Historic Commencement at Cedarville University

by Ryan Bower, Assistant Director of Public Relations

The largest graduating class in Cedarville University history received their degrees at the 120th commencement on Saturday, May 7. The class of 2016 was comprised of 761 students, representing both undergraduate and graduate programs. The ceremony was be held in the Doden Field House.

The previous record graduating class size was 745—established in 2015.

The historic class also included the inaugural graduates in the professional pharmacy program from the School of Pharmacy. The 48 pharmacy students received the first doctoral degrees (Pharm.D.) from Cedarville University after they successfully completed the rigorous seven year program. In all, Cedarville awarded 89 graduate degrees.

The doctoral graduates represent some of the brightest minds in the field. Students from the School of Pharmacy have been recognized by the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate for their community service and have won numerous national awards.

Each year commencement produces inspiring stories, and this year was no exception. This commencement included the awarding of an honorary doctorate to the first African-American to enroll at Cedarville University in 1954, as well as graduates who came to Cedarville on blind faith. 



Rev. James D. Parker Sr., was awarded the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. Parker came to Cedarville in 1954 and persevered through cultural and personal struggles.  As the first African-American student ever at Cedarville University, Parker faced pushback from some in the student body who did not want him on campus. 

But Cedarville president Dr. James T. Jeremiah told students who opposed Parker’s presence that they should accept him or withdraw, because Parker was coming regardless of their opinions. 

A personal tragedy in 1955 disrupted Parker’s education. He returned to his Portsmouth, Ohio, home to help support his family after its home was destroyed by a fire. Parker also took other breaks from college to help fund his college education. 

Ten years after enrolling, Parker finished his studies and graduated in 1964 with a degree in history. He used his education and love of the Bible to begin a pastoral ministry that lasted more than five decades at churches in Ohio, New York and Washington, D.C.

“I’ve been blessed beyond belief,” he said. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all that God has done for me. I’m elated to be able to return for commencement in May to receive my honorary doctorate, and I’m extremely thankful to Dr. White and the board of trustees for selecting me. It’s very humbling.”

The class of 2016 also featured several students who came to Cedarville with almost no knowledge of the University, the surrounding area or even the United States.

Enoch Jayasundara and Benita Samuel both walked across the stage to receive their degrees, and for each, it’s the completion of a journey that began in blind faith.

Jayasundara, a native of Sri Lanka, had never heard of Cedarville until his father happened to see a billboard while visiting family friends in nearby Springfield, Ohio. After reading an email from his father encouraging him to take a look at Cedarville, Jayasundara knew it was the right place for him.

“I had no knowledge of Cedarville University or Ohio before my father told me about it,” he said. “But when I read the mission statement and read more about Cedarville’s vision, I knew that it was where God wanted me to be.”

During his time at Cedarville, Jayasundara has seen many opportunities open for him, including his selection as senior class chaplain.

“Cedarville has helped make me the person who I am today,” he said. “I’ve grown personally, professionally and spiritually through my time here, and I’m excited for the future.”

Samuel has a similar story. Born in India and raised in the United Arab Emirates, she had a friend who attended Cedarville, but had no other connection to the school. When she began looking to transfer from a university in England, the door opened for her to come to Cedarville.

“It was just obvious through the process of applying to Cedarville and applying for my student visa that I was meant to be here,” she said. “The visa process can often be extremely long, but mine went through quickly and it became clear that I needed to walk through the door that God had opened.” 

Samuel has not only thrived in the classroom, but has been able to use ministry opportunities to reach others for Christ. Through an organization called International Friends, Inc. (IFI), she has had the opportunity to share the Gospel with other college students of different faiths.

“Cedarville has provided me with incredible opportunities to serve people both on campus and in the community,” she said. “My journey has not always been the easiest, but it’s been the best journey I have ever been on."

Jayasundara graduated with a degree in information technology management while Samuel is received her degree applied communication.

The university honored several students for their academic accomplishments. Two students received the President’s Trophy, while 12 students were presented with the Faculty Scholarship Award for achieving a perfect 4.0 grade point average. The students include the following:

David Michael Anson Biology Swansea, Illinois
Jonathan William Barlow Broadcasting and Digital Media Westerville, Ohio
Erica Claire Corbiere Linguistics  East Sandwich, Massachusetts 
Sarah Ann Fox Applied Communication  Belmont, Ohio 
Steven Timothy Hartman Chemistry  Cedarville, Ohio 
Michael Benjamin Kuhn Mechanical Engineering  Ona, West Virginia 
Rachel Anne Lamb Athletic Training  Lebanon, Ohio 
Joseph David Morley Accounting  Verona, Wisconsin 
Kelley Christine Pugh Psychology  Chesapeake, Virginia 
Ryan Michael Sanderson Broadcasting and Digital Media  North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania 
Emily Suzanne Shinkle Integrated Mathematics Education  Springfield, Ohio 
Emma Sue Zuidema Spanish  Grand Rapids, Michigan 

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 3,711 undergraduate, graduate and online students in more than 100 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and leading student satisfaction ratings. For more information about the University, visit www.cedarville.edu