“You Have Persevered”

During second-ever online commencement ceremonies, Bethel leaders commend 256 winter graduates for their perseverance in working hard to earn their degrees and overcoming the challenges of 2020.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

December 21, 2020 | 10 a.m.

President Ross Allen ’84

President Ross Allen ’84 speaks during Bethel’s virtual winter commencement ceremonies. It was Allen’s first commencement as the university’s sixth president. “While I wish I could congratulate you in person, I am grateful for the unexpected challenges that you have persevered,” he told the graduates.

Ross Allen ’84 wasn’t able to greet the most recent classes of graduates on the stage of Benson Great Hall during his first commencement as Bethel University’s sixth president. But as Bethel celebrated the graduates’ hard work and accomplishments, Allen told the students that they deserved special recognition for graduating during an unprecedented time. “You have persevered in spite of global challenges beyond our imagination,” he said. “You have fulfilled Bethel’s mission in spite of these challenges. Congratulations on your achievement, congratulations on your perseverance, and congratulations on preparing yourself for the unexpected challenges that will undoubtedly come before you. You have prepared like no other generation before you.”

Perseverance was a theme as Bethel held commencement ceremonies online for the second time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a ceremony for the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), 101 students earned degrees, while 155 students commenced in a second online ceremony for the Graduate School and the College of Adult & Professional Studies (CAPS). Along with spring’s virtual commencements, nearly 1,000 students graduated from Bethel’s four schools in 2020.

“I want to remind you that you have been prepared like no other generation. This is what you were made for. You’ve been mentored by great faculty and journeyed with good friends.”

— President Ross Allen ‘84
Provost Deb Harless

Provost Deb Harless participated in her final commencement before her retirement. Before serving as provost, Harless was a psychology professor and dean during her 32 years at Bethel.

Like the spring celebrations, the winter ceremonies opened with a countdown slideshow featuring written reflections by graduates. “Although this has been a challenging time for seniors in college, I am extremely proud of all of us for persevering and finishing our time at Bethel strong,” wrote Margaret Wetterstrom ’20, who earned an undergraduate B.A. in Business. “The community created at Bethel was amazing, and I am excited for all that we are going to accomplish after graduation!”

After an introductory video, the online event progressed much like a traditional commencement. “Today is a special day of celebration,” Allen said. “We recognize the hard work and perseverance you have invested to get here. We also reflect on the moments that inspired and challenged you along the way.” Allen also recognized Deb Harless, who participated in her final commencement before she retires after 32 years at Bethel as a psychology professor, dean, and—most recently—provost. “Deb’s work at Bethel has made a remarkable difference, and we are profoundly grateful for her contribution,” Allen said.

During the commencement message, the Rev. Rufus Smith of Hope Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Memphis, Tennessee—Allen’s former congregation—spoke of how Jesus told his followers they are the salt of the earth. He poured salt into a glass of water, noting that the water looks the same, “But there is no question that it has changed the taste of the water in the glass,” he said. “Though it’s invisible, it is very influential. And so it is with Jesus’ followers. Sometimes, He calls for us to be low-key, invisible like this salt. Other times, He calls for us to live out loud, like being the light of the world.”
Winter Commencement

For the second time this year, Bethel held its commencement ceremonies online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each ceremony featured reflections from a graduate and a professor. Esa Hytti CAPS’20, who earned a B.A. in Christian Ministries, recalled the strong relationships he formed with his professors. “They were acquaintances, people that I genuinely know rather than just an authority figure giving me knowledge,” he said. Similarly, CAS graduate Katie Sourbeck ’20 remembered how Bethel faculty genuinely care about their students and their success. “Faculty here are willing to help with anything, from school work to post-graduation plans, and also faith, which is really meaningful,” said Sourbeck, who earned a B.A. in Business and Political Science.

Professor of History Christopher Gehrz urged Bethel’s most recent graduates to be mindful of the responsibilities that come with their degrees—and all the hard work it’s taken. But he also encouraged them to keep learning and growing. “This is an enormous privilege,” he said. “And you don’t deserve it any more than anyone else does, but you’ve worked hard at it, and it’s going to carry a responsibility moving forward—to yourself, to others, and to God. So this is not just the end of seeking truth and wisdom—it’s the beginning of it. It’s not the end of seeking justice—it’s the beginning of it.”

CAPS Teaching Partner Al Prentice commended the CAPS and Graduate School graduates for their focus and drive to finish their degrees, and he also recognized them for their perseverance. “These adults are carrying a big load, a full plate—family, work, finances, children, all kinds of things,” he said. “And I saw in them a focus on the task of their learning and then a perseverance to go through the ups and downs of the journey to get to their degrees.”

Prentice closed his reflection by reading Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

“Learning to number our days, that each day is important. Each day is precious. Don’t miss it. Give yourself—through faith—to the calling that the Lord has for you,” he said. “And so, learn to number your days. Don’t take anything for granted. And we just pray the Lord’s blessing on you as you journey on.”

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