Columbia College graduate Jingyuan “Dennis” Chen ’18 ’21 poses with his mother, Liwen Liu, during a reception following Spring 2023 Commencement on Saturday, April 29, in Atkins-Holman Student Commons on main campus. Photo by Columbia College Strategic Communications Specialist Kevin Graeler

Patience paid off in a meaningful way for one master’s degree graduate at Columbia College’s Spring 2023 Commencement.

Two years after completing his Master of Arts in Teaching degree at Columbia College, Beijing native Jingyuan “Dennis” Chen ’18 ’21 returned to main campus from Kansas City, Missouri, to finally walk across the stage.

“Because of COVID, my mom couldn’t come from China with all the lockdowns,” Chen says of 2021. “Graduating from Columbia College is such a big event and I wanted my family to come. So I waited until my mom could fly to Missouri to attend my graduation ceremony.”

While Chen’s father was unable to travel due to caring for elderly family members, Chen’s mother spent more than 30 hours traveling to attend the ceremony on April 29 at Southwell Complex. Liwen Liu took several connecting flights, including stops in the western Asia country of Qatar and the city of Philadelphia, before arriving to watch with pride as the couple’s only child graduated from college.

Speaking through a translator, Liu said she was honored to attend the graduation on a campus her son came to call his second home.

“It’s a really important milestone for him and all those in his life,” Liu says of Chen’s graduation.

Chen, 28, moved to Missouri from his native country in 2015 as he began pursuing his bachelor’s degree. His higher education journey began for one year at the University of Missouri before spending the next two years at Moberly Area Community College.

He transferred to Columbia College for his senior year and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design with a minor in Jewelry.

“It’s a really important milestone for him and all those in his life.”

Liwen Liu on her son’s graduation

Bolstered by encouragement from CC faculty and staff, he then entered the college’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.

“After I graduated with my bachelor’s, I was thinking about where I was going next,” Chen says. “Would I go to a different state to become a jewelry maker or do something else? I talked to the administration and they said Art Education – being a K-12 teacher – might be good for me. I applied and got admitted. I loved learning about education from my professors and their great knowledge and experiences.”

While earning his master’s degree, Chen worked in International Student Services as a student assistant, inspired to give back through the same ways he had been assisted several years earlier.

“When I first came to Columbia College, the International Center was a huge help,” Chen says, “so I thought, why don’t I help others?”

Chen accepted a job with Kansas City Public Schools in 2021 after completing his graduate degree, becoming an elementary art teacher, a position he continues in today. He has split time between two different schools in the district, educating hundreds of students from kindergarten through sixth grade.

“I love to share my passion for art,” Chen says. “I have learned from real-life teaching experiences, but I always carry what I learned from Columbia College – my training in art and education.”

“I love to share my passion for art. I have learned from real-life teaching experiences, but I always carry what I learned from Columbia College.”

Jingyuan “Dennis” Chen ’18 ’21

Liu, his mother, says two things are obvious: Chen loves art and he loves to help people.

“Teaching is the perfect job for him,” Liu says. “He finds himself in a career he loves. He has such high achievements and I am so proud of him.”

Expressing disappointment over missing Chen’s bachelor’s degree ceremony five years ago, Lui made certain nothing stood in her way of seeing him earn his master’s degree.

More than 6,700 miles from home, she plans to stay with Chen in Kansas City for the summer.

While Chen wishes his father also could have attended, his selfless care of family members back in China allowed Liu the opportunity to enjoy the special trip.

“My mother videotaped the whole ceremony so she can show my father when she goes back to Beijing,” Chen says.

Chen would have graduated with many familiar classmates had he walked across the stage in 2021.

In a display of great patience, he traded that occasion for the presence of a person who has been there for him every step of the way.

“I think it was worth it,” Chen said, before exchanging smiles with his mom. “Well worth it.”