On April 6, Adele Kubein participated in her first graduation ceremony in front of a crowded room of teary-eyed friends and family. Kubein was not prepared to receive her Ph.D., nor to have Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Larry Rodgers sing her praises as the honor was presented.
“For once I’m speechless,” she said, dressed in the mortarboard, gown and cape she’d been presented and clutching her diploma as the crowd applauded.
A grade school drop out who attended Oregon State as an older-than-average student, Kubein received her bachelors, masters and now Ph.D. from OSU. Kubein, who now faces terminal cancer, was flanked by friends and supporters, dubbed “Adele’s Army,” on Monday afternoon, as she received the OSU Women’s Center Women of Achievement award.
But in a surprise move, her graduate advisor Nancy Rosenberger also announced Kubein would be receiving her doctorate that day.
Former Women’s Center director Mirabelle Fernandes-Paul and Amarah Khan with International Programs led the ceremony to present Kubein with the Women of Achievement Award. Both women cited Kubein’s dedication to social justice and inclusivity as both a doctoral student in anthropology and a member of the Women’s Center board.
“Adele has enriched the lives of countless people around the globe,” Fernandes-Paul said. “But most of all, I think she has been greatly instrumental in inspiring leadership and grace in so many of OSU’s students, faculty and staff.”
A mentor, anti-war activist, single mother and a strong academic, Kubein’s friends and colleagues said her life has been dedicated to improving the world for those most in need of help and support.
“She has been the voice for many who have not found or been able to find their voice,” award nominator Pat Ketchum wrote.
A doctoral student at the time she met Kubein, Amarah Khan said she found Kubein to be brave, intelligent and wise, and richer for having faced many personal challenges.
“She has truly lived a life that could defeat a lesser being,” Khan said, and said her friends will take comfort in knowing that “her spirit is ageless,” and will remain after she departs.
Marigold Holmes met Kubein when she was a graduate teaching assistant at the Women’s Center. As a non-traditional returning student, she said she felt inspired by Kubein’s energy and leadership and her continued kindness even as she challenged oppression. She said Kubein has always been willing to give of herself to others, and that Holmes might not have completed her degree without Kubein’s support.
Kubein, moved and beaming, said, “I had no idea, I’m so happy!”
Finally Kubein addressed the crowd with a broad smile. She said when she came to OSU, she hadn’t been in a classroom since age 11, and didn’t know what clothes to wear or how to use proper punctuation. She emerged from her experience an academic, a world traveler and an activist able to address Congress about social justice issues and to speak to crowds of 19,000 during a visit to Japan.
“OSU has been the only safe, supportive community I’ve ever been in, in my life,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Her graduate advisor Nancy Rosenberger said that Kubein’s doctoral work documenting the lives and struggles of refugee communities in Portland truly represented the kind of anthropologist she is – not just an observer but a researcher making a real difference in the community.
When she announced that Kubein would be receiving her doctorate early, the shock and tears came immediately, but Kubein sprang up to participate in her impromptu graduation ceremony.
With the grace and good humor that her friends had illustrated, she addressed the room.
“You all have lifted me up and you just carry me.”
~ Theresa Hogue