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Honor choices made and those to come, Bethel graduates told

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Hon. Kimberly J. Mueller, federal judge for the Eastern District of California, quoted from Robert Frost's “The Road Not Taken” as she addressed the 94 members of Bethel College’s Class of 2011 on May 22.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood … I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

She echoed the tone set in the morning baccalaureate worship service, based on words of Jeremiah 29, James 2 and William Jennings Bryan and centered on making choices.

The three student speakers in the service, all graduating seniors, touched on different ways their choices had led them to Bethel, shaped their college experiences and determined what they would take with them into the world.

“‘Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved,’” said Caleb Stephens, Lawrence. “I believe this quote was placed by God, scribed by William Jennings Bryan and spoken directly into my heart. [When I first arrived at Bethel], never, ever would I or anyone who knew me have imagined I would be asked to speak at baccalaureate. But I find that throughout my four years here, I have developed into someone people care about and trust.”

“‘For know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,’” Greg Shelly, Lenexa, said, quoting Jeremiah 29. “It isn’t a syllabus. I don’t know whether I need three primary sources or four. But God has a plan for hope and for the future for each of us. Sure, it’s scary, but it was a little scary when we got here, too. We survived, and our experiences from this place [in] how to live together in a community and work together will be with us. From here on, once again, we choose our destiny.”

“At Bethel, we’ve learned that community matters,” said Meredith Lehman, Bluffton, Ohio. “Belief in something matters. Joy and passion and fun matter. … those are the truths that will sustain us through whatever choices we make.”

A few hours later under sunny skies in Thresher Stadium, Mueller expanded on her topic of “Making All the Difference.”

Sworn in Dec. 21, 2010, Mueller is the first woman to be appointed federal judge for the Eastern District of California. She grew up in Grinnell, Iowa, although she was born in Newton and spent her earliest years in North Newton while her parents, Ted and Berneil Rupp Mueller, were finishing studies at Bethel College.

Mueller has her undergraduate degree in history of religions from Pomona (Calif.) College and her law degree from Stanford University.

As she was preparing to address the Class of 2011, Mueller said, she discovered she had some distant cousins in that class, including Cassie Miller of Vancouver, Wash., David and Jesse Mueller of Halstead, Kelly Reed of Edinburg, Texas, and Zach Frey of Goessel.

“I wondered what you are feeling today, graduating into these complex and challenging times,” she said, “so I’ve asked some of you directly.

“What I’ve heard from you is a mix of relief, excitement, nervousness and anticipation. You value the new independence you’ve gained through your time at Bethel. More than any book learning that’s been acquired, you value the relationships you’ve forged … Through personal interactions, you’ve developed skills, expanded horizons and enhanced values that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your lives.

“Your having invested yourself in this special place is its own reward, and you are now equipped to keep on reaping a full harvest,” she continued. “You can assure yourselves that you have graduated from one of the finest small colleges in the country. If you choose, with a Bethel education, you can make all the difference.

“With a Bethel degree in hand, you no doubt have more than just ‘two paths diverging in a yellow wood’ from which to choose. And your bags are well-packed. You have learned new things and made great, lifelong friends. … Whichever road you choose to take from here, years from now that choice, in Frost’s words, will have ‘made all the difference.’ And between now and then, you will be making all the difference the world asks of you and that you, in response, choose to make.”

Also as part of the 2011 commencement ceremonies, Brad Born, vice president for academic affairs, presented the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award to Lisa Janzen Scott, assistant professor of education and mathematics. The award goes to a faculty member that the academic dean’s office judges, based on both peer and student evaluations, to have made an outstanding contribution to teaching at Bethel College.

“In all her classes, students rate [Lisa] highly for facilitating student involvement and being available for individual help,” Born said. “Such affirmation shows that Lisa not only professes constructivist pedagogy, she practices it.”

Bethel President Perry D. White conferred 53 bachelor of arts and 41 bachelor of science degrees. The Class of 2011, Born said, comes from 14 states, with two students from Nepal. According to a survey of graduating seniors, “at least nine,” Born said, “will follow a long-standing Bethel tradition of entering voluntary service upon graduation.”

Anita Yoder Kehr, who recently moved to North Newton from Goshen, Ind., and the mother of Class of 2011 member Mayeken Kehr, gave the invocation while Caleb Regehr, another member of the Class of 2011, offered the benediction.

“I pray that today will be our commissioning to continue to seek, serve and grow as we have been taught to do here at Bethel,” Regehr said. “May we always continue to seek your face by serving those around us, and growing together as a community built on our faith in Christ.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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