For one Olympia family, graduation day at The Evergreen State College became a family affair.
Jesi Richardson-Chapin, 50, and her daughter Beth Chapin, 22, were among the nearly 1,250 people who received their degrees Friday during the commencement ceremony at the liberal arts college.
Mom received a Bachelor of Arts with a focus in public administration; daughter received a Master in Teaching.
“The sense of pride here is just incredible,” said husband and dad Butch Chapin, 62, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2010 and a master’s in public administration in 2013 from Evergreen.
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“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Richardson-Chapin said during a reception at the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center. “I’m afraid to blink.”
The always-colorful commencement ceremony included a band and faculty-led processional, plus remarks from president Les Purce, guest speaker and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, retiring faculty member Lawrence Mosqueda, and students Jackson Rodriguez and David Wall.
“I’m here to celebrate with you,” Purce, who is retiring in the fall, told the students. “We are graduating together.”
In true Greener tradition, many students enhanced their caps and gowns with painted messages, leaves and flower leis.
Danielle George, 32, who earned a Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in sociology, ditched the traditional dark green robe and mortarboard for a yellow and black striped bee costume, complete with wings, antennae and a cloth stinger.
She said the costume symbolized the greatest lesson she learned during her time at Evergreen: “Do work that is great for you and everyone else.”
George said Evergreen changed her life.
“I feel so much more like a whole person,” she said.
During her speech, Sawant encouraged the graduates to continue working toward social change, such as the fight for a $15 minimum wage, the Black Lives Matter movement, and civil rights for lesbian, gay, queer and transgender people.
“Our power has to be the collective,” Sawant said. “We will not change the world simply by our shopping choices or by writing letters to our congress people.”
Mosqueda, the faculty speaker, urged students to remember the impact they’ve made locally during the past four years, from the Occupy Olympia movement downtown to more recent demonstrations against the Olympia Police Department in the wake of an officer’s shooting of two unarmed black men.
“We know that Olympia is not immune to racist acts by the police,” Mosqueda said.
He encouraged students to keep doing work that brings change for the better in their communities and across the globe.
Richardson-Chapin said she and her husband have always emphasized the importance of higher education with their five children. (They will soon add a sixth to their family through adoption).
But going back to school in her late 40s wasn’t easy.
“I can’t even describe it; I just really thought that my ship had sailed, that it was too late,” she said. “I just lost faith in myself.”
For two years, she took 16 to 20 credits a quarter while working full-time as Homeland Security Region 3 coordinator for Thurston County. Support from the college’s faculty and non-traditional approach made it possible to complete the rigorous program, Richardson-Chapin said.
“I do better in peer-driven situations versus lectures,” she said.
And the family’s Evergreen legacy is expected to continue.
James Chapin, 33, began Evergreen last fall. He is expected to graduate the same time his mom, Richardson-Chapin, will finish the Master in Public Administration program.
“Our goal is to have another dual graduation,” Richardson-Chapin said.