Honoring Outstanding Academic Achievement

Posted: May 14, 2021

In the face of a global pandemic and quarantine conditions, our Spring 2021 grads exhibited tremendous resiliency and perseverance, completing their degree program, and achieving notable academic honors. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were unable to gather together for our public Commencement ceremony, conferring of degrees, hooding of Master's degree students, or recognition of academic honors. (Every new graduate has been extended and open invitation to participate in any future HIU Commencement of their choosing.)

The following outstanding graduates achieved the highest levels of academic distinction, as follows. (Photo Gallery below.)

  • Summa Cum Laude: 3.90 to 4.00
  • Magna Cum Laude: 3.75 to 3.89
  • Cum Laude: 3.5 to 3.74


  • Seth Hoetker, Summa Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma - "Seth is an outstanding student and one of the most intellectually curious people I've ever known. Not only does he always turn in first-rate work, he takes every opportunity to collaborate with - and learn from - his fellow classmates. This is so rare to find in a student. And with the rich diversity of views that are found within the field of criminal justice, Seth always takes time to listen to different perspectives, especially those coming from the communities most impacted by state violence. We are all so proud of him." - Dr. Roberto Sirvent, Chair, Social Sciences; Professor of Political and Social Ethics
  • Brooklyn Jespersen, Summa Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma - “Throughout her years at Hope, Brooklyn has applied herself fully to every one of her classes. She asks questions, welcomes feedback, and produces thoughtful work that reflects her engagement and curiosity. A dedicated English major, Brooklyn has written essays that investigate punctuation and death in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, marriage equality in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and nationalistic ideals in Milton’s Paradise Lost. We will miss her wonderful spirit and congratulate her on her graduation and honors!”  - Dr. Fay Ellwood, Associate Professor of English
  • Haliegh Wilkerson, Summa Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma - "I remember the day that Haliegh came into my office for academic advising. She seemed quiet and polite. But what I took for quiet politeness that day was silent strength. Haliegh is one of the hardest working students I have known. She tackled anything I threw at her with gusto (quiet gusto.) Ten-page research paper? No problem. Independent study where she did most of the work? Cake. Interrupting your graduation plans due to a pandemic? Haliegh had a plan. I am so excited that Haliegh is going into teaching. Her future students are very fortunate: they will have a caring, smart, diligent teacher who will show them that they can do anything they put their mind to." - Dr. Shannon Bates, Associate Professor of Communication


  • Rosalie Anderson, Magna Cum Laude - “Rosalie spent her first year of college at Nebraska Christian College where she loved the community and participating in soccer and basketball. She transferred into HIU's intense 3-Year Business Administration program for greater flexibility to work full-time. Rosalie took on the heavy class load with tenacity and has worked hard to finish her degree in two years. After graduation, she plans to continue working for the company where she interned, and her goal is to pursue the position of market manager. We can't wait to see how Rosalie makes her way in the world post-graduation!” -  Stefanie Banks, Senior Academic Coach
  • Taylor Asio, Summa Cum Laude – “Taylor has been a part of the HIU community for all four years of her college career working hard as a member of our softball team while maintaining outstanding academic standards. She moved home to Lahaina, Hawaii last year and has continued to excel while juggling work and giving her online classes her everything. She will fondly remember her time at HIU by the amazing and lifelong friends she made. After graduation, Taylor will continue with school to become an optometrist and dreams of opening her own medical office. We look forward to see how Taylor takes on her future!” - Stefanie Banks, Senior Academic Coach
  • Jacob Channel, Cum Laude - "I have had the pleasure to walk alongside of Jacob during his journey at HIU as his Academic Advisor. He has showed great determination as he achieves his educational goals all while contributing his talents on the Baseball team. His outlook was always positive, even with the challenges that came his way, he persevered and showed incredible self-discipline to achieve success. I am excited to see what the next chapter holds for him."- Denise Tran Castillo, Senior Academic Coach
  • Elizabeth Parrish, Summa Cum Laude - “I had the privilege of meeting Elizabeth as faculty and supervisor of our required business internship course in our College. As the Lord would have it, when I mentioned to Professor Smith, she was looking for an internship he knew her from his previous course and suggested he and I ask if she would like to be our intern to work on some important and special projects we needed help with. To our delight Elizabeth accepted and exceeded our expectations with her focus and commitment to quality, especially in her organizational skills and attention to detail in our Sigma Beta Delta Honors society induction plans including creating the beautiful nomination certificate and flyer for the event. She is humble, deeply spiritual, and is a joy to know and work with. Elizabeth, blessings upon you and your very bright future. Well done!” - Dr. Lydia R. Knopf, Dean, College of Business & Management; Chair, Traditional Undergraduate Program; Assoc. Professor of Business & Management
  • Brett Spackeen, Summa Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma - “Brett was a stellar student for us over the past four years. I had the great pleasure of having him in a number of classes. He understands the material, asks questions, shows up ready to learn, and keeps the professor on their toes. Over the past two years he has been a tutor for our business students where he has helped countless students understand the material better. He has the potential to accomplish many things that he puts his mind to. He will be missed in class as he continues in the next steps of his career.” -  Andrew Paine, Chair, Online Undergraduate Program; Associate Business and Accounting Professor
  • Jon (Matt) Thompson, Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma -“I had the opportunity to have Jon in 3 of my classes over the last few years. He would stick around to ask questions and talk and was very successful in all of his business courses. He has decided to continue on and get his MBA this next year. I am sure he will do very well in the program and in the next steps after his degree. I knew when I had Jon in class he would work hard and bring joy to the classes I was teaching. As a professor, it was a great pleasure to teach him the financial side of business.” -  Andrew Paine, Chair, Online Undergraduate Program; Associate Business and Accounting Professor
  • Anthony (AJ) Woodyard, Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma - “AJ is one of those students you hope you have in every class. He is respectful, hardworking, and engages with the learning. When you first get to know him you realize he is more of the quiet type but always willing to answer questions when called upon and a pleasure to talk with outside of the classroom. He exceled in the classroom but was also willing to take the time to help others learn. To date, he has already taken one MBA course and currently enrolled in another. It was a joy to have AJ in my classes and I know he will do very well wherever he ends up.” -  Andrew Paine, Chair, Online Undergraduate Program; Associate Business and Accounting Professor


