News Releases

June 21, 2012
For Immediate Release
For additional information: 
Barbara Kerr, APR
Executive Director of Communications and Marketing
Telephone: 360-992-2921


Embracing optimism in challenging times:
Clark College Commencement 2012

Clark's penguin mascot Oswald with members of the class of 2012

VANCOUVER, Wash. – In challenging times, how do you embrace optimism? You do it by turning belief into action. That was the theme of Clark College’s 2012 commencement ceremony as the college honored the largest graduating class in its history. 

The college celebrated the achievements of more than 1,700 men and women who earned degrees and certificates at Clark College during the 2011-2012 academic year. Nearly 670 graduates participated in the college’s 76th commencement ceremony, which was held on June 21 at the Sleep Country Amphitheater in Ridgefield.

During the ceremony, Clark College President Robert K. Knight announced that the college has received the third largest single gift in its history. The Firstenburg Foundation has donated $1.5 million to the college’s Dental Hygiene program.  The funding will add patient chairs to the training clinic, renovate existing spaces for a digital radiography suite and lab, and add paperless charting software.

Bill and Jeanne Firstenburg at Clark College Commencement 2012

In remarks to the class of 2012, Bill Firstenburg paid tribute to his parents, the late E.W. and Mary Firstenburg.  He said, “My mother and father loved this community.  They also believed strongly in the power of education. Clark College trains our workforce. Clark College educates our leaders.  Clark College changes lives.”





Mark Bolke Sunnie Elhart-Johnson Carson Legree Felipe Montoya

(Left to right): Mark Bolke, Sunnie Elhart-Johnson, Carson Legree and Felipe Montoya

During the ceremony, Knight also announced the names of the recipients of the 2012 Exceptional Faculty Awards.  The 2012 honorees are Mark Bolke, professor of biology; Sunnie Elhart-Johnson, an instructor in business technology; Carson Legree, professor of art; and Felipe Montoya, an instructor in Spanish.  

Presidential Scholarship Recipient Tami Eldridge and her sonGraduate Tami Eldridge was the recipient of the 2012-2013 Community College President’s Award.  A member of the 2012 All-Washington Academic Team, Eldridge, who resides in Orchards, graduated with highest honors, earning an Associate in Arts degree in elementary education. 

While at Clark, Eldridge was an active member of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the international honor society for two-year colleges. As a member of PTK, she supported projects with Medical Teams International, Relay for Life, Vancouver Children’s Center and more.  Within the greater community, her volunteer service has included leadership positions in her local PTA and serving as a parent classroom volunteer.

The annual scholarship is given to a Clark College graduate who is transferring to a WSU Vancouver degree program and who has demonstrated leadership potential, is community service oriented, and who has a strong academic record.  The scholarship award provides full-time tuition (10-18 credits) and is renewable for one additional year, or a total of four semesters.

J.R. Martinez dances with a Clark College graduate
J.R. Martinez, a U.S. Army veteran, actor, “Dancing with the Stars” champion, and motivational speaker, was the keynote speaker for the event. 

While serving in the U.S. Army, Martinez was injured when the Humvee that he was driving hit a landmine.  He spent 34 months in recovery and underwent 33 surgeries.  After the accident, he said, he was unable to simply operate the television remote by himself.  "It would have been easy to give up," he said. Instead, he focused on "one step at a time."

Commencement speaker J.R. Martinez with Clark's penguin mascot OswaldHe was cast in the role of a returning veteran on the daytime drama, "All My Children." His role was supposed to last three months.  Instead, it lasted three years.  That experience led to an invitation to appear on "Dancing with the Stars."  He learned ballroom dancing and won the championship trophy. 

He praised the graduates for doing the "hard work" to attend class and study to earn their degrees and certificates.  He told the graduates that "education should always be a one can take this away from you."