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From Prince to kids' books, commencement speaker finds lessons everywhere

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Aaron Austin has lived long enough to discover there is something to be learned just about everywhere.

Appropriately, he’s calling his address for Bethel College’s 124th commencement on May 21 “Lessons from Everywhere.”

Austin has been Bethel vice president for student life since 2012.

“I have picked up lessons from a variety of sources,” Austin said, “from song lyrics to conversations. I want to share a few of those.

“I find things that apply to life from many perspectives,” he continued, “whether that’s Prince, the children’s book Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the Bible or something [a co-worker] said.”

A native of Garden City, Austin earned his undergraduate degree from Kansas State University in music education with a minor in American ethnic studies. He completed a master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education at Arizona State University in Tempe.

This spring, Austin successfully defended his dissertation, “An Exploration of Black Male Achievement Utilizing an Anti-Deficit Framework,” and earned an Ed.D. from Texas Tech University, Lubbock.

He has held professional positions at K-State, Arizona State, University of California-San Diego and Texas Tech, and has experience ranging from fraternity advising to multicultural student recruitment to helping coordinate and facilitate student conduct boards.

Austin lives in Newton with his wife, Carey Austin, and their young daughter.

The 2017 Bethel graduation ceremonies begin with the baccalaureate service May 21 at 10 a.m. in Bethel College Mennonite Church. The formal commencement starts just before 4 p.m. with the traditional Walk Around the Green.

Commencement takes place in Thresher Stadium, or in Memorial Hall in case of inclement weather.

Both baccalaureate and commencement are open to the public.

Baccalaureate pre-service music features three members of the Class of 2017: Grace Bradfield, Tonganoxie, violin; Matthew Graber, Freeman, South Dakota, piano; and Andrew Thiesen, Newton, trombone.

Other music, during the service, is by the Bethel College Concert Choir directed by Professor of Music William Eash, and by Karen Bauman Schlabaugh, professor of music, on organ.

This year’s baccalaureate theme is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Reflections will be offered by graduating seniors Austin Mitchell, Plano, Texas, Morgan Schrock, Hesston, and Andrew Thiesen, along with his parents, Barbara and John Thiesen, both Bethel graduates, who each serve as a co-director of libraries at Bethel College. John Thiesen is the director and archivist of the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel.

The service will conclude with the traditional blessing for and candlelighting by seniors.

Members of the baccalaureate planning committee are graduating seniors Grace Bradfield (senior class representative), Santiago Aragon, Matthew Graber, Hailey Heide, Austin Mitchell and Bethel campus pastor Peter Goerzen.

The commencement program begins at 4 p.m. with music by the Epic Brass Quintet.

Goerzen will give the invocation and Bradfield will offer the benediction. There will also be a presentation of the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award.

Other Commencement Weekend events open to the public are the Senior Art Exhibit, including a reception in the Regier Art Gallery area, May 19 from 7-9 p.m., and featuring work by Kate Fry, Milford, Nebraska; and the nurses’ pinning ceremony and reception, May 20 at 2 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium. Both events take place in Luyken Fine Arts Center.

The Regier Gallery, as well as Thresher Shop and Mojo’s Coffee in Schultz Student Center, will be open extra hours during the weekend (gallery: 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Saturday; Thresher Shop: 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday, noon-2 p.m. Sunday; Mojo’s: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday). Kauffman Museum invites everyone to the current special exhibit, “Memory Matters: Works by Gesine Janzen,” Saturday and Sunday, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2016–17 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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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.