Winter Graduates Embrace Season of Gratitude

Bethel celebrated nearly 300 new graduates from the College of Arts & Sciences, College of Adult & Professional Studies, and Graduate School this weekend at two commencement ceremonies on campus. The graduates reflected on what it took to reach the milestones and their gratitude for all who helped along the way.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

December 21, 2021 | 3:45 p.m.

President Ross Allen '84 congratulates the newest Bethel graduates during the Winter 2021 commencement ceremonies on December 17.

As she stood on the Benson Great Hall stage, Tu Lor Eh Paw '21 spoke about gratitude. “It is because of the work of many people that I am able to stand before you today,” she said. Those people include President Emeritus Jay Barnes and others involved in helping Bethel launch Act Six, a full-tuition, full-need leadership and scholarship program that prepares and empowers emerging urban leaders, in 2014. It includes her professors and her counselor. She is grateful to her father, who left the life he knew in a small village in Burma—now Myanmar—to give his children a better future. And she is grateful to God. “It was through the power of God that my family is here with me today, cheering me on as the first kid to graduate from a four-year university,” she said.

Paw was one of the speakers at Bethel’s two winter commencement ceremonies held in Benson on December 17—one for the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) and one for the College of Adult & Professional Studies (CAPS) and Graduate School. Paw was one of 97 College of Arts & Sciences students to graduate and was one of three Act Six scholars to graduate this winter. In a second ceremony, 82 students graduated from the College of Adult & Professional Studies and 117 from the Graduate School.

Paw is Karen, an ethnic minority group from east Myanmar. She didn’t attend an organized school until she moved to Minnesota on March 9, 2011. She didn’t then think she would graduate from an American university, but several people helped her along her journey. She encouraged her fellow graduates to step out of their comfort zone and get to know someone different from them. “Whatever your calling is, make sure to stick to your goal and do not forget about your core values,” she told her fellow graduates. “Most importantly, do not forget about God’s grace and the people that help you throughout. Do not be afraid to express your gratitude.” Paw, who earned a business marketing degree, hopes to work with youth and to work with small businesses. Her long-term goal is to establish a school in the village where she grew up.

Tu Lor Eh Paw '21

Tu Lor Eh Paw '21 speaks at the winter commencement ceremony for the College of Arts & Sciences.

“Whatever your calling is, make sure to stick to your goal and do not forget about your core values,” she told her fellow graduates. “Most importantly, do not forget about God’s grace and the people that help you throughout. Do not be afraid to express your gratitude.”

— Tu Lor Eh Paw '21

During the ceremony for CAPS and graduate students, Amanda Schuck CAPS’21 also expressed gratitude for those who helped her overcome doubt and challenges to earn a college degree, even if it was later than she once expected. “At 38 years old I am proud to say I have earned my college degree, and I am proud of each graduate here tonight on your own achievement and investment to your life and future,” said Shuck, who earned a B.S. in Organizational Leadership. “Our hard work, commitment, and sacrifice have finally paid off. Not to mention our resilience during a global pandemic.” Growing up, Schuck expected to attend college, but she wasn’t committed to school as a teenager and instead started working, got married, and grew her family. Once her kids were in school, she considered going back to college but was afraid to take the next step. It took encouragement and a leap of faith to pursue that goal. At Bethel, she found a community that believed in her and helped her overcome the uncertainties and struggles that come with earning a degree. But slowly, confidence and certainty replaced her doubt. “Thank you for walking this journey with me and pushing me out of my comfort zone to reach my goals,” she said. “Bethel has provided us with the steppingstones to follow our dreams.”

Similarly, Stan Thompson GS’21 reflected on completing the Master of Business Administration program while working two jobs and having a family. Though it took him a bit longer than he expected, he was thankful for how the program’s flexibility allowed him to adjust to meet his and his family’s needs. And he recalled several times when he or his classmates’ classroom lessons covered in class often addressed things coming up in their professional lives. “Which I believe is evidence of a well-designed program, but also one of many ways that God provides what we need and just at the right time,” he said. Thompson shared about the challenges posed by COVID-19 during the past few years, which affected his family, his work, and his church life. But he said the MBA program’s self-reflection work helped him identify his core purpose of being a “Strategic People Developer,” while also helping him improve and how to better support those around him. “Things have been anything but perfect, but there has been so much goodness amidst the mess,” he said.

Thompson shared that a coworker once said that once you earn the letters after your name—like MBA—no one can take them away. While they are part of your identity, he told his fellow graduates to remember everyone also has an eternal identity in Jesus Christ. For those unsure about their next steps, he encouraged them to pray until it becomes clear. “If you’ve found the purpose that God has for you, pursue it hard,” he says. “Bring your loved ones along on the adventure. Go for it. You’ve got this and God’s got you. Go!”

Carston Krieg '21, who earned an undergraduate neuroscience degree, urged his fellow graduates to remember a simple message: God cares. “He cared enough to give up everything for you,” he said. “He is always going to be there for you, even when you feel completely alone. He is good, He loves you, and He is worth worshipping, always. He has a plan for you. He is proud of you. He has enabled you with extraordinary gifts; be confident in those gifts.”

“If you’ve found the purpose that God has for you, pursue it hard,” he says. “Bring your loved ones along on the adventure. Go for it. You’ve got this and God’s got you. Go!”

— Stan Thompson GS’21

In his invocation in the ceremony for the College of Adult & Professional Studies and Graduate School, Professor of Psychology Joel Frederickson, who also serves as an associate dean, urged graduates to focus on fostering strong relationships. “Make sure you carve out time to express your gratitude to those who helped you along the way,” he said. “Vow to cultivate and strengthen your relationships in the new year. Maybe even try to mend that broken relationship in your life. Reconciliation is powerful. In this season we know that because we celebrate God’s gift of reconciliation to us in the form of his son.”

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