  • Mackenzie Elliott, Magna Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma – “Mackenzie, you entered HIU as a freshman with such a zest for learning and connection.  This has remained true for you in your time here.   May you continue to move forward in your desire to serve students as a speech therapist.  You will be a gift to so many students and their families.” -  Cori DeWitt, Assistant Professor of Education; Credential Analyst
  • Natalia Hadder, Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma – “Natalia, one of our mission statements at HIU is for students to become servant leaders.  As we have observed you and your time at HIU, we have seen you develop as a true servant leader in the classroom, in relationships and on the volleyball court.  You lead others by service and walk in integrity.  We are proud of you.” -  Cori DeWitt, Assistant Professor of Education; Credential Analyst
  • Alyssa Hendrickson, Magna Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma - “On behalf of the College of Education I would like to sincerely congratulate Alyssa Hendrickson on her Honors upon graduation. Over these past four years, Alyssa has demonstrated academic excellence, cultivated a culture of collaboration, and persevered through difficult seasons. As a future English teacher, we have no doubt Alyssa will impact students’ lives for good. The College of Education is proud to be part of Alyssa’s journey and pursuit of excellence!” - Lindsay Blume, Chair, Department of Education; Assistant Professor of Education
  • Vanessa Sandoval, Magna Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma – “Vanessa, you are one who flies under the radar in your gifting and service.  In your time at HIU you have excelled in and outside of the classroom.   Besides your academic pursuits you have served at Sunny Hills High School as an AVID Tutor the last 4 years as well as serving as a bilingual tutor for elementary school students.  You will be a quiet force to be reckoned with as you move forward.” -  Cori DeWitt, Assistant Professor of Education; Credential Analyst
  • Brianne Swenson, Cum Laude – “Brianne, you have a gentle nature, kind spirit, academic determination and a smile that lights up the room.  You have demonstrated a spirit of a life-long learner who will impact hundreds if not thousands of students in the years to come.” -  Cori DeWitt, Assistant Professor of Education; Credential Analyst
  • Sarai (Aissa) Sundstrom, Cum Laude - “Congratulations to Sarai Sundstrom for earning academic cum laude honors! has shown a strong commitment to the field of education as a Liberal Studies major with a Single Subject Concentration in English. She will return to HIU this summer where she will begin working on her single subject teaching credential. She currently works as a teaching assistant at a private school. Aissa, we are so proud of you and look forward to cheering you on as you begin your teaching journey.” – Nancy Stichter, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education
  • Brittnei Turner, Summa Cu Laude – “On behalf of the College of Education, I would like to congratulate Brittnei Turner on graduating with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Brittnei exemplifies excellence in all academic areas. She is compassionate, thoughtful, collaborative, and extremely hard-working; all which will serve her well in her future classroom. Brittnei plans to pursue a multiple subject credential. I have no doubt she will serve her students well! Congratulations Brittnei, we are so proud of you and your accomplishments.” - Lindsay Blume, Chair, Department of Education; Assistant Professor of Education


