126th Commencement

“Humility makes us grateful for the many kinds of support we have received that helped make possible your achievement being acknowledged and recognized by this ceremony today, and the opportunity to have a rich and rewarding life and career.”

Dennis Shields, JD, ’77

Horizons Spring 2023 Home
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Features - Spring 2023

June 19, 2023 | Georgia Seagraves

It was a brisk Saturday morning on Dec. 17, 2022, as seminary and nursing students gathered at the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, Missouri. Community of Christ Presiding Bishop Ron Harmon Jr. ’86 addressed the crowded auditorium, and after the ceremony, the room was buzzing with excitement as graduates and their families celebrated their incredible accomplishments.

flickr (images from Fall Commencement 2022)

Over at the Lamoni campus, the commencement weekend began on Saturday, April 29, 2023, with the baccalaureate celebration in the Shaw Family Auditorium. Vice President for Student Life Dave Schaal ’80, announced Colby Wilken ’23 as the recipient of the Student Life Award – a testament to Wilken’s superior leadership and service to the Graceland community.

flickr (images from Baccalaureate 2023)

The next morning, the spring commencement ceremony was held for just the second time in the newly reconstructed Morden Center, and students donning caps and gowns eagerly awaited receiving their hard-earned degrees.

Honorary Doctorate recipients Ken ’79 and Cindy McClain.

In addition to the honoring of faculty awards and recognizing esteemed faculty emeriti (see below), commencement was marked by the conferring of honorary doctoral degrees to Ken ’79 and Cindy McClain, as recognition for their incredible service to the University and their community. Ken is an accomplished trial lawyer, and Cindy is a dynamic entrepreneur. Together, they have revitalized the historic Independence Square through their own personal investment and sweat equity. Further, they have offered internships to over 100 Graceland students throughout the years, investing over $100,000 to provide not only paid internship experience but also fully furnished housing for students. Together, Ken and Cindy have six children, all of whom attended Graceland.

Speaker Dennis Shields encouraged the Spring 2023 graduates to be transformational leaders as they move on to the rest of their life’s journey.

The event was made even more special with the presence of Graceland Board of Trustees member and Southern University President-Chancellor Dennis Shields, JD, ’77, as the distinguished commencement speaker. He challenged students around three main themes: brevity, humility, and kindness. Shields went on to share the story of his childhood spent in orphanages and foster homes, and how hundreds of good people showed him kindness and gave him a life of direction. He acknowledged the contributions of Graceland alumni Jack ’49 and Lois ’51 Braby on his formative years and ultimately, his decision to attend Graceland. “I lead [Southern University] with the values that Graceland, whether intentionally or unintentionally, helped to shape in me,” said Shields.

After Shields’ address, the moment that the graduates had been eagerly waiting for arrived — the conferral of their bachelor’s degrees. They walked across the stage one by one, beaming with pride as their names were called and they received their diplomas. The ceremony concluded with the tassel-turning tradition, symbolizing the graduates’ transition from students to alumni.

flickr  (images from Spring Commencement 2023)


We sat down with three new Graceland grads to ask them about their time on “the Hill” and what comes next.

Justin Binnicker 

HOMETOWN: Independence, Missouri
MAJORS: Sport Managaement, Business Administration, Social Change
HOUSE: Closson
INVOLVEMENTS: Enactus, GSG 2022-23 (COSA Board)

Justin will be starting a full-time position at Presbyterian College in South Carolina as a Marketing and Promotions Coordinator Intern in their Athletic Department. In this new role, Justin will be coordinating and assisting the operation and success of the athletic department’s comprehensive marketing and fan engagement initiatives. “I am grateful that my time at Graceland helped shape me into the individual that I am today and provided me with the ability to become my authentic self and pursue an education centered around who I was as a whole. At Graceland, not only did I learn how to be successful in my career, but I learned how to become a better person.”


Kyla Apolonio 

HOMETOWN: Pasadena, California
MAJORS: Communication
HOUSE: Solah
INVOLVEMENTS: Volleyball, HP 2022-23

After graduation, Kyla will return to Pasadena to begin her job search. Kyla dreams of working for a marketing firm. She is still exploring what her future will look like, but she is grateful for her time at Graceland and the experiences she had along the way. One of her favorite memories is house president training because it prepared her to be a leader and provided her with many fun experiences.


