Graduates Reflect on Family Losses, New Beginnings, and Using Their Gifts at Winter Commencement

As 266 students received their diplomas on December 15, three graduates reflected on the hardships and challenges they faced during their time at Bethel while also reflecting on the skills they gained and looking ahead to new beginnings.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, senior web content specialist

December 20, 2023 | 8:45 a.m.

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Commencement is a key step in every student’s journey—and it means a little something different to each graduate. 

For Angel Yang ’23, it was a bittersweet occasion as her father, who died from COVID-19, wasn’t present. For Angie House CAPS’23, it was the start of a new chapter after she stepped out from the shadows of her past. And for Ashlee Lemons GS’23, it marked the ways she’s grown—and the ways she and her fellow graduates are now prepared to serve. “May God give us wisdom to apply the knowledge we’ve gained, strength to lead ourselves and others with integrity, and the courage to proclaim God’s hope through our lives,” Lemons said. 

Yang, House, and Lemons were the three student speakers at Bethel’s winter Commencement on Friday, December 15. Two-hundred and sixty-six students graduated from Bethel’s College of Arts & Sciences, College of Adult & Professional Studies, and Graduate School. 

Here are their stories:

Angel Yang ’23

Angel Yang ’23

Angel Yang ’23

B.A. in Graphic Design | College of Arts & Sciences

When Angel Yang ’23 received her diploma and gave her address at commencement, one of the most important people in her life was missing—her father. 

Yang’s family was at the core of her decision to attend Bethel and pursue her education. Her parents grew up poor and immigrated to America, seeking opportunities for Yang and her siblings. They worked hard to provide opportunities for their children, who in turn pursued their educations and built careers to be able to support their parents. Yang planned to help her father retire early after she graduated and started working. 

But partway through her time at Bethel, the unthinkable happened. Yang’s father died from complications from COVID-19. Yang felt lost and hit rock bottom. Though she had just over a year left at Bethel, she wasn’t sure she could go on. “I was no longer motivated to finish, but I was scared to abandon the dreams that my parents worked so hard for me to achieve,” she says. 

When she returned to Bethel, Yang found support from professors, who grieved with her. It encouraged her to push forward. She took theological courses that helped her process her grief with God’s help. In art classes, she found ways to express lament due to cultural and religious oppression. Through it all, Yang found that her classmates appreciated her vulnerability, and her professors acknowledged her resilience and desire to achieve her highest potential as a way of honoring her father. 

While hard times are ahead for all, Yang told her fellow graduates that they are truly responsible for what they do with their futures. “Life will continue to challenge and surprise us,” she said. “You can make your rock bottom into a foundation where you can build resilience. Your resilience will give you endurance through new challenges.”

Angie House CAPS’23

Angie House CAPS’23

Angie House CAPS’23

B.A. in Organizational Leadership | College of Adult & Professional Studies

For over 30 years, Angie House CAPS’23 lived with the shadow of a poor ACT score, and it affected her life and career choices. By graduating from Bethel with a bachelor’s degree, she’s firmly stepped out of that shadow. “I stand here today grounded with gratitude and joy for my second half of life, learning to be fully present in each chapter of my story,” she said. 

After scoring poorly on the ACTs, House joined the Air Force Reserves in July 1990. She was assigned a role as a dental technician, which led to a civilian career as a registered dental assistant and then a licensed dental hygienist. She earned a certificate and associate’s degree in dental hygiene, but she felt like she was living in the shadow of her ACT score because she never sought a bachelor’s degree. After taking a 10-year break to raise her children, House returned to the Reserves and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “When I applied to Bethel over two years ago, I decided to step out of my shadows and ask a university to say ‘yes’ to me,” she said. 

Earlier this month, House retired from the Air Force Reserves after serving 23 years with the 934th Airtlift Wing based in Minneapolis. She’s now ready for her next chapter. Looking back, she has no regrets about those life choices or about working as a dental hygienist for 26 years. But through life experiences, parenting, and leadership training as a senior enlisted member of the Air Force, House discovered a passion for learning about leadership. She encouraged her fellow graduates to never stop learning and never stop loving. “Do not let your shadows determine if you ask questions and move toward a ‘yes’ in your life,” she says. “Because if you do not ask, the answer will always be ‘no.’ Your life is not defined by an assessment score, but by a life lived in service to God and others.”

Ashlee Lemons GS’23

Ashlee Lemons GS’23

Ashlee Lemons GS’23

MBA | Graduate School

In her Commencement address, Ashlee Lemons GS’23 encouraged her fellow graduates to use the gifts they harnessed at Bethel to make a difference. “It turns out I am capable of leading, growing, thriving, and accomplishing more deeply than I imagined,” she said. “And I think you are, too!”

When Lemons started Bethel’s MBA program, she expected to develop skills, improve her critical thinking, and apply those to real-life situations. She also expected to work with others from various backgrounds and industries. But she didn’t expect to grow in leadership and faith as much as she did. As she grew her faith, knowledge, and wisdom through the program, Lemons stopped looking at opportunities and goals and saying, “Who am I to do that?” and instead started wondering, “Who am I not to?”

At Bethel, Lemons learned that the fiercest opposition and staunchest critic of your personal and professional growth is often yourself. “It turns out the most challenging person to lead may just be you,” she said. In turn, people are most effective when they dare to show up as their most genuine selves. But that true, most genuine self is probably still being formed by the “yeses” and “nos,” by the highs and the lows of life, by wins and losses, and by the relationships developed.

After gaining relationships, knowledge, and more at Bethel, Lemons encouraged her fellow graduates to take the opportunity and responsibility to share those gifts. Reflecting on the Christmas story, Lemons noted that we can find God’s goodness at work even in the darkest and most challenging times. “Like a newborn baby in a dirty barn, choosing to cultivate joy is not foolish and ignorant, but a radical act of faith that anchors us in hope and lifts those around us,” she said. “Jesus calls us to hope, not a blind optimism that ignores the sometimes grim realities we face, but rather a confidence that our temporary troubles will not be overcome by God’s goodness, grace, and mercy.”

Bethel President Ross Allen '84

Bethel President Ross Allen '84

“Now, may you go out into the world with boldness, confidence, humility, and unwavering trust in the faithfulness of our God, who will be with you always. Congratulations Bethel University Class of 2023!”

— Bethel President Ross Allen '84


By the numbers: 2023 graduates

Top programs of 2023 winter graduates

  • Business—College of Arts & Sciences
  • Post-Baccalaureate Nursing—College of Adult & Professional Studies
  • Special Education—Graduate School

Winter graduates

  • 101—College of Arts & Sciences
  • 57—College of Adult & Professional Studies
  • 108—Graduate School

All 2023 graduates

  • 488—College of Arts & Sciences
  • 127—College of Adult & Professional Studies
  • 244—Graduate School
  • 99—Seminary*

Total 2023 graduates: 958

*Note: Seminary graduates do not commence at Bethel's winter Commencement ceremony. 



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