Oregon State University held its 145th commencement on Saturday, June 14, at 10:30 a.m. in Reser Stadium, graduating a record class of nearly 5,900 students.
The commencement speaker was Ann A. Kiessling, director of the independent Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation and a leader in both stem cell research and reproductive biology. She also will receive an honorary doctorate from the university.
Kiessling spoke about the need for more citizens to play an active roll in their state, local and national governments.
“Your OSU education has equipped you to take on the hard problems. I know this because my OSU education has equipped me to take on the hard problems,” she said.
OSU’s class of 2014 had 5,878 graduates, who received 6,194 degrees, according to OSU Registrar Rebecca Mathern. The previous largest class was in 2013, when 5,221 grads earned 5,483 degrees. About 3,800 grads participated in Saturday’s commencement.
This year’s graduates have many compelling stories about their success. Sadie Davis is a former high school dropout, who pursued an OSU degree after earning her GED. The mother of a teenage daughter, this first-generation college student overcame personal issues to graduate magna cum laude. She managed the Women Returning to Higher Education Program at OSU’s Women’s Center, and was a staunch advocate for students battling addiction as well as for students pursuing education later in life.
Brian Benavidez spent four years in the U.S. Air Force as an avionics systems specialist and served for a time in Iraq. He was accepted into the Airman Scholarship Commissioning Program and became a cadet in OSU’s Air Force ROTC program. He commanded a wing of nearly 80 cadets, and served as president of the Veterans & Family Student Association. He is graduating summa cum laude in electrical and computer engineering.
Kayla Thorsness was a high school valedictorian from Philomath who was active in sports, 4-H, school leaderships and volunteerism when she was diagnosed with melanoma. She didn’t let that deter her – and less than three years later she is graduating from OSU with two degrees, in accounting and business information systems. She worked at Dixon Recreation Center and eventually became supervisor and center manager. She also completed an internship with a major accounting firm, and was a volunteer for the American Cancer Society, Heartland Humane Society, the Philomath Booster Club and the Junior Achievement Program.
Of the 6,194 degrees: 4,908 are baccalaureate degrees; 917, master’s degrees, 93 Doctor of Pharmacy degrees, 224 Doctor of Philosophy degrees, and 52 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees;
OSU’s graduates hail from 35 Oregon counties, 49 states, three U.S. territories or commonwealths and 55 countries;
The oldest member of the class of 2014 is 78 years of age and the youngest is 19;
A total of 107 members of the graduating class are veterans.
OSU’s commencement speaker Kiessling has a doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics from Oregon State. Born in Baker City, Ore., she graduated from Klamath Falls High School in 1960. She eventually joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1985, specializing in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology, and working in the Department of Surgery. In the early 1990s, she pioneered reproductive options for couples living with the HIV disease and hepatitis C – techniques that led to the successful births of 121 children free of those diseases.
The Bedford Research Foundation she directs was founded in 1996 as a Massachusetts public charity to support research. By the year 2000, the foundation’s research laboratory expanded to include human stem cell research. To date, the foundation has collaborated with more than 60 clinics globally to find treatment for infectious diseases and spinal cord injuries.
Kiessling, the mother of four children, wrote one of the first books about the enormous potential of stem cells in treating supposedly “incurable” diseases, including spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure and diabetes. She has been a pioneer in developing ways to create or identify “pluripotent” stem cells that do not involve the use of human embryos.