In-N-Out owner Lynsi Snyder-Ellingson gives grads life advice (and gift cards) at Biola’s graduation
By Joshua Rosen, Contributing Reporter
Call it a commencement double-double. Unbeknownst to the anxious crowd of graduating seniors on Friday night, a little something extra was hidden inside every diploma at this year’s Spring Commencement ceremony at Biola University.
“Thanks to the generosity of our commencement speaker (burger heiress Lynsi Snyder-Ellingson), 840 In-N-Out Burger cards — not instead of your diploma,” said Dr. Barry Corey, president of the private evangelical Christian university in La Mirada, “but in addition to your diploma.”
Spread across two ceremonies, more than 600 Biola undergraduate students and 300 graduate students will receive their degrees over the weekend.
The gift cards arrived courtesy of Snyder-Ellingson, an evangelical Christian and the current owner and president of the wildly popular Irvine-headquartered burger chain, arguably one of Southern California’s defining independent businesses.
In a rare public appearance, Snyder spoke about her struggles with alcohol and cannabis and the abuse she endured in a past relationship. She urged Biola’s students to not let pride prevent them from being open and honest about their struggles.
“I’m here to tell you that if you think you are too good for any sin out there, beware,” she said. “Because every one of us is capable of just about anything if we’ve been through the right things, put in the right conditions, hurt in the right way.”
Snyder-Ellingson is the only child of Lynda and H. Guy Snyder and the only grandchild of Harry and Esther Snyder, who founded In-N-Out in Baldwin Park in 1948. Snyder inherited the company from her father, who passed away of an accidental hydrocodone overdose in 1999, when she was just 17. Her father inherited the business from her uncle Rich in 1993 after he died in a plane crash.
Her faith, she said, helped save her life.
“I know that there was a death curse on my family,” she said. “I know that I was next, and by the grace of God, and him having his hand on my life,” she said, “and him pulling me away from sin before it became too late, the curse was broken.”
As sole heir of the In-N-Out fortune, Snyder’s net worth is about $3 billion as of this month. She directs the In-N-Out Foundation, an organization which fights child abuse and runs an organization called Slave 2 Nothing, which helps victims of human trafficking and people suffering from addictions.
Snyder-Ellingson’s address was steeped in her faith.
“You have gained a lot of knowledge here over the last few years,” she told the graduating class. “Do not deny the leading of the Holy Spirit, in your life, as He reveals radical truth to you in your journey. So go out into all the world, live a life worthy of the calling of Christ, a life that is making an impact for the Lord Jesus Christ in our world.”
Biola also took time in the ceremony to honor the death of one of its own, Bill Simon, a public-relations professor and student favorite who passed away in February. Professor Anna Sinclair called public relations students forward to receive their degrees in his name.
After all the pomp and circumstance concluded, student said they were thankful for the gift cards — and even happier to be graduated.
“Honestly, it’s kind of wild. It felt really surreal until we literally just dropped our robes in the house and went out,” said Belen Lopez, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in International Business. “That’s when I think I finally realized, ‘Oh, we’re done!’”
“You’ve worked hard to make it happen,” Biola president Corey told the students, “and I thank God for bringing you to Biola. And I thank God you’re leaving.”