Congratulations to Our Resilient December 2020 Grads!

Posted: December 15, 2020

In the face of a global pandemic and quarantine conditions, our December 2020 grads exhibited tremendous resiliency and perseverance, completing their degree program, and achieving this notable academic milestone. 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.)

Cum Laude                         3.5 to 3.74

Magna Cum Laude           3.75 to 3.89

Summa Cum Laude         3.9 to 4.0



  • Kristen Russo (English Literature), Cum Laude - “Kristen is a remarkable scholar. Her instinct to probe the implications of a text always made for provocative discussion in the classroom. She is not afraid to ask challenging questions that yield remarkably fresh analysis of a text. And her mature, sophisticated essays reflect her experience as both a writing tutor and an accomplished creative writer. We in the English Department faculty congratulate Kristen on her graduation with honors and wish her well in the next stage of her life’s adventure.” -  Dr. Fay Ellwood, Ph. D., Associate Professor of English


  • Xi (James) Zhang (Business & Management w/ Customized Concentration), Cum Laude/Pi Beta Sigma - “James was on HIU’s Dean’s list four times and received 2020 Daktronics-NAIA scholar athlete recognition. As faculty for his Organizational Behavior business course a few years back, as well as a tennis enthusiast myself, I had the privilege of seeing him play competitive tennis on HIU’s behalf. I witnessed his intense focus, strategy, perseverance, and competitiveness. In James’ own words as he reflects on his time at Hope, “I am very grateful to HIU for giving me these experiences, which will help me better prepare to pursue my goals in the future.” James is kind and lighthearted while at the same time achievement-oriented and highly relational; he has an enjoyable and effective mix of characteristics. He asked important questions in class, collaborated well with classmates, and was especially insightful in global business context discussions. He served as my TA (teacher’s assistant) in his final semester here and I am grateful for his thorough research, communication skills, and prompt follow through on assigned tasks. James, we are so very proud of you for your fine accomplishments within our College of Business and Management and HIU at large. We know you gave your very best and served others well along the way, your classroom and tennis peers as well as me. Many thanks and blessings to you as you serve the Lord with your whole heart in the marketplace.” -  Dr. Lydia Knopf, Chair, College of Business and Management; Associate Professor of Business and Management
  • Gerson Barrientos - “We commend you on being on the Dean’s List for four semesters and always doing your very best at HIU. I especially appreciate your own words about your experience while at Hope, ‘another amazing part of my journey was expanding my knowledge about the Gospel. At Hope I learned more than just business. I had a connection to my faith. I would not have achieved what I did if it were not for the professors. Every professor I had was dedicated to making every student the best student they could be.’ Gerson made both an excellent first impression as well as longstanding positive rapport with me as an exceptional business student in my Principles of Management course. He was timely, consistent, humble, teachable, curious, engaged, and carried a constant smile on his face all of which caused him to stand out as a bright shining star. Among many wonderful characteristics, he is a man of high integrity, deep spiritual convictions, and efficient and effective servant leadership and management skills. Gerson, you spread love and joy wherever you are. We are very proud of you and know you have a very bright future ahead as you love and serve others as unto the Lord in the marketplace.” -  Dr. Lydia Knopf, Chair, College of Business and Management; Associate Professor of Business and Management


  • Jill Ainley (Liberal Studies Teacher Preparation w/ Concentration in Elementary), Summa/ Pi Beta Sigma – “It is my privilege to honor Jill Ainley and speak to her Academic Honors. In Jill's time at HIU she has demonstrated integrity, strength, and a willingness to take in all she can to move forward in her passion of investing in the lives of others.  Jill is a light to those in the classroom.  Congratulations, my friend.  You have earned this Honor”.  - Cori DeWitt, Assistant Professor of Education and Credential Analyst
  • Alexa Lanning (Liberal Studies Teacher Preparation w/ Concentration in Elementary), Magna/ Pi Beta Sigma – “Alexa has been focused on her goal to become a teacher since she arrived at Hope as a transfer student. She participates eagerly in her education courses and is constantly preparing her mind and heart for the role of being a teacher. It has been a pleasure to watch her grow in her knowledge and gain confidence for her next steps. In the future her excitement and spark for learning will bless the students she is teaching.” -  Nancy Stichter, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education
  • Attie Landrum (Liberal Studies Teacher Preparation w/ Concentration in Elementary), Cum Laude -  “From the day Attie started her freshman year at Hope she has been driven to achieve her goals of becoming a classroom teacher. Attie is an efficient multitasker. She is an HIU athlete, full time student and has worked several jobs while going to school. This ability to manage her time will serve her well as a teacher. She is an outgoing student in our program and a delight to talk to. I look forward to hearing about Attie's positive relationships interactions as a credential candidate and future teacher.” -  Nancy Stichter, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education
  • Hunter Salmons (Liberal Studies – Teacher Prep Single Subject English), Summa – “Hunter is a remarkable scholar. She has enlivened class discussions with weighty insights and genuine vulnerability. Her ability to question untested ideas has resulted in analysis that prioritizes truth over a blind defense of the comfortable and familiar. She is always working to improve herself and her work with integrity, humility, and discipline. We wish her well as she blazes her own trail, testing all things, and holding fast to that which is true.” -  Dr. Fay Ellwood, Ph. D., Associate Professor of English


