Central College announces commencement and baccalaureate speakers

Central College

PELLA — Central College has selected two prominent speakers for the commencement and baccalaureate ceremonies for graduating seniors May 12. Dr. Kathleen Sikkema and the Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson are both leaders in their respective fields and represent two major priorities for Central College and for higher education: the health sciences and religious tolerance and fellowship.

“These two professionals and their important contributions have been influential on a global level,” said Mark Putnam, Central College president. “They are shining examples of service and dedication and clear models for our academic community. Their messages are quite powerful in showing students pathways in life with open doors of opportunities along the way.”

Both Sikkema and Granberg-Michaelson will receive honorary degrees from Central during commencement. “These honorary degrees will unite Dr. Sikkema and Rev. Grandberg-Michaelson with our exceptional class of 2012,” said Putnam.

Dr. Kathleen Sikkema

Kathleen Sikkema, Ph.D., will speak at the Central College commencement ceremony. She is a professor and clinical psychologist at Duke University with emphases in health and community psychology.

A 1984 graduate of Central College, Sikkema has dedicated her life to the health sciences—a field that is growing in importance both at Central and in the country as a whole.

“Health—broadly defined—is a key factor in personal happiness, social and economic development and even global relations,” she said. “The health sciences provide opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations, creativity and innovation in academic settings and interesting and challenging careers.”

Sikkema is professor of psychology and neuroscience, global health and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke. There, she is also director of the clinical psychology doctoral program and the social and behavioral science core in the Center for AIDS Research.

An expert in HIV prevention and mental health, Sikkema’s research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health for 20 years. Her research focuses on developing and evaluating community approaches to help those with HIV disease cope with bereavement and traumatic stress and to reduce HIV risk and gender inequalities. She also participates in research capacity building efforts in Tanzania and has conducted research in South Africa for more than 10 years.

Sikkema earned her Ph.D.in clinical psychology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She was then appointed to the faculty at the Medical College of Wisconsin and subsequently Yale University School of Medicine. Sikkema has 150 publications in peer-reviewed journals such as American Journal of Public Health, Health Psychology, AIDS and AIDS and Behavior.

At Central, Sikkema was a psychology major and math minor. She was also an Upward Bound tutor counselor. Sikkema credits Central with boosting her confidence and helping her develop her career goals. Her brother Randy Sikkema is a 1982 graduate who lives in Pella, and her mother Susan Sikkema works at Central in campus security.

“As a graduate of Central, with family in Pella, I have remained connected with the Central College community,” said Sikkema. “The mentorship and support I had from professors in psychology, namely Ed Willis and Jim Schulze, was the beginning of an interesting and rewarding academic career. I am grateful and honored to speak at Central’s commencement ceremony and to have the opportunity to meet the graduates and their families.”

Sikkema’s topic will remain a surprise, but she does plan to tell graduating seniors to take advantage of the opportunities provided by Central College and to seek a rewarding career path. “Trust yourself in the choices you make—what is possible may not yet be clear,” she said.

Reverend Wes Granberg-Michaelson

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, who served as general secretary of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) for 17 years, will speak at the Central College baccalaureate service. Central is affiliated with the Protestant denomination, whose roots in North America reach back to the 1620s.

“I’ve always regarded Central College as an outstanding community that combines the quest for truth with a commitment to Christian faith,” said Granberg-Michaelson. “It’s in the best of the Reformed tradition that holds together the search for knowledge, the nurture of character and the framework of faith.”

A native of Park Ridge, Ill., Granberg-Michaelson was general secretary of the RCA from 1994 to 2011. During that time, he initiated a widespread process of missional change in the denomination, implementing a plan for revitalization and church development that was built on its historic commitment to mission, outreach and education. He also served as the first board chair of Call to Renewal, a broadly ecumenical movement linking faith and justice.

Before his tenure as general secretary, Granberg-Michaelson served for six years on the staff of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He has also been a staff member for U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon and managing editor of Sojourners Magazine. He is a graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, both located in Holland, Mich.

Currently, Granberg-Michaelson continues to assist the RCA in its ecumenical relationships. He serves on the steering committee for the Global Christian Forum, which is working to build fellowship and cooperation between Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Orthodox denominational leaders throughout the world. He is also a Ministry Colleague with The Columbia Partnership, where he speaks and consults on issues related to denomination transformation.

Granberg-Michaelson is the author of five books. His most recent, “Unexpected Destinations,” is a memoir chronicling his pilgrimage and the church’s missional transformation. Granberg-Michaelson has also been published in numerous magazines, including Perspectives and Christianity Today.

In honor of his faithful leadership, the RCA has named a scholarship after him: The Granberg-Michaelson Emerging Leaders Scholarship Fund. It will provide resources and support to emerging leaders who have been called to ministry within the RCA.

The importance of faith for students will play a role in Granberg-Michaelson’s speech at the baccalaureate service. “Faith is like a compass that helps one navigate through a complex maze of choices and opportunities in today’s culture,” he said. “Even as we explore new frontiers and go through uncharted waters, it helps us to set a direction.”

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