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Speaker points graduates to the ‘web of connections’ through college and moving forward

May 16th, 2023

Christina Marr and her son Eli after commencement May 14, 2023

When Mark Jantzen, professor of history, titled his commencement address “This is a historical event,” he probably wasn’t referring to the weather.

Led by faculty, the graduating class usually processes around the Green in the center of campus to enter Memorial Hall for commencement ceremonies.

On this day, the volume of rain falling stopped that – but after a year of historically low rainfall in the Central Plains, few were complaining.

The 99 members of the Class of 2023, along with family and friends, gathered May 14 on the Bethel campus to worship together in the morning Baccalaureate service, followed by commencement in the afternoon.

Jantzen explained, early in his address, that “historical” was not a reference (as some had wondered upon reading his title) to “the shock of one or the other graduate actually making it.

“Rather,” he said, “we know we are at a historical event because of how similar events have been celebrated and remembered in the past.”

These events take on the designation, he said, because of “the confluence of three aspects …: individuals deemed worthy of recognition; a community that gathers at a time and place set apart from daily life to commemorate these [individuals]; and a set of shared values that have created this community.”

He asked the graduates to imagine “shimmering in the air in front of us, invisible threads that connect our graduates, our community and our values.

“What a colossal and magnificent web you have cast during your time here at Bethel,” he said – a web formed from a myriad of shared experiences among students, as well as countless ways they connected to faculty, staff, family and the wider community. “Is that not historic?”

He went on, “Your success is personal and hard won, but we all know you could have never done it alone. None of us could. Our success of education depends on that web of connections.”

Jantzen then briefly considered the history of some key Bethel values. One is “encoded on the diploma, the embossed seal with I Corinthians 3:11,” which also appears on the Bethel cornerstone, laid Oct. 12, 1888.

This was the favorite verse of Menno Simons. Later, descendants of the first Mennonites moved to what is now Ukraine and then to central Kansas, where some of them founded Bethel College.

“The web of connection stretches back to eastern Europe, to the same place where war rages today,” Jantzen said, “and to the Reformation in western Europe, and to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

“We mark this day as a historical event because you are worthy individuals who have been a foundational part of our community, now released to transplant Bethel values into a waiting and needy world.

“As history turns in this very hour on this day, go forth with the blessings of God. Let the journey now commence.”

Another feature of the 2023 Bethel commencement was presentation of the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award to Jennifer Chappell-Deckert, associate professor of social work.

In the citation, Robert Milliman, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, noted, “Dr. Chappell-Deckert not only cares about the course content she is teaching but also the health and welfare of her students.”

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 #24 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of “Best Regional Colleges Midwest,” both for 2022-23. Bethel is the only Kansas college or university to be named a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. For more information, see

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