David Toese 

HOMETOWN: Independence, Missouri
MAJORS: Health & Movement Science (Concentrations: Physical Education, Coaching)
HOUSE: Agape
INVOLVEMENTS: Wrestling, GSG 2022-23 (IDEA President), Harmonium

After serving in student government, becoming a two-time All-American, and two-time national qualifier in wrestling, David is excited to begin his new job as a physical education and health teacher at William Chrisman High School and head wrestling coach for George Caleb Bingham Middle School in Independence, Missouri. But his journey with Graceland is not over yet. In March, David was accepted into Graceland’s Master of Science in Nutrition and Human Performance program. He is excited for the next step of his educational journey as a student and a teacher. Advice David would give to a new Graceland student is, “Try everything! Get involved with everything on campus so you can not only create relationships with others, but also find the stepping stones to your path in your life journey.”


Faculty Recognitions

Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching

Barbara VoshallFALL 2022
Barbara Voshall, DNP, RN, ’73, Professor of Nursing
As both an in-person and online professor, Dr. Voshall initiates learning from a caring model by treating her students as equal partners and empowering them to reach their full potential. In the classroom, Dr. Voshall makes the learning relevant to the student’s clinical experiences and future nursing roles by using in-depth scenarios and examples to make the learning as memorable as possible. Leigh Thomas, one her students, said, “Dr. Voshall cares for us as people, as nursing students, and for our futures. She genuinely wants to see us make an impact on the healthcare community and change lives every day.”

Nancy KingSPRING 2023
Nancy King, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Life & Leadership program
Dr. King has been making a significant impact at Graceland. Through her teaching, she consistently encourages her students to reflect on their aspirations and think of how they will make a difference in people’s lives after college. In just one year at Graceland, King has won the hearts of students, faculty, and staff across campus. King strives for each class to feel like a mini-community where students know one another, feel safe, learn from one another, and have fun together. Her students, Justin Hooper ’25 and Paris Anderson ’23 said, “Dr. King genuinely cares about us inside and out and would do anything to help us be successful,” and “she made coming to class (even at 8 a.m.) interesting and fun.”


Excellence in Scholarly Achievement

Wilaiporn RojjanasriratWilaiporn Rojjanasrirat, PhD, Professor of Nursing
Dr. Rojjanasrirat has published over 25 peer-reviewed articles and focused her scholarly pursuits on promoting breastfeeding among vulnerable populations such as human milk donors, mothers of premature infants, and low-income mothers. She is a true advocate for breastfeeding support and is an active member of professional and grassroots organizations, including ILCA, Nurture KC, Greater Kansas City Lactation Consultant Association, and Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition. Dr. Azza Ahmend, associate professor of nursing at Purdue University and research partner with Dr. Rojjanasrirat, said, “Dr. Rojjanasrirat has devoted herself to her research, nursing profession, and academic roles. She is highly respected for her experience as a lactation consultant and research scientist nationally and internationally. Her commitment in her lactation research and academic work is inspiring and continues to positively impact the lives of countless babies and mothers.”


Exceptional Service Award

Elise Hector, PhD, RN, Dean, School of Nursing, Assistant Professor of Nursing
Dr. Hector plays a vital role in the academic and administrative leadership of the Graceland University Independence campus. Along with her teaching course load, Dr. Hector advises 10-18 students per year, coordinates the annual career fair, chairs the Undergraduate Affairs Committee, and is the Sigma Theta Tau Pi Eta Chapter secretary. At Graceland, she serves on many committees, including but limited to the Faculty Governance Assembly (FGA), Curriculum Committee, and Academic Chairs Committee. Dr. Hector also worked with Truman Medical Center to develop a tuition package for the RN-BSN program and supported two major enrollment initiatives, all to support the School of Nursing.


Faculty Emeriti

The following faculty were conferred Professor Emeritus status — each retiring from full-time work, but continuing in part-time roles at Graceland.

Max PittMax Pitt, MBA, CMA, ’86, Associate Professor of Business Pitt teaches courses in agricultural business and business administration. His professional objective is to apply experience in education, leadership, banking, business, and service to create whole persons, develop ethical organizations, and build healthy communities.

Michele Dickey-KotzMichele Dickey-Kotz, EdD, Professor of Education Dr. Dickey-Kotz is driven by the belief that it is her responsibility to promote, provoke, or inspire those around her to become the very best version of themselves. She asserts, “I believe (with my whole being) that education is the threshold of social change.”

Steven L. AndersSteven L. Anders, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Economics A goal Dr. Anders has in every course is for students to develop as analytical and critical thinkers. His passion is learning and teaching economic theory, and he recognizes the importance of communication in the professional life of an economist.

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