May 28th, 2020
Participants in the May 17 virtual commencement emphasized the gains as well as the losses of semesters and college careers cut short by pandemic.
The title of Doug Siemens’ address was a common phrase that’s been evoked a lot lately.
“This is not happening” is what Siemens, Bethel associate professor of teacher education, said was his first thought “when President Jon Gering told me the Class of 2020 wanted me to be the speaker for the first-ever online Bethel College graduation ceremony.”
It’s what he thought when, as a first-year summer river guide in Colorado with a raft full of Girl Scouts, Siemens hit a rock and tore a hole in the raft.
It’s what he thought on Sept. 11, 2001, when most 2020 grads were in pre-school, like Siemens’ own son. He and his wife wondered “what kind of world are we bringing [our kids] into?”
Most college students have had their own “This is not happening” moments, Siemens noted – a bad grade, a bad break-up, a bad sports loss.
And it’s what students must have thought “when they were notified that campus life and traditional classes were ending, and they’d have to go home and complete the rest of the academic year online.
“‘This is not happening’ is what we may be thinking,” he said, “but what is happening is that in spite of the obstacles brought about by COVID-19 – You. Are. Graduating.
“This is a milestone, a grand achievement. Goal set – goal met.
“What you’ve created is something that can never be taken away. The value of a liberal arts college education is … training the mind to think, something that cannot be learned from a textbook. You’re leaving Bethel with great resources developed through your experience here.”
Siemens wrapped up his short address with “the three H’s: Hope, Humility, Happiness.”
“Hope is why I teach,” he said. “I have hope that what I do will make a difference in the world.”
Siemens is a 1984 Bethel graduate who earned an M.A. in special education from the University of New Mexico and his doctorate in educational leadership from Wichita State University.
After teaching in a number of middle and high school settings, he has taught at Bethel in the education department since 2008.
Evoking the many 14,000-foot-plus peaks that surrounded the Colorado town where he once lived, Siemens said, “Carry yourself with humility through the mountains of life. I had so much opportunity to be humble the day I popped that raft. I needed to admit I was still a rookie and had much to learn.”
As for happiness, Siemens said, “We are all learning how to cultivate [it] in a time of pandemic. It is time to reflect and be grateful for everything we have, especially the memories and experiences from college.”
That last reminder seemed to resonate with the 99 members of the Class of 2020.
They had received mortarboards, tassels and stoles if appropriate (different colors represent different programs or groups such as teacher education, social work, nursing, Latinx or African American, among others) ahead of time, and were invited to record a short video, introducing themselves and sharing a favorite memory from their college years.
Most of them did so. Many of those said their favorite memory involved relationships with classmates, modmates, coaches and faculty – whether studying in the science center, making late-night runs to Druber’s Donuts in Newton, winning an important game, going on choir tours or other college trips, or taking a group Polaroid on an orange couch abandoned beside the road.
Graduating seniors Akiyaa Hagen-Depusoir, Salina, Kan., and Jalal Gondal, Lahore, Pakistan, and Noble, Okla., gave brief remarks.
Hagen-Depusoir’s contribution was in the form of a poem titled “Interruption.”
She noted that “interruptions” were part of all four years of college life, “and then the world shut down.”
“We managed to find a way, even with all those interruptions. … We still pushed on. Maybe instead of this poem being about our plans being interrupted, it’s actually to remind us how far we’ve come.”
Gondal said that coming to Bethel was one of those experiences “that completely changes the course of your life.”
“I realized at my first [campus] visit that at Bethel, I would have the opportunity to succeed and the right people around me to help when I encountered obstacles that seemed too great to overcome by myself. I was not wrong about that.”
Bethel administrators hope that a special in-person celebration for graduates and families can be held at Bethel’s Fall Festival in early October.
Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the highest ranked Kansas private college, at #12, in Washington Monthly, Top 200 Bachelor’s Colleges; ranks at #23 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest; is Zippia.com’s highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates; stands at #57 among 829 U.S. colleges and universities listed by lendEDU as “Best for Financial Aid”; has the #10 RN-to-BSN program in Kansas according to RNtoBSN.com; and earned its second-straight NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star gold award, based on student service and academic achievement, all for 2019-20. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu Melanie Zuercher
Bethel College Class of 2020
Jordyn Allen, B.S., Social Work, Wichita
Alexxis Anderson, B.S.N., Nursing Valley Center, Kan.
Georgia Anderson, B.A.*, Art, Wichita, Art
Parker Austin, B.S.*, Business Administration, Derby, Kan.
Sarah Balzer, B.A.***, Social Work, Inman, Kan.
Yahaira Bates, B.A., Psychology, Sterling, Kan.
Henry Baxter, B.A., History, Dothan, Ala.
Curtis Bent, B.S., Health and Physical Education, Wichita
Sydney Bollinger, B.S.N.*, Nursing, Lawrence, Kan.
Shawn Bontrager, B.S.*, Business Administration, North Newton
Katelyn Boston, B.S.N., Nursing, Newton
Elijah Brockway, B.A., Music, McPherson, Kan.
Poe Bryant, B.S., Business Administration, Edmond, Okla.
Polly Carlson, B.A.***, Elementary Education, Freeman, S.D.
Charley Carver, B.S.N., Nursing, Perry, Kan.
Kate Cherveny, B.S.N.***, Nursing, Topeka, Kan.
Keondre Churchwell, B.S., Social Work, Casa Grande, Ariz.
Carine Claassen, B.S., Social Work, Whitewater, Kan.
Mario Cruz, B.S., Social Work, Victorville, Calif.
Justin Daily, B.S.N., Nursing, Ashland, Kan.
Erica Ebenkamp, B.A.*, Biology, Chemistry, Conway Springs, Kan.
Taylor Edson, B.S.N.***, Nursing, Newton
Naomi Epp, B.A.***, Biology, Chemistry, North Newton
Justice Flint, B.A.***, English, Wichita
Dakota Foster, B.S., Business Administration, Moore, Okla.
Elizabeth Friesen Birky, B.A.***, Art History, Communication Arts, Denver
Alexandria Gallop, B.A., Psychology, La Mirada, Calif.
Matthew Garber, B.A., Music, Newton
Kenia Garcia, B.S.N., Nursing, Wichita
Venezia Garcia, B.S.N., Nursing, Wichita
Dominick Geddert, B.A.**, Psychology, Fresno, Calif.
Bryan Gilmore, B.S., Health and Physical Education, Lebo, Kan.
Emma Girton, B.A.***, Art History, Wichita
Jalal Gondal, B.A.**, Biology, Lahore, Pakistan/Noble, Okla.
Broderick Green, B.A., Graphic Design, Dallas
Alena Haase, B.S.N., Nursing, North Newton
Akiyaa Hagen-Depusoir, B.A.***, History and Political Science, Social Work, Salina, Kan.
Brooke Hambelton, B.S.N., Nursing, Wichita
John Hansberry, B.S.**, Business Administration, Vancouver, Wash.
Abby Harders, B.A.***, Chemistry, Mathematical Sciences, Moundridge, Kan.
Sydney Harper, B.S.*, Business Administration, Andover, Kan.
Jennifer Harrison, B.S.*, Social Work, Fort Scott, Kan.
Logan Heinrichs, B.A., Biology, Park City, Kan.
Kristen Herzet, B.S.N.*, Nursing, Marion, Kan.
Ariel Hinds, B.S.N., Nursing, Hutchinson, Kan.
Madison Hofer-Holdeman, B.A.**, English, Wichita
Alyjah Kennedy, B.S., Business Administration, San Diego, Calif.
Ryan LaCombe, B.A.***, Athletic Training, Natural Sciences, Abilene, Kan.
Peyton Landrum, B.S., Elementary Education, Arkansas City, Kan.
Araeleigha Marcy, B.S., Social Work, Salina, Kan.
