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Challenges and failure build resilience, speaker tells graduates

May 17th, 2021

Graduates taking selfies

Given the unprecedented experience of the Class of 2021, it’s not surprising that “life’s challenges and choices” occupied much of the commencement speaker’s address.

Because of rainy weather, the May 16 ceremony took place inside Memorial Hall rather than in Thresher Stadium.

President Jon C. Gering set the stage in his welcome when he reflected on some of the luminaries – from Martin Luther King Jr. to lyric soprano Adele Addison to Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball – who had spoken or performed in Memorial Hall over the decades.

“After today, [this] history will certainly record the graduating class of 2021, not because of their profile, at least not yet, but because of their perseverance,” Gering said.

“For nearly 15 months, their education has been interrupted by the COVID-19 global pandemic. On their path to today, nothing was ordinary.

“They spent time in quarantine and isolation, attended lectures in their dorm rooms, had their performing arts events suspended, had their athletic seasons upended and extended, and had their social fabric torn apart. But here they are today, ready to graduate.

“Class of 2021, you have endured a generational challenge and persevered to overcome it. I am immensely proud of each of you.”

The speaker, chosen by the 75 members of the Class of 2021, was sitting among the graduating class herself just six years ago. Brooke Powers, Class of 2015, is now the assistant athletic trainer and clinical education coordinator at Bethel.

“As most of you know,” Powers said. “I tend to dish out tough love. I like to think this is part of your reason for selecting me to stand at this podium.

“I am here to be honest – I want you to know what you’re going up against. Throughout your life, you are going to be challenged, make tough decisions, change your mind a million times, and learn serve others. But all the while, you’re going to see the beauty of it.

“Life is complicated and more often than not, it knocks you to the ground. This is necessary on your journey to success. You’ll fail – multiple times.

“You can’t let the fear of failure, of making the wrong choice, control your decisions. Even if you make the so-called wrong choice, you’ll bounce back. I have failed more times than I can possibly count, and yet here I am, still standing.

“Embrace the change and take the risk. Challenges and failure help build resilient people, and the world needs [them].”

After speaking about meeting challenges, learning from failure, and being willing to change, adapt or even abandon goals, Powers finished with a focus on service to those around you.

“It is important to give back to the community that helped build and support you. As we all know, the world can be cruel and demoralizing.

“Be the kindness and joy this world needs.”

Powers concluded, “Through all of this – tough decisions, difficult challenges, changing your mind, and serving others – remember to stay positive. No one has the secret to life. We are all trying to figure it out, one day at a time.

“Remember to be thankful – for the grief, the joy, the love, the sadness, the failure, the success. All of them are the best parts of life, that make it worth living. Congratulations, graduates – life awaits you.”

In addition to the conferral of degrees and diplomas, the 128th commencement included the presentation of the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award.

It was given to David Long, professor of visual arts and design, in absentia – necessary because Long’s son was graduating from a graduate program on the same day.

Earlier in the day, graduating seniors and their families participated in the Baccalaureate worship service, which had the theme “Hope is the thing with feathers” from the poem of that title by Emily Dickinson.

Besides choral music from the two small a cappella groups Open Road and Woven and reading of Scripture from Lamentations in three languages (Spanish, English and Vietnamese) to reflect the class, two seniors shared briefly.

Kaylee VanderVeen, Arvada, Colo., noted, “Faith is a big part of this place, whether you see it or don’t see it. I know that my connection with God and my faith have grown stronger ever since I walked onto this campus.”

Alayna Wallace, McPherson, Kan., like Gering noted some of the extraordinary circumstances the Class of 2021 faced – from having to learn through new mediums, to watching political and social upheaval on a national scale while in pandemic lockdown, to caring for family while completing class assignments, to grieving the loss of “normal college life” in spring 2020, and of a classmate, Noah Larson, later in the year.

“As I look out and see a Bethel community filled with classmates, faculty, staff, family and friends during this special time in the presence of God,” Wallace said, “I am filled with hope.

“I’m filled with hope for the future, knowing that we have lamented together, grown stronger and can move forward. I am so very grateful to be a thresher in a community where hope prevails.”

The Baccalaureate service ended with an “altar-building,” in which members of the Class of 2021 were invited to come forward and lay a stone in the pile that composed the altar, and also take a stone to keep.

This ritual reflected Bethel’s foundational Scripture, “Other foundation can no one lay than that is laid which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:2).

Graduating senior Ahmed Fall, Staten Island, N.Y., told his classmates to “lay a stone to represent whatever it means to you – an experience at Bethel or something you look forward to in the future, what you are mourning or celebrating.

“The stone you take is a symbol of how God has worked, and will continue to work, in your lives as you go forward from Bethel.”

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 ranks at #14 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #26 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest, and earned its third-straight NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star Gold Award, based on student service and academic achievement, all for 2020-21; is’s highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates; has the #10 RN-to-BSN program in Kansas according to; and is #57 among 829 U.S. colleges and universities named by as “Best for Financial Aid,” as well as #23 “Safest College Towns in the U.S.,” ranked by for 2020-21. For more information, see 

Bethel College Class of 2021

Caleb Abbott, B.A., Music, Wichita

Chase Anderson, B.A., Natural Sciences, Topeka, Kan.

Jennifer Andres, B.A.**, Elementary Education, Newton

Jesse Balzer, B.S., Business Administration, Hurley, S.D.

