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In the News - Friday, May 22, 2009

—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

First Lady Michelle Obama addresses

UC Merced's Class of 2009

at the commencement ceremony

on Saturday, May 16.

UC Merced's first four-year graduating class.


The media frenzy as a result of the

First Lady's visit to UC Merced.


got michelle?

First Lady goes where none have gone before: UC Merced

SPECIAL PHOTO SECTION

ONLY IN THE MAY 22, 2009, PRINT EDITION

OF THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH



Michelle Obama:

Another 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 winning playbook.
   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. Merced’s behalf.
   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 challenging world.

  “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 eligibility.
   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 excellent alternative.

  “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.

Emergency workers

brace 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 investigation.
   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 different.

  “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 designs.”
   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 fashion.
   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 confessed.
   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 into them.
   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:

National 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:

www.nps.gov/pub_aff/parks2009/index.htm.

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.


 
THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
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