Students in field

Finlandia honors legacy, Class of 2023 with final commencement and commendation ceremonies

May 10, 2023

Hirvonen Hall exterior

Founded in 1896 as Suomi College, Finlandia University held its final spring commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 7, honoring 92 graduates in the Class of 2023. In March, the University announced the decision to dissolve the institution and not enroll students for the 2023-2024 academic year.

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President Timothy Pinnow congratulates student at FinnU's Spring 2023 Commencement Ceremony.

President Timothy Pinnow congratulates student at FinnU’s Spring 2023 Commencement Ceremony.

Delivering the welcome address was Board Trustee Stephen Nikander, whose great-grandfather founded the institution and whose grandfather served as its former president.

“Even though this is a final commencement,” Nikander said, “this is not a funeral. Commencement means beginning, and as your post-collegiate lives begin, know that you have received a unique, valuable learning experience here.”

Following Nikander’s remarks, President Timothy Pinnow opened his presidential address by speaking to the defining elements of a university.

“Universities are the people that inhabit them. You can have a university without buildings, but you can’t have them without teachers and students and the sacred moment that occurs when one group is trying to help the other achieve their goals.”

Pinnow concluded his address to the audience and graduating Class of 2023 with appreciation, farewell and the Finnish concept of sisu.

“We hail your achievements and hope that you indeed fare well. It’s time to go do in the world what Finlandia has always been. Make it a verb, not a noun, so that it will live on in our actions and in the actions of those that follow us. Thank you for the privilege of being the president of this incredible place and its even more incredible people.”

Tom Boldt, CEO of The Boldt Company, served as keynote speaker. Having spent many summers in the U.P. with his grandparents, Ken and Marcella Hamar, Boldt has deep ties to Finlandia and represents the fourth generation of family leadership at his Appleton, WI-based construction management and general contracting firm. For over 30 years, Tom and his parents, OC and Pat Hamar Boldt, created an extraordinary legacy of generosity at Finlandia through personal and company gifts. 

The 2023 Student Representative Speaker, Kaitlyn Lundeen, graduated with a 3.92 grade point average and Summa Cum Laude honors. Lundeen earned an associate physical therapist assistant (PTA) degree, a Bachelor of Business Administration in Healthcare Management and a minor in psychology. On April 14, Lundeen was awarded membership into the Sampo Society for graduating students whose academic success is highest and most well-rounded. While studying at FinnU, Lundeen set multiple program records in competition for the Lions Women’s Basketball team. After graduation, she plans to move to the Greater Seattle Area to pursue a career in physical therapy.

Service of Commendation

Pastor Sarah Semmler Smith at Service of Commendation for Finlandia University

Pastor Sarah Semmler Smith speaks at Service of Commendation.

Following commencement, a commendation service was held for Finlandia University students, staff, faculty, alumni, neighbors and friends.

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Finlandia Campus Pastor Sarah Semmler Smith and Northern Great Lakes Synod Bishop Katherine Finegan led the service, with Rev. Soren Schmidt leading the Copper Country Chorale.

Speaking at the event were the familiar faces of faculty, staff and community members to which Suomi College and Finlandia University meant most, including Lauri Anderson, chair of Finlandia’s English Department from 1976 to 2015, current English professor Carolyn Dekker, graduating senior Allison Cooper and emeritus professor of art and design Phyllis Fredendall. Rev. Soren Schmidt read a poem from Director of Dining Services Tim Nakkula, and Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy René Johnson read a letter from 2013 alumnus Cameron Goude.

In his commendation address, President Timothy Pinnow shared a story from Finlandia’s history of the institution’s founder and first president, J.K. Nikander, when on the way back from South Range, asked his driver to pull over so he may pray that the school would make it through the week. 

“That’s happened a few times in 126 years,” Pinnow said. “So I thought it only appropriate that during one of the breaks today, I took the chain of office that the president wears out to South Range, pulled over on the side of the road and said a prayer for all of us as we move forward. Because today–now–is about moving Finlandia from a noun to a verb. Finlandia now becomes an action in the world. It won’t have a place, it won’t have buildings, but it will still have people. People are about action, and God is about action, so we commend Finlandia to this action in the world.” 

On Sunday evening, carried by the winds of the Keweenaw, the final song in the legacy of Finlandia University played as the bells at the Chapel of St. Matthew rang 126 times – once for each year the small, private liberal arts institution in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula stood dedicated to academic excellence, spiritual growth and service.


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FinnU will not enroll students for 2023-2024Learn More