Jayde Blain, B.A.**, Biology, Cawker City, Kan.

Cameron Bracknell, B.S., Social Work, Kerrville, Texas

Ivy Bringer, B.S.N., Nursing, Argonia, Kan.

Jace Brown, B.S., Business Administration, Andover, Kan.

Austin Cheatham, B.S., Business Administration, Newton

Alex Cochran, B.A., Psychology, Junction City, Kan.

Paige Collins, B.S.N., Nursing, Fittstown, Okla.

Kemroy Cupid, B.S., Business Administration, Sans Souci, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Lauryn Dwyer, B.A., Psychology, Olathe, Kan.

Zachary Esau, B.A.*, Natural Sciences/Education, Hesston, Kan.

Ahmed Fall, B.A.***, Biology, Staten Island, N.Y.

Lori Frybarger, B.S.N.***, Nursing, Munden, Kan.

Caleb Gaede, B.S.N.**, Nursing, Klamath Falls, Ore.

Tanner Galliart, B.S., Health and Physical Education, Pawnee Rock, Kan.

Scott Garriga, B.S., Business Administration, Dallas, Texas

Jacklyn Gerk, B.A.*, History/Education, Holyoke, Colo.

Jade Gleason, B.A.***, Biology, Brush, Colo.

Robert Graham IV, B.S., Business Administration, Longview, Texas

Kelly Habegger, B.A., English, Bogotá, Colombia

Christa Haesemeyer, B.S.N., Nursing, Lincoln, Kan.

Camryn Harrison, B.S., Health and Physical Education, Austin, Texas

Derrick Hudson, B.S., Social Work, Dallas, Texas

Samuel Ishimwe, B.S.*, Social Work, Wichita

Joshua Jackson, B.S., Social Work, Snyder, Okla.

Axel Jimenez, B.S., Business Administration, Caguas, Puerto Rico

Riley Johnson, B.S., Business Administration, Lebanon, Ore.

Samantha Karten, B.S.N., Nursing, Perry, Kan.

Addie Regier Kauffman, B.A.**, Elementary Education, Newton

Jeffrey Regier Kauffman, B.A.**, Mathematical Sciences/Education, Hutchinson, Kan.

Danen Kistner, B.A., Communication Arts, Hartford, Kan.

Adam Kroeker, B.A.***, Art/Education, Augusta, Kan.

Morgan Lantz, B.S., Business Administration, Elkhart, Ind.

Jessica LaRocque, B.A., English, Cawker City, Kan.

Krista Loomis, B.S., Business Administration, Walton, Kan.

Anna Lubbers, B.A.***, Mathematical Sciences/Education, Peabody, Kan.

Madeline McDaniel, B.S., Health and Physical Education, Louisburg, Kan.

Jordan Melugin-Abla, B.S.N., Nursing, Wichita

Cami Mills, B.S., Social Work, Wichita

Madeline Nachtigal, B.A.***, Natural Sciences, Lawrence, Kan.

Blake Neuschafer, B.S., Business Administration, Cimarron, Kan.

Emalee Overbay, B.S., Business Administration, Louisburg, Kan.

Landon Peery, B.A., Natural Sciences, Newton

Laura Pineda, B.S., Business Administration, Lyons, Kan.

Tierra Powell, B.S., Athletic Training, Wichita

Bethany Rafter, B.A., Psychology, Wichita

Jaylen Randle Sr., B.A., Communication Arts, Frederick, Okla.

Kadi Relph, B.S.N.**, Nursing, Salina, Kan.

Wynter Rentas, B.A., Biology, Manhattan, Kan.

Viviana Rodriguez, B.S., Social Work, San Antonio, Texas

Abigail Schmidt, B.S.***, Business Administration, Newton

Merrick Schmitz, B.S.N.*, Nursing, Wichita

Zachary Shima, B.A.***, Mathematical Sciences, Topeka, Kan.

Kayla Shirley, B.S., Business Administration, Newton

Angus Siemens, B.A., Social Work, Newton

Adam Sigwing, B.A., Biology, Halstead, Kan.

Sarah Smith, B.A., Elementary Education, Topeka, Kan.

Autumn Strecker, B.S.N.*, Nursing, Goessel, Kan.

Amondr’e Street, B.S., Social Work, DeSoto, Texas

Paula Thomas, B.S.N., Nursing, Overland Park, Kan.

Renee Thompson, B.S.N., Nursing, Wichita

Rebekah Tonn, B.S.N., Nursing, Newton

Kacie Torrens, B.S.**, Business Administration, Castle Rock, Colo.

Elizabeth Tran, B.S.N.**, Nursing, North Newton

Laura Tran, B.A.***, Chemistry, North Newton

Kaylee VanderVeen, B.A., Psychology, Arvada, Colo.

Alayna Wallace, B.A.***, Natural Sciences, Psychology, McPherson, Kan.

Payton Walters, B.S.N.*, Nursing, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Tristin Wheeler, B.S., Elementary Education, Newton

Mason Wilkins, B.S., Business Administration, Conroe, Texas

Briley Young, B.A.**, Social Work, Wichita, Kansas


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 G.P.A.

** = magna cum laude (with high honors), 3.650-3.799 G.P.A.

*** = summa cum laude (with highest honors), 3.800-4.0 G.P.A.

Mission Statement

Bethel College prepares students for meaningful lives of work and service through faith formation, the liberal arts, and practical experience in career pathways.