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Bethel will honor Class of 2020 with online commencement

April 28th, 2020

Doug Siemens

No commencement in Bethel College’s history has ever looked like the 127th will.

Ninety-nine seniors are scheduled to take part in virtual commencement exercises necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent local and state prohibitions on large gatherings.

The various pieces of the commencement ceremony will be recorded on film in advance and air at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 17, when commencement was to have taken place in Bethel’s Thresher Stadium.

By vote of the Class of 2020, the speaker is Doug Siemens, Ed.D., Bethel associate professor of education and director of the elementary teacher education program.

His address is titled “This is not happening.”

“[That] is what I thought when [President Gering] called me and said the senior class had chosen me to be the commencement speaker,” Siemens said. “Also, most of these graduates were in preschool at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and now here we are in a pandemic.

“‘This is not happening’ is also something most people encounter in their college experience: a bad grade, a break-up with your significant other, losing a close game.

“Even though we experience loss or failure, we don’t lose our education. The memories and experiences these students have had and what they have learned in their classes will be carried with them no matter what happens.”

Siemens said he’ll focus on “the 3 H’s – hope, humility and happiness – and the idea that tragedy is unfinished comedy and [vice versa].”

Siemens is a 1984 Bethel graduate in English and history. He earned an M.A. in special education from the University of New Mexico and his doctorate in educational leadership from Wichita State University.

He has taught at Bethel in the education department since 2008.

Before that, he was a substitute teacher in the Kansas City metro and Denver metro school districts for 10 years; a remedial reading instructor in the Denver district; a language arts, yearbook and journalism teacher and coach at Buena Vista (Colo.) High School for four years; and a middle school and high school teacher in a variety of subjects, including special education, in three New Mexico schools, 1994-2000.

In 2000, Siemens returned to Buena Vista High School for five years, and from 2005-2008, he taught special education at Newton High School.

The commencement program will begin with music by the Thresher Brass Quintet, made up of alumni musicians.

President Jon C. Gering, Ph.D., will introduce the ceremony and later confer the degrees after the graduates are presented by Robert Milliman, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty.

Student chaplains and graduating seniors Madison Roth, Abilene, Kan., and Luke Unruh, Goessel, Kan., will give the invocation and benediction, respectively.

There will be two short reflections by graduating seniors as part of the program – which would normally have been included in the baccalaureate service in the morning.

Akiyaa Hagen-Depusoir, Salina, Kan., will give her reflection in the form of an original poem. Jalal Gondal, Lahore, Pakistan, and Noble, Okla., will give the second reflection.

The 99 graduates will have 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 will have been instructed on how to record a short video (under 30 seconds) introducing themselves.

Members of the commencement planning sub-committee are graduating senior Luke Unruh, senior class representative, Rosa Barrera, assistant to the president, Grant Bellar, technical support, Taylor Brown, Institutional Communications multimedia coordinator, Peter Goerzen, campus pastor, Marcia Miller, registrar, Erin Myrtle, Institutional Communications design consultant, and Brad Schmidt, alumni relations.

The hope is for a special in-person celebration for graduates and families at Bethel’s Fall Festival in 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’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; 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 

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.