  • Gissel Avila (Psychology), Cum Laude – “ Gissel is a tremendously talented student. She brings a quiet curiosity to her studies and is a joy to know and learn with. Her calm, warm demeanor will enable her to serve and lead with distinction.”  – Dr. Denise Wallace, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling 
  • Emree Sato (Psychology), Cum Laude/ Pi Beta Sigma – “Emree is an outstanding scholar who has constantly distinguished herself throughout her career at Hope. She has a tremendous dedication to learning, always bringing effort, creativity, commitment (and occasionally a ukulele) to her coursework. She is a quiet leader, impacting peers and professors with her thoughtful, compassionate view of the world. She is wise, kind, and thoughtful and a joy to know. It is an honor to have learned with her during her time at Hope and I look forward with expectation and gratitude to the unique ways she will serve others and craft her community into places where people will find healing and hope.” – Dr. Denise Wallace, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling
  • Raul Manzo (Human Development w/ Concentration in Family Studies), Cum Laude – “Raul is an exceptional student who has shown to persevere through one of the toughest years for many of us. He remained positive and diligent when completing his tasks and was proactive about what was next on his to do list. It has been a pleasure working alongside Raul and I know that the Lord will be using him mightily!” – Bradley T. Overholser, Chair, Human Development Program; Assistant Professor of Psychology and Counseling
  • Madison Hoefflin (Human Development w/ Concentration in Family Studies), Cum Laude – “Madison has demonstrated academic excellence in her pursuit of her bachelor’s degree in Human Development. Having a heart for helping people, she hopes to continue in graduate studies towards professional counseling and/or other types of human services. It has been a joy having her as a dedicated student.” – Bradley T. Overholser, Chair, Human Development Program; Assistant Professor of Psychology and Counseling


  • Lacey Alastair (Church Ministry Track 1 & AA w/ Customized Concentration), Summa/ Pi Beta Sigma – “Lacey is a passionate student who is Spirit led.  She has a heart for serving the church and is passionate about all that she does.  She excels in the classroom and within her church context.  Lacey is curious to learn and often asks questions to probe further and more fully understand class concepts.  She also thinks deeply about biblical concepts and desires to grow deeper in her knowledge of God.  Lacey will be a blessing to wherever she serves.”  – Dr. Phil Towne, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Ministry & Intercultural Studies; Chair of Intercultural Studies
  • Alec Bell (Biblical Studies), Cum Laude/ Pi Beta Sigma – “When a freshman student writes an exegetical paper on par with senior Bible majors, you know that you have something special. Alec Bell has been that special student ever since I had him in class starting with his freshman year. His papers have consistently shown a maturity beyond his years, and they have been a pleasure to read and grade. As a testimony to his ability, one of Alec’s papers was selected to be a finalist in the undergraduate competition at the recent Stone-Campbell Journal Conference, and his oral presentation of that paper was as impressive as his writing and research. I will miss having Alec as a student; once I even threatened to fail him so that he could not graduate, but it didn’t work. Congratulations, Alec, sorry to see you go!” – Dr. David Matson, Ph.D., Professor of Biblical Studies
  • Robert Beunk (Church Ministry Track 1), Cum Laude/ Pi Beta Sigma – “Rob is a creative and inquisitive person.  In class, he was often asking real-life questions regarding ministry.  In his work as a pastor, he is active in ministry online and through small groups.  He has a deep desire for to connect with the surrounding community in ways that make a positive impact.  Rob is a solid student and deep thinker with the heart of a pastor.” – Dr. Phil Towne, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Ministry & Intercultural Studies; Chair of Intercultural Studies
  • Kaitlyn Hallworth (Church Ministry Track 1), Cum Laude/ Pi Beta Sigma – “Whenever I saw Kaitlyn's name on one of my class rosters, I knew I was in store for some great participation and written work from her.  Kaitlyn is the type of student you want to have in your class because she is a critical thinker and is not afraid to ask hard questions.  She pushed me and her classmates in our readings of the biblical text. Kaitlyn's method of interpretation is faithful to the text's ancient context and then applied creatively and truthfully in ours.  She reads and leads in her own ministry and life with women in mind. I will miss having Kaitlyn in class, but I hope to see her around and we can still talk about the Bible and British television.” – Dr. Kelly Dagley, Ph. D., Chair, Ministry and Biblical Studies; Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies
  • Brendan Wein (Biblical Studies), Summa/Pi Beta Sigma – “As his last name might suggest, Brendan Wein’s academic career is like a fine wine: it gets better with age. Having had Brendan in almost every class that I teach, I have witnessed first-hand his growth from a first-year musician-turned-Bible major into a confident and thoughtful interpreter of the Scriptures. Brendan’s work always evidenced solid research, contextual exegesis, and sensitive application. But what impresses me most about Brendan is his willingness to listen carefully and examine critically various points of view without feeling the urgency to swallow any particular vantage. So, a toast to you, Brendan: congratulations on this leg of your journey, and may all that you do result in the bearing of fruit for God (Rom. 6:22).” – Dr. David Matson, Ph.D., Professor of Biblical Studies