditional undergraduate programs, 345 from bachelor’s degree completion programs and 417 from graduate programs, including 32 from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.

Student awards went to Paola Guadalupe Gonzalez Mendez, who won the Harold Haak Award, while Iris Bayer, Lauren Binaski, Hallie Brown and Stephanie Tebaqui each won the Highest GPA Award. Evangel Home was honored with the Seminary Service Award.

Traditional undergraduate students, typically recently out of high school or community college, study at the FPU main campus in Southeast Fresno. Bachelor’s degree completion students are generally working adults with some college credit, while graduate students are seeking to grow in their profession through master’s degrees. These two groups attend campuses in Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield. Seminary students pursue master’s degrees in counseling and ministry at the main campus.

Also participating in commencement was FPU President André Stephens; Joshua Wilson, chair of the FPU Board of Trustees; and Sherri Hughes, interim provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. Special music was provided by the university concert choir, under the direction of Jeffrey Wilson, professor of music and director of choral activities.

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