“Wow!” Bethel’s Newest Grads Thrilled to Celebrate Together

For the first time since 2019, Bethel held in-person ceremonies to celebrate nearly 800 graduates. “You have persevered in the midst of unprecedented global challenges, and you have reached the finish line with refined character, strengthened endurance, clarity of purpose,” President Ross Allen told the graduates.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

May 24, 2021 | 2:30 p.m.

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Commencement 2021

Images from spring commencement

Lauren Wieber ’21 had one word to describe the emotions in Benson Great Hall during Bethel University’s commencement ceremonies. “Wow!” Wieber, an international relations major, said opening her student address. “It feels so good to be here, to have family, friends, and visitors here supporting us, to celebrate our determined persistence, our achievements, and our new addictions to caffeine—whatever the form. I know I already said it, but wow. Maybe you are feeling kind of in awe of this moment too.”

On May 21-23, for the first time since 2019, Bethel held in-person commencement ceremonies. After online commencement celebrations last May and December due to COVID-19, graduates were thrilled to have in-person ceremonies and be able to celebrate with faculty and guests. Bethel President Ross Allen noted the graduates deserved “special recognition,” acknowledging the hardships of the last few years.

“Unlike any other generation before you, you have persevered in the midst of unprecedented global challenges, and you have reached the finish line with refined character, strengthened endurance, clarity of purpose."

— President Ross Allen

It took much work and ingenuity by staff and faculty to be able to hold in-person ceremonies—the strong preference of graduates and their families. “Crossing the stage in a cap and gown is really important,” says Manager of Conference and Event Services Jan Jessup. “Because of that feedback, we wanted this spring’s graduates to have a cross-the-stage experience even though we knew that an in-person ceremony would look quite different from a normal ceremony.” Teams measured and remeasured in Benson Great Hall to determine occupancy options that still accommodated social distancing. Organizers spread out the commencement festivities across 13 ceremonies—nine for the College of Arts & Sciences, two for the Graduate School and College of Adult & Professional Studies, and two for Bethel Seminary—which is double the number of ceremonies held in spring 2019. This allowed each student to invite four guests, who sat in socially distanced pods.

Though Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz lifted the statewide mask mandate on May 14, Bethel still required guests and graduates to wear face coverings indoors during commencement ceremonies. With more than 4,000 guests on campus over the weekend, Bethel was committed to providing a safe and comfortable experience to all graduates and guests. “We are especially mindful of those who have not yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated, are in medically vulnerable groups, or do not feel comfortable without a face covering,” Bethel Director of COVID-19 Operations Kristi Moline wrote in a community email. Teams disinfected seats between ceremonies, and hand sanitizer and disposable face coverings were available for guests. Graduates were able to remove their face covering as they walked across the stage to receive their diploma, but they were asked to put it back on as they left the stage. After the ceremonies, graduates and guests celebrated and took photos outside, where face coverings were not required.

Spring 2021 commencement

Spring 2021 commencement, by the numbers.

Bethel’s spring commencement ceremonies featured 488 students from the College of Arts & Sciences, including 11 students in the BUILD program. There were 141 graduates from the Graduate School, 52 from the College of Adult & Professional Studies, and 117 from Bethel Seminary. Due to COVID-19 measures and the time restraints of added ceremonies, students did not commence to “Pomp and Circumstance” and there were no keynote speakers. However, a student gave an address during each ceremony. “I want each of you to teach your patients, to love them, to share a part of yourself to better the relationship, but also better each other,” Tristan Utech ’21 told his fellow nursing majors. “That is how this world is going to grow and how you are going to shape it to be a better place.”

Shatera Thorson S’21, who earned an M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy, told her fellow seminary graduates that on top of the pandemic, political division, and racial unrest, each had a personal story tied to their graduation. Her own included health challenges in her family, times when she questioned her calling, and admittedly, moments of procrastination. She shared a story about working on a final paper the night before it was due while her 2-year-old wouldn’t nap and she had to bounce her 6-month-old in a baby carrier. “Through it all, though, I do believe that God will use each one of your journeys, however they’ve looked, to build His diverse and beautiful kingdom,” she said. “Whether you’ve been prepared to preach, teach, or invest in the lives of others, we each provide our own unique contribution.”

Isaiah Hobus ’21, a biblical and theological studies major, spoke of how the teaching of Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies Bernon Lee, who is a fellow Asian, inspired his faith to speak to his cultural identity. “It led me to write my senior thesis on finding the Asianness of Jesus Christ,” Hobus said. “I saw Jesus Christ offering wholeness to and discipleship in the Asian American diaspora.” Jessica Eveland ’21, who majored in business, shared personal stories about how she found community at Bethel after the death of a close friend and mentor. “Thank you for investing in me, for investing in each other,” Eveland said. “I thank God for the four years I was able to spend with you. And on those really hard days, thank you to the dining center for serving mac ’n’ cheese.”

Bethel Commencement 2021

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