Commencement is always a joyous occasion for Heritage University students and their families. This year it was doubly so. It was the first time in three years that the event took place in person and as scheduled.
All totaled, 274 students graduated with bachelor’s or master’s degrees from Heritage during the 2021/22 academic year. The majority of these graduates celebrated their accomplishments with friends and families at the 40th Annual Commencement held at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
“Our students displayed remarkable grit and dedication to their education during unprecedented difficulties,” said Dr. Kazuhiro Sonoda, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “They could have given up or said they would take time off from school until things got back to normal, but they didn’t. They shifted gears and doubled down on their studies because their education was a priority. Their work ethic and tenacity is an inspiration to us all.”
This year’s keynote address was presented by Washington state Representative Debra Lekanoff of the 40th legislative district, which includes parts of Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties. Sworn into the Washington State House of Representatives in January 2019, Rep. Lekanoff is the only Native American woman currently serving in the Legislature. She is Vice-Chair of the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee and sits on the Appropriations Committee and the Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.
In addition to Lekanoff’s address, two graduating students gave their remarks. Ashley Whitefoot-Erickson (B.S.W., Social Work) presented the baccalaureate student address and Monica Neri (M.I.T., Elementary Education) gave the master’s degree student address.
Twenty students and one alumna were recognized with special awards during the event. Courtney Hernandez (M.I.T., 2018) received the Violet Lumley Rau Alumna of the Year award. Karly Beth Serrano, Biology, received the President’s Council Award of Distinction, which is presented to a graduate with both an exceptional academic record as well as a history of service to the campus community. The Board of Directors Academic Excellence Award, which goes to students who graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA, was presented to 19 graduates. This year’s recipients were: Sandra Feria, Business Administration; Shannon Ozog, English; Nansi Iniguez, Psychology; Norma Manzanarez, Psychology; Mayra Delgado, Education; Richard Corona, Education; Turquesa Paz, Education; Faith Bold, Education; Valerie Aispuro, Social Work; Joaquin Padilla, Social Work; Melissa Kelly, Social Work; Silvia Guendulein, Social Work; Crystal Bednarski, Social Work; Kathleen McIntosh, Social Work; Rachael Gale, Social Work; Yamilet Aquino, Social Work; Veronica Lopez, Social Work; Angela Guerrero, Social Work; and Elizabeth Rodriguez, Social Work.