Terrell Marshall, B.S., Business Administration, Tulsa, Okla.
Kaycee McClelland, B.S.*, Elementary Education, Newton
Annalee McCloud, B.S.N.*, Nursing, Clearwater, Kan.
Krystin McKelpin, B.S.N., Nursing, Puyallup, Wash.
Mallory Meier, B.S.*, Chemistry, Winfield, Kan.
Jeffrey Middlesworth, B.S.N.**, Nursing, Lenexa, Kan.
Kyla Williams Miller, B.S., Social Work, Clinton, Okla.
Sophia Minder, B.S., Social Work, Lawrence, Kan.
Lincoln Moyo, B.A., Bible and Religion, Hesston, Kan.
Rebecca Mullen, B.S.N., Nursing, Wichita
Morgan Murphy, B.A., Biology, Chemistry, Newton
Hannah Myrtle, B.S., Elementary Education, Wichita, Kan.
Lauren Nehrbass, B.A.**, Communication Arts, Parsons, Kan.
Lil Padro, B.A.**, Athletic Training, Natural Sciences, Miami
Kelsey Potter, B.A. Biology/Education, Neodesha, Kan.
Donte Powell, B.A., Graphic Design, Detroit
Caroline Preheim, B.A.***, Psychology, Nolensville, Tenn.
Logan Price, B.S.N.**, Nursing, Wichita
Jenna Ratzlaff, B.S., Social Work, North Newton
Kailyn Riffel, B.S.N., Nursing, Lincolnville, Kan.
Bruce Rosario, B.A., Bible and Religion, Pollocksville, N.C.
Callie Ross, B.A.*, Music/Education, Overland Park, Kan.
Madison Roth, B.S.N.**, Nursing, Abilene, Kan.
Jacob Russell, B.A., History, Lawrence, Kan.
Elizabeth Schrag, B.S.N.***, Nursing, Newton
Tara Schwartz, B.A.**, English, Pretty Prairie, Kan.
Riley Scudder, B.A., History, Little Elm, Texas
Jumanah Shourbaji, B.S.N., Nursing, Wichita
Samantha Simmons, B.S.N.***, Nursing, Derby, Kan.
Kerrigan Simons, B.S.*, Business Administration, Riley, Kan.
Courtney Simpson, B.S., Business Administration, Johnstown, Colo.
Isaiah Smith, B.S., Health and Physical Education, Kansas City, Kan.
Bryant Soriano, B.S., Social Work, Los Angeles
Braedon Starlin-Driver, B.S., Social Work, Winfield, Kan.
Blayne Stump, B.A., Art, Crook, Colo.
Dante Texeira, B.S.*, Business Administration, Wichita
Jaylen Thompson, B.S., Social Work, Tulsa, Okla.
Megan Thompson, B.S., Elementary Education, Lansing, Kan.
Luke Unruh, B.A.**, Bible and Religion, Social Work, Goessel, Kan.
Mary Vermillion, B.S.*, Chemistry, Newton
Kendrick Weaver, B.A.***, Music/Education, Hesston, Kan.
Garrett White, B.S., Health and Physical Education, San Antonio, Texas
Gregory White II, B.S., Business Administration, San Antonio, Texas
Anna Wiens, B.A.***, Graphic Design, Goessel, Kan.
Caitlin Williams, B.S.**, Athletic Training, Wellington, Kan.
Kaci Wilson, B.S.***, Chemistry, Sterling, Kan.
Joseph Winfield, B.S., Social Work, Edmond, Okla.
David Wullf-Cochrane, B.S., Social Work, Edmond, Okla.
Kaho Yanagidaira, B.A.**, Business Administration, Music, Chino, Nagano, Japan
B.A. = Bachelor of Arts; B.S. = Bachelor of Science; B.S.N. = Bachelor of Science in Nursing
* = cum laude (with honors), 3.500-3.649 GPA
** = summa cum laude (with high honors), 3.650-3.799 GPA
*** = magna cum laude (with highest honors), 3.800-4.0 GPA