LACEY – Jonathan Brighton, 16, got his driver’s license Friday. A day later, he graduated with honors from Saint Martin’s University with a degree in mechanical engineering.
With his four younger siblings and his mother, Kandis, in the audience, Jonathan participated in commencement with his father, Larry, who also graduated with honors in mechanical engineering.
It wasn’t the first time a father-and-son team has graduated from the school, but Jonathan is the youngest graduate in the school’s history, university registrar Mary Law said Saturday.
It was a day filled with firsts for the four-year, private university.
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The 452 graduates made the class of 2009 the school’s largest ever, and it was the first commencement for Dr. Roy Heynderickx, the university’s new president.
The graduates filed into a jam-packed Marcus Pavilion about 2 p.m., including the Brightons, both graduating magna cum laude with Bachelor of Science degrees in mechanical engineering.
Jonathan was home-schooled by his parents before he and his father enrolled at Henry Cogswell College in Everett. They later transferred to Saint Martin’s, choosing the Lacey school over the University of Washington because of the smaller class sizes and the values instilled by a Catholic education, they said.
“We could talk to our instructors when we wanted to,” said Larry, 49. “That was a huge benefit.”
Larry started his undergraduate degree years ago but finally got a chance to finish with his son by his side. Together, they “slayed the calculus dragon,” Kandis Brighton said.
Jonathan said he might take a year off before possibly pursuing a career with the U.S. Department of Defense. Graduates such as Jonathan face a difficult job market in a slower economy, a point acknowledged by commencement speaker Dr. Stephen Rowan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Portland.
But Rowan encouraged the graduates to take their cues from the Benedictine monks who founded the school and sustained it through good and bad times, such as the Great Depression and World War II.
“They did it because they focused on the common good and had the discipline to see it through,” Rowan said.
Co-valedictorian Nicholas Cook also acknowledged the slower economy but said their Saint Martin’s University education had prepared them well for the task ahead.
“I think we stand a pretty good chance,” Cook said.