the News - Friday, May 22, 2009
this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)
Lady Michelle Obama addresses
Merced's Class of 2009
the commencement ceremony
Saturday, May 16.
Merced's first four-year graduating class.
media frenzy as a result of the
Lady's visit to UC Merced.
Lady goes where none have gone before: UC Merced
IN THE MAY 22, 2009, PRINT EDITION
THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH
first for UC Merced
When you are the first U.S. research
university to be built in the 21st century, the first
University of California campus in more than four
decades, and the first U.C. in the largely underserved
San Joaquin Valley, marking another first is practically
commonplace. But when the first four-year graduating
class at U.C. Merced landed the First Lady as its
commencement speaker, that first was downright presidential.
Presidential because it had all the pomp
and circumstance, the Secret Service, snipers on rooftops,
the hundreds of media from all over the world; all
because this graduation ceremony had First Lady Michelle
Obama, who for this class of 500 grads, represented
all their aspirations, hopes, and dreams.
After thanking those on the stage with
her, Michelle Obama began her address to the students
seated before her with these words:
“Now, I know we’ve got a lot of national
press out there, and a few people may be wondering
why did I choose the University of California-Merced
to deliver my first commencement speech as First Lady.
Well, let me tell you something, the answer is simple:
You inspired me, you touched me… There are few
things more rewarding than to watch young people recognize
that they have the power to make dreams come true.
And you did just that. Your perseverance and creativity
were on full display in your efforts to bring me here
to Merced for this wonderful occasion.”
How could she say no? The thousands of
letters and hundreds of those now-famous Valentines
all filled with hope and enthusiasm, and then the
icing on the cake: that powerful video that is still
playing daily on YouTube entitled “We Believe.”
“It moved not just me, but my entire staff,”
the First Lady continued. “They came up to me
and said, ‘Michelle, you have to do this. You
have to go here!’”
All the cards and letters were terrific,
she said, like the one from Andrea Mercado.
“Andrea said the role of First Lady is —
and I quote — the balance between politics and
sanity. Thank you, Andrea, for that vote of confidence.”
There’s even more intrigue than
the compelling student media blitz. Student strategists
borrowed a page from President Barack Obama’s
To land this commencement prize, they
used their friends in high places to ensure their
success. Charles Ogletree, Merced native and a child
of farm laborers, also made a compelling plea on U.C.
After graduating from Stanford and Harvard
Law School (1978), he just happened to be a mentor
of both Obamas as a then-Harvard law professor. He
told the graduating class several months ago that
he would speak to the Obamas but made no promises.
All of the above obviously worked, but
just as importantly were the lessons learned for these
U.C. students on what it takes to succeed in today’s
“This type of activism and optimism speaks volumes
about the students here, the faculty, the staff, but
also about the character and history of Merced —
a town built by laborers and immigrants from all over
the world,” Michelle told the audience of 12,000.
“Merced’s make-up may have changed over
the years but its values and character have not.”
UC Merced was founded in 2005, the only
U.C. out of 10 to be located in the Central Valley.
There are currently 2,700 students, but 25,000 are
expected to be in attendance by 2030.
Currently, U.C. Merced consists of the
most diverse student body in the U.C. system. In addition,
more than half of the students are first-generation
college students, but all meet or exceed the University
of California’s high academic standards for
Daniel Titcher, a graduate from Southern
California, epitomized the dedication and spirit at
U.C. Merced. His first choice, like many of his classmates,
was one of the other U.C. campuses but Merced’s
small-school atmosphere (2,700 students) proved an
“I came here to start Jewish life at Merced
because I noticed that there were no synagogues in
the community,” Daniel said.
Daniel said he achieved success in this
goal by paving the way for others to continue what
he has started, but was most impressed by the fact
that U.C. Merced was a great place to study. He was
inspired by Michelle’s speech and said he feels
like he is ready to apply his skills in the real world
and make a commitment to help turn things around.
Merced, Michelle Obama said, is making
a commitment to help the local community and to help
all who come here to realize that a quality education
is available to everyone who is willing to work hard.
“And as the students who helped build this school,
I ask you, make your legacy, a lasting one,”
she said. “Dream big, think broadly about your
life, and please make giving back to your community
a part of that vision.”
Also playing a role in the Class of 2009’s
commencement were Steve Kang, U.C. Merced’s
chancellor since 2007; Mark Yudof, U.C. president;
and Richard Blum, chairman of the U.C. Regents (and
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband). Jonathan
Jarvis, the National Park Service’s director
of the Pacific West Region, was in attendance to accept
a Chancellor’s Medal awarded to Yosemite National
Park for its research partnership with the university.
On this day, as the more than 12,000
who attended the ceremony sweltered in the Central
Valley heat, it was a day to celebrate California,
a graduation, and what it means to be presidential.
“You are the hope of Merced and of this nation,”
Michelle concluded. “And be the realization
of our dreams and the hope for the next generation.
Thank you so much, and good luck. God bless you all.”