  • Tabitha Abbey, Summa Cum Laude - “Tabitha has distinguished herself throughout her Hope career by her academic excellence, her commitment to the field of psychology, and a quiet spirit of warmth, curiosity, and maturity. I can so easily picture her providing meaningful  care to children and thier families in her future profession as a developmental psychologist. I am grateful to have had her as a student, and will be even more grateful to someday welcome her as a colleague to the profession of caring and healing!”  – Dr. Denise Wallace, Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling
  • Megan Fetty, Cum Laude - “When I first met Megan, she was a transfer student, new to Hope but jumping in with both feet. She connected with classmates, produced coursework of the highest caliber, and brought thoughtful and energetic participation to course discussion. Her curiosity and commitment to learning have always set her apart, and she is truly a joy to know and to learn with. Those she works with and serves in the future will find themselves blessed by their time with her.”  – Dr. Denise Wallace, Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling
  • Manuel Martinez, Cum Laude – “Manuel is an excellent student who in addition to raising a family and work life, committed himself to not only maintain a consistent level of excellent work, went out of his way to encourage and support other students in the course. Despite some challenging circumstances in earlier life, Manuel has shown a great determination for sharing the word of God. Manuel has demonstrated wonderful Christian leadership in his roles as a youth pastor, children's pastor, Spanish ministry leader, and a court facilitator, providing Christian leadership to young people during times of great crisis.” – Dr. Laura Steele, Dean, College of Psychology and Counseling; Professor of Psychology and Counseling
  • Marissa Pons, Cum Laude -"Marissa is an exceptional student who has endured hardships while achieving her degree in an effortless manner. She has stayed motivated and committed to her work and studies amid a global pandemic. She is passionate about the mental health field and is looking to serve her community with the care it needs. Marissa is also looking to continue her education and earn her Master's in MFT in the near future to continue her contribution to the helping field." - Yesenia Ruiz, Academic Coach
  • Yasmine Rivera, Cum Laude - “During her time at Hope, Yasmine has demonstrated both academic excellence, and a clear enthusiasm for life and her chosen pursuits. She brings a sense of adventure and openness to both her studies and her life journey, and I expect to hear great things as her adventures continue!  – Dr. Denise Wallace, Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling
  • Denise Solis, Cum Laude - “Denise has been a valuable addition of the College of Psychology and Counseling throughout her career at Hope. She has been an outstanding student who seeks out regular conversation with professors and produces coursework of the highest caliber. Denise has also served as a peer mentor, making her experience and insight available to incoming students and she encourages them on their journey at Hope. In her brief career, she has developed so much depth, maturity and professionalism. We are proud to call you an alum!”  Dr. Denise Wallace, Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling


  • Matt Bernard, Magna Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma - “Matt has consistently been a very hard working student and is a joy to have in class.  He asks great questions and helps push the class forward.  Matt has done very well at learning cultural competencies and has engaged in ministry to the homeless community as well as in youth ministry.  After graduation he plans on pursuing further education in counseling in order to use this to minister to those in need.  Also, he competes in Jiu Jitsu, so you probably don’t want to fight him.” - Dr. Phil Towne, Associate Professor of Ministry & Intercultural Studies; Chair of Intercultural Studies
  • Matthew Canaan, Cum Laude – “Matthew has worked diligently to earn his Bachelor of Science in Christian Ministry with honors while working and supporting his five children with his wife in Indiana. He is a self-prescribed theology nerd who has tackled every class regardless of subject matter with tenacity. Matthew is an Army veteran who completed two tours in Afghanistan, and his long-term goal is to start a non-profit organization to help veterans combat homelessness. We are so excited to see how God uses Matthew and his gifts in the future!” - Stefanie L. Banks, Senior Academic Coach
  • Morgan Dooty, Summa Cum Laude – “Morgan has grown so much from her freshman year until now in her education, character, confidence, skills, and maturity. No matter where she is or what she does, people will see the love of Jesus shining through her!” – Megan Means, Academic Coach
  • Bethany Klaumann, Cum Laude – “Watching Bethany continue to pursue God’s calling despite challenges and obstacles has been incredible. She is a true overcomer and will do great things for the Kingdom!” – Megan Means, Academic Coach
  • Katelyn Shields, Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma – “The Shields family name has been known a long time around Hope; the rest of Katelyn Shields’s clan can be proud of how she has distinguished it further the past four years.  From her freshman year to her senior, I enjoyed having Katelyn in class.  She came prepared, participated, and even helped students around her.  And when grading a paper written by Katelyn, I always found it to be excellent work.  Katelyn also took on challenges.  Last fall, I asked her and another student to write a Purim play, which is the story of Esther, to read in class rather than do their normal presentations.  They took up the challenge and we had a fun, creative time that day.  (Oh and to add to the challenge, it was on Zoom!)  There is no doubt, Katelyn Shields is a good student.  But from seeing her interact with other students and faculty around campus, she is also a good friend as she is relational, kind, and empathetic.  I’m looking forward to hearing about her adventures in the future.” – Dr. Kelly Dagley, Chair for Ministry and Biblical Studies; Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies  



The McReynolds Academic Prize, was established by Madeleine McReynolds to honor her husband, Professor of Biblical Studies Emeiritus, Dr. Paul McReynolds. Among Dr. McReynolds' own academic achievements was publication of a widely known and used Greek-English Interlinear New Testament.

This cash award honors the graduating student in HIU's traditional undergraduate programs who, having completed all of their degree requirements, has achieved the highest cumulative grade point average over the last 60 units of coursework in their degree program.

This year two students tied for the award. On behalf of Dr. and Mrs. McReynolds, HIU presents the 2021 Academic Prize to Seth Hoetker and Brooklyn Jesperson.


// View/download/print the Spring 2021 Commencement Program.