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"Class of 2013… Don't Ever Stop at Yourself"

"Class of 2013… Don't Ever Stop at Yourself"

Joel Edwall '13 gave the senior reflection during the 4 p.m. commencement ceremony on May 25.

A senior reflection presented by Joel Edwall during the 4 p.m. commencement ceremony on May 25 for the College of Arts & Sciences at Bethel University. Edwall graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Art in biology.

Good afternoon, graduates, family members, faculty and staff. I stand before you feeling honored, yet feeling unworthy of this honor.

I’d be lying if I were to tell you that preparing this speech was easy. It was incredibly challenging reflecting on what I had learned over the past four years; I have learned much. I entered my freshman year as an international student “fresh off the boat” from South Africa without any expectations of what Bethel may be like. It’s been four years of high highs, low lows, and experiences that have sculpted who I am today.

On the ninth of September 2009, two weeks into the fall semester of my freshman year, I wrote the following in my journal: “It’s hard to think that these strangers are going to be my friends for the next four years.” However, after four years with my fellow classmates, the words of Andy Bernard on the last episode of The Office describe my sentiments. Andy said; “I wish there was a way to know when you were in the good ‘ol days, before you’ve actually left them.” Graduates, these past four years have been the good ‘ol days. We have spent these years in a rare community that most never have the privilege of experiencing.

As you can imagine, South Africa is a slightly different place than the United States. I grew up in George, a city nestled between the Indian Ocean and the Outeniqua Mountains. In George, we have something called “Outeniqua Rust.” Essentially this phenomenon means that if you’re told something will happen on Monday, it won’t actually happen on Monday. It’ll happen by Friday. And for those of you know me, this comes as no surprise. While I still may be late to the occasional commitment, I have made great strides in this area of my life.

However, besides time management, I have also been:

  • Taught how to learn
  • Conditioned to work hard  
  • Taught to finish what I start,
  • Challenged in my faith,

and the list goes on. We have all grown as people in ways we will only continue to realize after we have left Bethel. But we shouldn’t let those things stop here.

We are now all university graduates. According to the New York Times in 2012, only 30% of Americans have bachelor’s degrees, and according to the Huffington Post in 2010, only 6.7% of the world has any kind of “college degree.” During those late nights, early mornings and sleep deprived stupors, we probably didn’t appreciate the value of this education we have earned. The truth is that these degrees we have spent the last four years working towards do grant us privileges that we might never understand. Now, I am incredibly grateful for my Bethel education, but I can’t help wondering what it’s all for.

As a purpose driven person, I struggle to perform tasks or to do things if I see them as meaningless. While we have been sculpted and developed as Bethel students, I must ask the question: “What’s the point?” What’s the point of furthering ourselves as learners, achievers, hard-workers, and professionals? We will leave here, looking for the next milestone – whether it be a job, graduate school, or getting married – but the question remains: what is the purpose? The answer is simple. Nothing. Pursuing anything without the Gospel at the center of it all is meaningless. Trust me, I know. One of the biggest things I have learned during my time at Bethel is just that. God wants us to achieve, to pursue things with purpose, but not for ourselves.

Something I have learned during the past four years in abundance is how selfish I am. I struggle to serve, to step outside of myself for someone else’s sake. Thankfully, the Gospel has allowed me to step outside of myself and to see the world and what it needs. It needs us. What I’m saying is that as Christ has called us to use what we have for others. What the world needs from us is for us to be selfless – to give up what we may feel entitled to and what we have earned for the benefit of others.

So, Class of 2013, Congratulations.

Don’t stop learning

Don’t stop seeking

Don’t stop growing

Don’t stop being idealists

Don’t stop fighting for what’s just

But, most importantly, don’t ever stop at yourself.

Thank you.