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Bethel Commencement 2017

The first class in the Bethel University Inclusive Learning and Development (BUILD) program graduated with an Applied Studies Certificate on May 27.

Nearly 900 students graduated from Bethel University this spring, but it was an especially proud moment for a special group of eight graduates. At one time, many of them and their families didn’t even think college was possible. But on May 27, they graduated with an Applied Studies Certificate from the Bethel University Inclusive Learning and Development (BUILD) program—Bethel’s two-year postsecondary program for students with intellectual disabilities. This is the first class of students in this program, the only one of its kind at a four-year residential college in Minnesota. (Read more about the graduating BUILD class in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.)

The 898 spring graduates from Bethel University also tip Bethel’s number of alumni over the 50,000 mark. “It is incredible to ponder all the ways God has blessed Bethel University,” says Jim Bender, director of alumni and family relations. “Founder John Alexis Edgren’s vision to train men and women to go into the world and serve is just as true today as it was back in 1871.”

On May 27, Bethel held three commencement ceremonies for traditional undergraduate students in the College of Arts & Sciences and one for Bethel Seminary St. Paul; on May 28, there were two ceremonies for the College of Adult & Professional Studies and Graduate School. Bethel Seminary San Diego celebrates commencement on June 3 in San Diego with Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, giving the commencement address. Tod Bolsinger, vice president for vocation and formation at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, gave the address for Bethel Seminary St. Paul.

Alumnus of the Year 2016 Chad Schwitters ’95 gave the commencement address at the undergraduate and graduate ceremonies. “Commencement means starting and launching on one’s next journey,” he said. “And this place, Bethel University, provided such a launching place for me.”

Schwitters works as the executive director of Urban Homeworks in Minneapolis. During his address he recounted a recent story about his family—including his wife, Sheila Schwitters ’95, his 14-year-old son, and 12-year-old twins—hiking in northern Minnesota. He and his older son wanted to see how fast they could complete the 15-mile hike, while his daughter went much more slowly and stopped to take in as much of the scenery as she could. “I was reflecting how we, the same family on the same trail, handled it so differently… But we needed each other to complete our experience on the trail,” he said. “Difference is not deficiency.”

He titled his address “The Bethel Effect: Ill-adjusted,” which he said was inspired by a quote from American philosopher and Harvard University professor Cornell West: “It takes courage to ask, ‘How did I become so well-adjusted to injustice?’”

Schwitters said the “Bethel Effect” helped him become ill-adjusted to injustice, and he hoped Bethel has the same profound influence on this graduating class. He ended by quoting Bishop Desmond Tutu: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” 

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