“I stand here because my life has been full of people who believe in me and encouraged me,” said Dr. Michael J. Lawler, looking out over the crowd gathered before him. “I know, and have always known, love and grace.”
For the past 35 years, Dr. Lawler has worked to return that love and grace to the world, dedicating his life to the health and wellbeing of others. On Thursday, April 25, inside the newest building on the rapidly expanding campus of the health sciences university he would now lead forward, those efforts seemingly converged for one grand celebration: his inauguration as the sixth president of Pacific Northwest University.
More than 200 people gathered to celebrate the achievement. The ceremony was filled with much of the impressive pomp that shapes such events, including a processional of faculty, department chairs, faculty visiting delegates, principal administrative officers, alumni, and the platform party, a prayer by Yakima Union Gospel Mission CEO Mike Johnson, a blessing from Executive Chairman of the Yakama Nation General Council Davis “Yellowash” Washines, and a performance of “What a Wonderful World” by the East Valley Middle School’s choir, a legislative welcome by Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, presentations of PNWU artifacts by faculty, alumni and current students, and more.
However, through it all, Dr. Lawler maintained that this celebration was less about him and, instead, more about those who have helped to fill his life with love, passion and purpose.
Many of those people, he explained, came in the form of extraordinary colleagues and mentors. A collection of those individuals — including Dr. Gail Goodman, Mr. Larry Lobre, and Dr. Jerry Yutrzenka, representing the University of California, Davis, and University of South Dakota, the two universities where Dr. Lawler spent 24 years prior to coming to PNWU in October 2018 — smiled as he read those words, once again witnessing the selfless nature of the man they’d helped to shape.
Those influences, and that selfless commitment to the health and well-being of others, had not only landed Dr. Lawler here as the President of PNWU, but also led him to years of remarkable healthcare achievements, including his recent election as the Chair of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Children, Youth and Families. To honor that achievement, as well as Dr. Lawler’s lifelong and ongoing commitment to children, youth and families, his inauguration was hosted under the tagline “Service to Community.”
In the week leading up to the event, the university hosted the first annual PNWU Service Week, bringing 141 PNWU students, faculty and staff volunteers together to volunteer over 630 hours of their time with 9 local organizations. That “Service to Community” focus was capped off with a special surprise aimed at encouraging the audience to help those around them in the most immediate sense.
“While adverse childhood experiences can have longstanding negative consequences, positive experiences seem equally capable of inspiring children to lead happy, healthy, successful and well-rounded lives,” explained Dr. Heather Phipps, PNWU Board of Trustees Chair, in her concluding remarks. “Thankfully, many of those positive experiences can come from simple things — one of the most simple of all being reading to kids.”
It was at that moment that a colorful illustration depicting two PNWU students walking down University Parkway toward Butler-Haney Hall flashed on the screen beside her.
“To honor Dr. Lawler’s ongoing commitment to the health and wellbeing of children,” Dr. Phipps explained, “I am honored to present you all with a very special surprise. A creation of our PNWU Marketing and Communications team, ‘I Want to Be a Doctor! A Day At Medical School’ aims to introduce a new generation of lifelong learners to PNWU, encourage all of us to spend time reading with the young people in our lives, and strives to encourage those young people to follow their dreams.”
Before closing his own remarks, Dr. Lawler reflected on the remarkable dreams that have already come true here at PNWU, including the realization of the university itself.
“On the eve of a decade-and-a-half of intensely productive history, the future PNWU is bright,” he said. “We are poised to fully realize the vision of our founders and be a university that sets the national standard of health sciences education for service to rural and medically underserved communities. I am deeply honored and privileged for this opportunity to serve as the president of Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences.”