In honor of the First Lady’s visit,
the garden at the campus’s new Early Childhood
Education Center has been named the Michelle Obama
Garden for Young Children.
for busy weekend
If the last couple of weeks are any indicator,
emergency response personnel are in for a busy season,
which typically begins with the Memorial Day weekend,
the traditional kick-off to summer. Recently, there
have been several fire calls and whitewater rescues.
BRUSH FIRE— On Monday evening,
May 18, seven fire engines and 19 firefighters responded
to a brush fire at Cemex Quarry on Lomitas Drive along
the road to Woodlake. When firefighters arrived on
the scene, they found two acres of brush and downed
cottonwood trees fully engulfed in flame.
Residents in the vicinity reported flames
shooting skyward that were 50 to 60 feet high. The
fire was eventually contained at five acres.
There were no reported injuries and no structures
were damaged. The cause of the fire is still under
SWIFTWATER RESCUE— Tulare County
Fire and Cal Fire personnel worked with a Sheriff’s
deputy Saturday, May 16, to rescue two females and
two males from an island in the channel of the Middle
Fork near Kaweah Park Resort. A local rafting company
was on the scene and ferried the victims to safety.
An employee of the campground said that
they have warning signs posted to inform whoever goes
to the river here of the hazards. These victims had
been trying to float downstream in a sub-standard
raft when they capsized in rough water.
MYSTERIOUS DEATH— On Tuesday, May
5, in Sentinel Campground at Cedar Grove in Kings
Canyon National Park, rangers discovered a deceased
man in his vehicle. The Fresno County Coroner has
since determined that the cause of death of the 61-year-old
Orange County resident was suicide.
New life for old jewelry
by Brian Rothhammer
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Many people recycle
cans, bottles, paper… but jewelry? That’s
what a Three Rivers artisan has been doing since 1991.
Along with her original designs, Tina
St. John also redesigns pieces from previously crafted
jewelry. Often she combines handcrafted elements of
her own with antique parts to create something entirely
“I’ve been buying from Tina since 2001,”
said customer Karen Marie Erickson. “I’ve
brought her crystals, bits of antique jewelry, and
beads for re-creation.”
“The story behind the pieces… where they
came from,” adds to their appeal, she said.
Tina specializes in Precious Metal Clay,
a moldable material that contains powdered metal that
can be fashioned into virtually any form and then
kiln-fired, resulting in a metallic object She has
several fine examples of her work in silver PMC on
display at her home studio.
“I get my inspiration from Three Rivers,”
said Tina. “Everything about it. I hear the
birds singing; they get all their needs filled from
this special place. That’s what I put into my
At age 13, Tina apprenticed with designer
Bess Sawyer, learning jewelry design at her studio
Afterward her life took different directions, but
she eventually returned to jewelry design and made
it her trade.
“I went back to school in 1990 at College of
the Sequoias and studied to be a paralegal, nurse,
and psychologist, but kept falling asleep in those
classes,” the artist recalled. It was then that
she switched to color and design courses, along with
Returning home from her courses, Tina
turned to beading as a means to relax.
“The dining room table was for beads, and the
kids knew it,” she said.
Having scoured thrift stores for beads
and interesting bits of jewelry, she found peace while
designing and composing her art.
“It is my place for calm and quiet,” Tina
At first, she gave all of her pieces
as gifts, but with encouragement from close friends
she began to develop her own business.
“My business cards were cut from scrap cardboard,
then I’d paint them with my sunflower logo,”
she said of those early days.
At first she didn’t sell much,
recalling a show at which a self-taught photographer,
who also sold little that day, told her: “Don’t
be discouraged. All the energy that you put out will
come back to you someday.”
Things are better now, and Tina has developed
her own unique style.
“It’s been a journey with people along
the way encouraging me,” she explained.
If you have jewelry that just doesn’t
suit you any longer or even broken-up antiques, bring
them to Tina. Rescue those once favorite pieces out
of their dark drawer and let her breathe new life
Tina St. John will be showing her works
at the Buckaroo (formerly The Cabin) on Saturday and
Sunday, May 23-24 (Memorial Day weekend), including
her signature design, the Freedom Bracelet. She also
has an online shop at tinastjohndesign.com and offers
home shows of her designs.
From Acadia to Zion:
Park Service urges families to visit
There is a nationwide consensus that
children need to play outside more, and the National
Park Service is doing its part to get them to turn
off the electronics and explore the reality of “America’s
best idea,” the national parks.
Whether it’s the giant sequoias
and Mount Whitney in Sequoia, the canyon and its glorious
river in Kings Canyon, or any of the other nearly
400 units of the Park System across the U.S., families
will reconnect with each other and the natural world
when taking a vacation to a national park.
The NPS has developed a website to help
inform visitors about what’s new in national
parks and the many ranger-led programs, activities,
and commercial services available. Visit the “National
Parks: The Place to be for Family Fun” at:
High interest rate…
Art Zschau, vice president of Bank of the Sierra and
Three Rivers branch manager, presented a check in
the amount of $750 last week to Amy Dolcourt-McElroy,
“My Place” program organizer. The grant
will be used to add some additional infrastructure
and works of art to the local My Place playground.