Honors convocation fills all seats at Samuelson Chapel


Photo by Elisa Zody - Reporter

Attendees at The Honors Convocation Ceremony filled the Samuelson Chapel. Overflow seating was available in Ullman 101 but many chose to stand in the back.

Elisa Zody, Reporter

All seats were filled at the Samuelson Chapel on April 26, 2022 when California Lutheran University held its first in-person Honors Convocation since 2019. Students, faculty and alumni were recognized from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. with the addition of vocal and string performances. 

The event began with a hymn and welcome from Provost Leanne Neilson, where she acknowledged students for their hard work during the pandemic. 

“Students conducted research in their home, their backyard, or at their kitchen table instead of in a lab. They created artwork with supplies found around their house. Students competed with family members for internet and computer access to attend classes. Despite all of these hardships the students here today persevered and continued to excel in their academics,” Neilson said during her speech.

Neilson went on to announce the 2022 Provost’s Award for Academic Excellence which is given to graduating students with the highest grade point average. 

Cal Lutheran senior Melissa Dennin was one of the six students who received the Provost’s Award and were asked to stand to be recognized. Dennin was also recognized for a number of other achievements and for being inducted into The Scholastic Honor Society of Cal Lutheran. 

According to the Honors Convocation’s program, less than 5% of students from each graduating class are invited to participate in the honor society.

Dennin, who is studying Liberal Studies in Education, will be continuing her education at Cal Lutheran next year to earn her multiple subject teaching credential.

The majority of the chapel was on their feet when students were asked to stand if they made the Dean’s List, which requires a GPA of 3.6 or higher and can be earned by undergraduate or professional students.

After all student awards were announced, J.R. Woods, from the alumni board of directors, introduced Marisol Rodriguez who received this year’s Outstanding Alumni Award. 

“Marisol Rodriguez is very impressive and I am really excited to hear her talk today,” Neilson said before the Honors Convocation.

Rodriguez graduated from Cal Lutheran in 1994 with a bachelor of science in business administration and a master of public administration. She went on to receive her doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology from Capella University in 2000. She now works with the Ventura County Fire Department as a fire captain. 

“I had an opportunity to have an internship when I was a junior here. And a female firefighter walked into the office and absolutely changed my life forever,” Rodriguez said during her acceptance speech. 

She said she was initially afraid to tell people that she wanted to become a firefighter. But after her friend told her that she could do it, she felt more motivated than ever to achieve her dreams. 

Rodriguez said that her favorite part about Cal Lutheran was the sense of community.

“When I was here, I belonged, which is really important for an 18-year-old when it’s your first time away from home,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez also thanked Adjunct Professor Herbert Gooch for being her mentor and helping her find her calling.

The final award was the President’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

Neilson said faculty members can nominate their colleagues for the award and then a committee will narrow down the nominees to a group of finalists. Cal Lutheran President Lori Varlotta then has the final decision of choosing the award recipient. 

Varlotta introduced the recipient of the award as Professor and Chair of the Criminology and Criminal Justice Department Helen Ahn Lim.

Lim, who has been teaching at Cal Lutheran for 17 years, said that her favorite part about teaching is the students.

“I get to help them discover their passions, purposes and vocations. That’s the best investment that I can make as a professor,” Lim said.

Lim said that she is incredibly honored, grateful and overwhelmed since receiving the award. 

“I am so thankful for my colleagues who are so deserving also of this kind of recognition,” Lim said.

The Honors Convocation concluded with the Alma Mater and a benediction by Interim Campus Pastor Rev. Mark Holmerud. 

Dennin said the best part of the convocation was seeing everyone together again, supporting and lifting each other up. 

“To think that the students have done as much as they have done given the pandemic, it’s a particularly special celebration this year,” Neilson said.