2015: Class on the Cusp

By The Beacon | April 15, 2015 6:00pm


Cassie Sheridan & Philip Ellefson |

In 50 years, when an old priest in charge of the University archives tries to figure out when UP changed, he’ll draw a line at May 3, 2015.

Thomas Dempsey|
The Beacon

A line between UP the small Catholic school and UP the West Coast institution.

A line between a quiet North Portland nook and a university with a bold presence in the city.

A line between a conservative community and the push for a more diverse, inclusive student body.

The commencement ceremony for the Class of 2015 will mark not only the end of the graduates’ time on The Bluff, but also the end of an era at UP.

Perhaps the most immediate evidence of the University’s change over the last four years is the physical changes to buildings and spaces across campus.

The Class of 2015 will be the last class who won’t use the Beauchamp Recreation & Wellness Center and the renovated Pilot House. A brochure about the changes coming to the Pilot House notes that it will complete a reorientation of social life on campus.

“There is a place for students to study with the new Clark Library,” the brochure reads, “a place to enjoy a meal together – Bauccio Commons; and soon, a place for health and wellness with the opening of the Beauchamp Recreation Center.”

The Pilot House, as a dedicated social space, will be the keystone in this rethinking of campus. It’s not just a renovated Pilot House, it’s a renovated social scene at UP.

This year’s graduates will be the last Pilots who won’t recognize this set-up. We’re the last ones who remember and used the old Library (and we’re grateful for it). We’re the last ones to suffer through four years worrying that Howard Hall might crumble around our stair steppers and weights. We’re the last class who won’t know what it’s like to go to a college with an on-campus pub.

For that matter, we’re the last class to remember UP’s previously severe stance on drinking culture. When we entered as freshmen, Bon Appetit would never have served alcohol at student events. Now, students over 21 can buy a beer at on-campus events as casual as dorm trivia nights. Drinking culture has become more forgiving, more open and safer. We are the last class that remembers walking down to River Campus illicitly, before it was even considered a campus at all. Students from our class took samples of that soil and did surveys and planted greenery to reinvigorate a once desolate, polluted piece of land that now the University has big plans for.

We watched RISE commercials and were there when the largest fundraising campaign in University history wrapped up with a total of nearly $182 million. But campus has not just changed around us. We’ve changed campus too. The University the Class of 2015 leaves behind is better.

We fought and spoke out against injustices. Soon movements like Redefine Purple Pride will be relics of the past synonymous with a different UP, but student leaders in our class were on the forefront of the struggle for a more inclusive campus.

After then-President Fr. Bill Beauchamp made controversial comments about LGBTQ faculty members, it was our classmates – along with activist students in previous classes – who protested in the Academic Quad to keep Beauchamp accountable for his words and push for a more inclusive nondiscrimination policy. Our class helped win that fight.

Following the student activism of Redefine Purple Pride, the senior class witnessed several landmarks in diversity and inclusion in the University. We saw Laurie Kelley enter the office of Vice President for University Relations as the first woman to reach UP’s upper administration. We helped elect the first black ASUP president, the first Muslim ASUP president and the first openly LGBTQ ASUP vice president.

Our freshman year was when Portlandia began. Portland was hip, but like a strangely kept secret, the quirky younger sibling to Seattle. No longer.

Our campus has expanded socially as well as physically. In 2011, when a student went downtown and said she went to the University of Portland, most people looked confused. Less do now. There are more big-name visitors (Clarence Thomas, the Dalai Lama), more sporting events (basketball outreach, T2 Timbers play at Merlo) and more notoriety for campus in the greater Portland area.

Our class had the highest average GPA and SAT scores of any class in history when we walked onto The Bluff in the Fall of 2011 (not that it’s a competition). We walk away as a class in which 33 percent of students studied abroad, produced six Fulbright recipients, generated hundreds of cumulative hours of volunteer work and will be 843 graduates strong when we toss our caps in the Chiles Center on May 3. And when this year’s graduates swing their tassels to the left side of their caps, the whole institution will be swinging a tassel as well.