Graduates who thought exams were over were reminded their most important test lies in the future during Fresno Pacific University’s December commencement ceremonies. “Decades from now…you will look back and ask, ‘What did I do with my life?’  ‘What difference have I made?’,” speaker D. Merrill Ewert, Ph.D., told the crowd in downtown Fresno’s Selland Arena. “That’s the real test!”

About 487 students were eligible to participate in the event, which began at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, December 16: 344 from bachelor’s degree completion programs, 73 from graduate programs—including those from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary—and 70 from traditional undergraduate programs. Degrees were presented by Joseph Jones, Ph.D., current president of the university, and Donald Griffith, chair of the FPU Board of Trustees.

Other graduation celebrations were a baccalaureate for all graduates and a hooding ceremony for master’s degree graduates, both on December 15. The baccalaureate was at 2:00 p.m. in Butler Church, 4884 E. Butler Ave., and the hooding was at 7:00 p.m. in the Special Events Center on the main FPU campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave.

Ewert, FPU president emeritus, titled his speech “Walk with Grace, Live in Peace and Act with Courage.” Ewert led the university from 2002-2012, after serving as director of Cornell Cooperative Extension and a member of the education faculty at Cornell University. Earlier Ewert had worked in relief and development in Africa for seven years. During Ewert’s presidency, FPU enrollments grew from around 1,500 to more than 3,500 and new regional campuses were added in Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield. MB Biblical Seminary was also merged into FPU, becoming Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He and wife Priscilla have two adult daughters.

Whatever their degree or field of study, FPU graduates are needed in the world, Ewert said. “Some people in authority are abusing their positions. Neighbors have turned against each other over political and social issues,” he said. “The very fabric of our society is being ripped apart.”

FPU grads can serve in three ways:

Live with grace

Living with grace means being respectful and gentle in our words and aligning our work with God.

“We create grace when we love ourselves, our neighbors, God and his creation,” Ewert said. “Join a service club, volunteer at the food bank, tutor a child, be generous in supporting nonprofits in your community. Wherever you live, find where God is already working; join him in that task.”

Graduates can also reflect grace in conversations. “In these acrimonious times, our society is crying out for leaders who are centered, who have a strong moral compass, who respect and listen to others—even those with whom they disagree. Angry emails, snarky posts on social media and thoughtless tweets are causing irreparable harm to our relationships, and to our institutions. It’s damaging civil society itself, but doesn’t have to be that way. We can make a difference,” Ewert said.

Live in peace

Divisions in race, class, culture and other issues around us today are sharper and deeper than any time Ewert could recall. “In this season, we are celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace. God is calling us to be agents of reconciliation—peacemakers. If you have been around Fresno Pacific, you have heard plenty of lectures on the Hebrew concept of shalom. You know it’s much deeper and richer than our English word, ‘peace.’ The word ‘shalom’ also includes the concept of health, well-being, prosperity and wholeness. It means joining differences into a harmonious whole. This doesn’t happen by accident—people have to make it happen. Or not,” Ewert said.

Overwhelmed by the problems around us, people may look at Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela and say, “I could never do that!” according to Ewert. “We can, however, build relationships with our neighbors, strengthen the social capital in our communities, mobilize our churches with the task of reconciliation and transform our places of work. When we build relationships, we also restore trust in our fractured institutions,” he said.

Act with courage

The world needs people who will speak out against racism, bigotry, white supremacy, misogyny, sexual abuse, gun violence, inequality and injustice. “Sometime, you may have to act—to take an unpopular stand. You may even be called to put your job on the line,” Ewert said. “Too often, Christians have remained silent in the face of injustice and evil. That makes us complicit.”

Enjoy this day, Ewert urged the graduates, then use your degrees to help change the world. “I pray that in several decades, you’ll look back and be able to say, ‘I made a difference!’ You will, if you walk with grace, live in peace and act in courage.”

Watch commencement at


Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations