Graduates Reflect on God’s Presence in Moments Big and Small

As Bethel’s class of 2022 prepares for the next steps of their journeys, graduates reflected on the growth and support they’ve felt in Bethel’s supportive community.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

May 24, 2022 | 10 a.m.

Bethel graduates

Bethel graduates embrace outside Benson Great Hall during Bethel’s 2022 commencement ceremonies on campus.

Last year with art projects and assignments piling up, art major Eleanor Carlson ’22 took a walk at Tony Schmidt Regional Park. It was in the middle of the pandemic. And she was in desperate need of inspiration. She hoped to stumble on a genius, original idea, but she only found dead leaves and branches—and it turns out, an important lesson. “Yet what God taught me through these humble, seemingly insignificant objects opened my eyes to see God’s beauty and presence in even the small corners of creation around me,” she said.

Carlson shared this story during a reflection at one of five commencement ceremonies in Benson Great Hall over the weekend. She was one of more than 700 students to graduate from Bethel University—429 from the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), 78 from the College of Adult & Professional Studies (CAPS), 122 from the Graduate School, and 86 from the Seminary. As graduates spoke at each of five ceremonies, many, like Carlson, reflected on finding God in good and challenging times during their time at Bethel—and how that base in Christ is preparing them for their futures.

As Carlson looked back at how professors have helped students learn, experience the world, and find fresh ideas, she urged others to be mindful of what they focus on in a society with many voices vying for attention. She encouraged her fellow graduates to find joy by choosing to see God’s beauty—even in the seemingly mundane. “Whether you have a fancy corporate job, or are a starving artist, that joy is always available to us,” she said. “That is the grace and the gift that can be had when we open our eyes. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.”

Bethel commencement

Most universities lead academic processionals with a ceremonial mace—a symbol of authority and leadership used for centuries. But to celebrate its 150th anniversary, Bethel University added commencement symbols that better reflect the university’s spirit and history. Associate Professor of Art and Design Heather Bren, who is a ceramicist, and students Bella Williams ‘22, and Brenna Martin ’22 created a foot-washing bowl and pitcher as a visual representation of God's calling to each person in the processionals to follow our Lord's example of authority lived out in servanthood.

For Christian Thao S’22, one idea from his time at Bethel Seminary stood out above all else: chasing after the heart of God. During his address at the Seminary ceremony, Thao reflected on how he took a semester off after a challenging time in his life. It proved a great decision. When he returned to his studies, he started to fall in love with Jesus again. He realized he had been reading Scripture only with his head and was missing the intimacy that is born of reading Scripture with his heart. “I was lost, but through the guidance of family, friends, and Bethel professors—I’m found again,” said Thao, who earned a Master of Divinity. “I’ve found the passion and desire that I once had when I was a 16-year-old teenager deciding to give my entire life to Jesus by becoming a pastor.”

In her speech, Amber O’Brien ’22 fondly looked back over her college journey, knowing God brought her to Bethel—even though it wasn’t always a straight line. She changed her area of study to earn degrees in neuroscience and psychology. As she learned how to use her gifts, she was struck by how professors incorporated God into science and approached the world through a unique lens focused on loving Jesus. “Bethel was one of the first places I learned that I could live a godly life, developing my gifts with culture, not despite culture. I saw this both in small and big ways,” she said. Similarly, Laura Kozamchak S’22 reflected on the richness of the education she received in Bethel Seminary’s Master of Divinity program. “Standing here as a graduate, about to enter the vocation of pastoral ministry within a senior living community, I can truly say my seminary journey has both clarified my sense of call and equipped me professionally for my vocation,” she said.

“I was lost, but through the guidance of family, friends, and Bethel professors—I’m found again. I’ve found the passion and desire that I once had when I was a 16-year-old teenager deciding to give my entire life to Jesus by becoming a pastor.”

— Christian Thao S'22, Master of Divinity
Bethel Seminary’s 2022 graduates gathered together to celebrate in Benson Great Hall on Saturday, May 21.

Bethel Seminary’s 2022 graduates gathered together to celebrate in Benson Great Hall on Saturday, May 21.

In the CAPS ceremony, Brad Ingram CAPS’22 spoke of how he was told college probably wasn’t for him after he was diagnosed with a learning disability in high school. Later, he felt called to pursue a degree, but then a program he was about to start at another school was discontinued. But then he connected with Bethel’s B.A. in Special Education program. “I discovered how God’s timing is perfect, and I just needed to trust Him,” Ingram says. He also advocated for educators as many are feeling burnout after years of upheaval and challenges stemming from the pandemic.

While commencement ceremonies were held in person and many COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted across the country, the pandemic fell in the middle of these graduates’ time at Bethel. And the speakers reflected on how it affected their educational journeys. In the ceremony for Bethel Graduate School, Olubola Salabiu GS’22 admitted she’s struggled to catch her breath since 2019. As she reflected on balancing her family, schooling, and career during the pandemic, she urged her fellow graduates to live to the fullest. “Every day, we all have the opportunity to restart and not be negative about things around us, such as families and friends and be grateful for life’s gift of taking on unfinished tasks with support,” said Salabiu, who earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

Elaina Cox ’22, who earned a B.S.N. in Nursing, spoke of how God remains faithful even during the most challenging times. Over the last few years, many “what ifs?” became realities, but she saw God continuing to work in miraculous ways. For many, the pandemic was that “what if.” For Cox, it was a loss in her family. On September 20, 2021, her sister, Callie, died. Callie was born with Trisomy 18, a chromosome disorder that meant she was unable to talk or walk. But she surpassed expectations by living to age 26. Callie loved well and welcomed family and friends with a dear embrace. “She showed others the love of Christ without speaking a single word,” Cox recalled.

While it was challenging to return to Bethel after her sister’s funeral, Cox found support at her home away from home. She reflected on a particularly hard nursing course where they witnessed an end-of-life simulation, which brought her to tears as she thought of her sister. But her professor and classmates comforted her. “The love I felt was a prime example of the beauty found in community and the Lord’s love and faithfulness,” she said. That was just one example of the support she received across campus. “I leave Bethel with a heart grateful for this community I have become a part of,” she said.



Graduates from the Bethel baseball and softball teams

Graduates who are also part of the Bethel baseball and softball teams graduated during a special celebration last week because both teams played in out-of-state tournaments over the weekend when official commencement ceremonies were held.

A Home Run of a Celebration

Seniors on Bethel's baseball and softball teams didn't have to choose between celebrating commencement and competing in some of their final collegiate games.

Campus leaders, including President Ross Allen, held a special event in the Robertson Center gym last week to celebrate the 21 student-athletes who missed their graduations for tournaments across the country.

The Bethel softball and baseball teams both competed in regional play over the weekend to complete their historic seasons. Coming off a strong regional run and two come-from-behind victories, the softball team reached the NCAA Division III Championships Super Regionals in Mount Berry, Georgia. The baseball team played in the NCAA Division III Championships in St. Louis following a sweep of the MIAC regular season and playoff title.

Bethel commencement celebrations

Friends and family cheer on 2022 graduates from the Bethel baseball and softball teams at a special celebration last week.

By the Numbers: 2022 Graduates

College of Arts & Sciences

  • 429 commencing
  • 13 BUILD program graduates
  • 64% Female
  • Youngest grad: 19
  • Oldest grad: 31
  • 82% from Minnesota
  • 20 states represented, including Minnesota
  • Top majors:
    • Nursing
    • Business
    • K-6 Elementary Education
    • Biology (B.S.)
    • Biokinetics

College of Adult & Professional Studies

  • 78 commencing
    (including 28 PSEO students from Maranatha Christian Academy being awarded an A.A. in General Studies)
  • 71% Female
  • Youngest: 17 (PSEO student)
  • Oldest: 63 (Christian Ministries)
  • 86.8% from Minnesota
  • 10 states represented, including Minnesota
  • Top majors: Special Education, Christian Ministries, Human Services, Organizational Leadership, RN to B.S.N. Nursing

Bethel Graduate School

  • 122 commencing
  • 76% Female
  • Youngest grad: 22
  • Oldest grad: 66
  • 81% from Minnesota
  • 17 states represented, including Minnesota
  • Top degrees:
    • Nurse-Midwifery
    • Counseling
    • Athletic Training
    • Special Education
    • MBA

Bethel Seminary

  • 86 commencing
  • 63% Female
  • Youngest grad: 24
  • Oldest grad: 70
  • 46% from Minnesota
  • 21 states represented
  • Top degrees:
    • Master of Divinity
    • Marriage and Family Therapy
    • Doctor of Ministry
    • Christian Thought
    • Transformational Leadership

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