Top Students, Teachers Celebrated At Commencement 2022

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Environmentalist and author Dr. John Francis, known the world over as the Planetwalker, received an honorary doctorate degree and delivered the keynote address at Dominican University of California’s 2022 commencement ceremony on May 14.

A total of 602 students – 390 undergraduates and 212 graduate students including nine candidates from Dominican’s first PhD program – were conferred diplomas during ceremonies at Forest Meadows Field.

Julia Reinhard '22, a political science major who served a Panetta Institute for Public Policy internship in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, was named the Outstanding Student. Psychology and music double major Jessica Alcala '22, who will attend graduate school at Northern Arizona University this fall, was voted the recipient of the Veritas Cup, which is given annually to a graduating senior deemed “a friend of the class.”

Saskia Rose Hicks (Barowsky School of Business), Bryan Joshua Long (School of Health and Natural Sciences), and Savannah Stone (School of Liberal Arts and Education) were named the outstanding graduate students in each of Dominican's three schools. Collectively, these schools offer more than 60 graduate and undergraduate programs. Last year, Dominican began offering its first doctoral degree program, the Ph.D. in Art Therapy.

Caroline Umeda, PhD, assistant professor in the Occupational Therapy department, was announced as the Full Time Teacher of the Year and Giulia Welch, director of Career Development and an integrative coach in the Student Success Center, was named Part Time Teacher of the Year.


In 1971, Dr. Francis witnessed an oil spill in San Francisco Bay. The effects of the spill compelled him to stop using motorized vehicles. Several months later, to end the arguments he found himself getting into about the power of one person's actions, he took a vow of silence. His non-motorized lifestyle lasted 22 years and his silence lasted 17 years. During that time, Dr. Francis walked across the United States, earning a B.A at Southern Oregon State College, an M.S. in environmental studies at the University of Montana and a Ph.D. in the Nelson Institute Land Resources program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

It was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that Dominican President Nicola Pitchford first met Dr. Francis.

“Since John Francis and I became friends more than 30 years ago, he has been a consistent example to me of what it means to live with radical honesty, humility, and self-accountability while dedicating one's life to the profound changes that need to be made in our crisis-ridden world,” President Pitchford said.

“While his broad expertise on matters of environmental responsibility has taken him around the world, and into both national and international governance bodies, he is also an activist who builds change quietly and with kindness. Indeed, for 17 years silence was his medium of activism, inquiry, and living; as a writer and as a friend, he teaches me always to listen and to make welcoming space for others' experience, even amid the urgency of the need for change.”

After graduation from UW-Madison, Dr. Francis wrote oil spill regulations for the U.S. Coast Guard for a year, but was then drawn back to travel, sailing and walking through the Caribbean and the length of South America as a goodwill ambassador to the World's Grassroots Communities for the United Nations Environment Program. In 2011, he was back on the UW-Madison campus, serving as a visiting associate professor of environmental studies.

A local government commissioner, Dr. Francis ran for the US Congress in 2020. He is currently an ethics adviser for STAR-TIDES (Sharing To Accelerate Research – Transformative Innovation for Development and Emergency Support), a global knowledge-sharing network focused on building sustainable resilience and supporting community and individual resilience to natural and man-made disasters; the network is coordinated through the Center for Resilient and Sustainable Communities (C-RASC) at the George Mason University.

“Like no one else I have met, Dr. Francis really, really walks the walk. He has lived out truly radical and transformative values; yet he extends unfailing patience and gentleness to others who might not yet be convinced of the need for dramatic action on climate, the natural world, inclusion and social justice. Having sat many times within the warm circle of his silence while he waited, smiling over a coffee cup, for me to talk my way toward a moment of insight or discovery, I have been blessed by the power of the friendship John offers to all people and creatures,” President Pitchford said.

“In a world on fire, where divisions among us seem to grow ever more intractable and violent just when we most need to band together, John Francis brings wisdom and joy and the conviction that listening and learning may be one of the most radical things we can do.”

Dr. Francis is an explorer and education fellow at the National Geographic Society and the author of Planetwalker and The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World. Speaking Internationally on Sustainability and Environmental Justice, his illustrated children’s book Human Kindness: True Stories of Compassion and Generosity, will be published September 6, 2022.

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