Milestones and memories: graduates of Avondale honour deceased classmates

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Lest we forget: Avondale remembers students who passed away in recent years. (Photo: David Page)

Part of a gift by graduates of Avondale has this year honoured classmates who died before completing their studies at the college of higher education.

The gift is a donation of eight stainless steel plaques, each bearing the name of a student who died over the past four years, the year they began their course and the year of their death. The plaques adorn the rear face of the memorial in the Alumni Memorial Prayer Garden on the Lake Macquarie campus.

The students—Dr Graeme Bradford, Lafai Michael Key, Wilhelmina van der Aa, Danielle Bradshaw, James Owens, Candice Bailey, Darren Bull and Nancie Galvin—represent every level of higher education and all but two of the disciplines at Avondale.

Plaques bearing the names of students who died before completing their studies at Avondale adorn the memorial in the Alumni Memorial Prayer Garden on the Lake Macquarie campus. The plaques were a gift to the college of higher education from the 2016 graduation class (Photo: Brenton Stacey)
Plaques bearing the names of students who died before completing their studies at Avondale adorn the memorial in the Alumni Memorial Prayer Garden on the Lake Macquarie campus. The plaques were a gift to the college of higher education from the 2016 graduation class (Photo: Brenton Stacey)

Fostering a sense of community among such diversity is part of Avondale’s mission. “We need each other,” says Laura Mitchell, the graduation class representative for the Discipline of Arts and the graduate who initiated the giving of this part of the gift. She describes the campus-wide pain of Key’s death as “crippling”.

“I never met Michael, but I shared the burden of his loss with hundreds of grieving students.” The plaques “honour and celebrate the lives of each of the students who’ve died, welcoming memory of them to the heart of our campus.” 

Class Co-President Dayna Petrie presented certificates to representatives of the Bradford and Key families during the valedictory service on the Saturday of graduation weekend (December 10). Then Avondale President Professor Ray Roennfeldt prayed for families of all deceased students.

Avondale President Professor Ray Roennfeldt and graduation class Co-President Dayna Petrie pray for the families of all students who died before completing their studies. Representing the families: Faye Bradford, wife of former PhD student Dr Graeme Bradford; and Faith Key, sister of former Diploma of General Studies student Lafai Michael Key. Bradford and Key both died in 2016. (Photo: Colin Chuang)
Avondale President Professor Ray Roennfeldt and graduation class Co-President Dayna Petrie pray for the families of all students who died before completing their studies. Representing the families: Amity Bradford and Faye Bradford, granddaughter and wife of former PhD student Dr Graeme Bradford; and Faith Key, sister of former Diploma of General Studies student Lafai Michael Key. Bradford and Key both died in 2016. (Photo: Colin Chuang)

The gift is a practical interpretation of the class theme, “For such a time as this.” Members of the class “have chosen to live the theme out through care to those who have experienced great loss,” says Prof Roennfeldt. “That’s what these graduands are like!”

Most PhDs and first lifestyle medicine postgrads

The presentation of awards during the graduation ceremony on Sunday (December 11) began with the robing of three Doctor of Philosophy graduands.

Cornelis Bootsman, Elena Butova and Carole Ferch-Johnson are Avondale’s fifth, sixth and seventh Doctor of Philosophy graduands. The first graduated in 2011. Some 34 others are enrolled in the degree and 11 in the Master of Philosophy.

Dr Bootsman examined the engagement of geological and Seventh-day Adventist thought in the 19th century and its bearing on the 20th century flood geology movement. Dr Butova compared the four prohibitions of Acts 15 with their common background in Genesis 1-3. And Dr Ferch-Johnson studied human hands and feet and their functions as media of nonverbal communication in the narratives of Acts 3:1-11 and 9:1-19a. 

"I’m proud Avondale has played a part in preparing them for their place in the world."

The graduation class this year also included the first graduates from the Graduate Certificate in Lifestyle Medicine. The course is delivered by staff members in the Lifestyle Research Centre. The centre is the recipient of a biannual offering collected in Seventh-day Adventist churches across the South Pacific. Giving to the offering is likely to exceed that of any other year with Avondale expecting to receive about $215,000. The money will support the centre’s Pacific Partnership, which offers seed money to Pacific islanders so they can begin postgraduate study in lifestyle medicine. The aim: to help reduce the “crippling” burden of chronic disease in the South Pacific islands. “Our application for university college status will stretch us financially, so we’re taking our fundraising much more seriously,” says Prof Roennfeldt, who mentioned the offering during his president’s remarks on Sunday. “And God is blessing.”

Swelling the size of the class again this year were 50 graduates who completed a Certificate IV in Presenting Community Health Education Programs. However, the Bachelor of Nursing provided the largest number of graduates—88—from any one course.

Some 317 graduates were eligible to march during the ceremony. “While I don’t know them all,” says Prof Roennfeldt, who presented their testamurs, “I do know many of them and I’m continually impressed by their abilities and by their commitment to Avondale’s service ethos. I’m proud Avondale has played a part in preparing them for their place in the world.”

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