Graduates Leave Bethel to “Show God’s Love” to Everyone They Encounter

About 700 students graduated from Bethel University over the weekend. In the College of Adult and Professional Studies (CAPS), graduates ranged in age from 17 to 70 and included 23 PSEO students earning associate’s degrees, reflecting Bethel’s growing numbers of PSEO/Early College students in CAPS and College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) programs—one additional PSEO student earned a CAS associate’s degree.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, senior web content specialist

May 30, 2023 | 2:30 p.m.

Commencement 2023

Bethel President Ross Allen hands out diplomas during one of five commencement ceremonies in Benson Great Hall over the weekend. “So graduates, I charge you to go into the world with boldness, confidence, and unwavering trust in our God's faithfulness, who will always be with you,” Allen said in his remarks at commencement.

As she and her fellow graduates move forward, Sophia Llerena Andrade CAPS’23 shared two key pieces of advice: First, step out of your comfort zone. Second, she encouraged them to allow Jesus’ two greatest commandments—His call in Mark 12:30-31 to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself—to guide them in their lives ahead. “Be willing to listen, offer encouragement, and most importantly, show God’s love to everyone you encounter,” she said. “As representatives of God, it is crucial that we act wisely and consistently in both our words and actions.”

Andrade was one of several speakers over the weekend as nearly 700 graduates earned degrees from Bethel in five ceremonies in Benson Great Hall. Here are some highlights from the ceremonies:

Adult undergraduate

Seventy students earned degrees from Bethel’s College of Adult & Professional Studies (CAPS) on Sunday, May 28. In her reflection, Llerena Andrade spoke of the courage it takes to leave your comfort zone. She admitted she had to overcome her fear of public speaking to give her commencement reflection. In fact, she was at first nervous about walking across the stage to get her diploma. But when she was offered the chance to speak at commencement, she couldn’t turn it down. “It was time to get past it and allow myself to grow in this area of my life,” she said. “And it wasn’t just on this occasion that Bethel encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. In fact, it was in every class, assignment, and conversation. Walking to this podium today is literally me stepping out of my comfort zone.” Such steps can be life-changing, she said, as she told of how her parents left their family and their country 20 years ago to pursue a better life for her. “Their bravery and resiliency in moving out of their comfort zone paved the way for me to be here in front of you all and gave me the multitude of opportunities that I have been presented with throughout my life. For that, I am forever grateful,” she said. She encouraged her fellow graduates to continue venturing outside their comfort zones.

“Whether this is spiritually, in your personal life, your career, or your worldview, you don’t know what kind of promising and impactful change you will create just by taking a step in faith.”

— Sophia Llerena Andrade CAPS’23, B.S. in Nursing
College of Adult & Professional Studies


From Bethel’s College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), 387 students commenced in three ceremonies on Saturday, May 27, 2023. Lincoln Sanneman ’23, who majored in nursing, reflected on the fulfilling journey students shared at Bethel—living outside their parents' home for the first time, making lifelong friends, learning to clean and do laundry, and experiencing a glimpse of the real world through internships and job applications. He also read Proverbs 16:9—“In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps”—as a reminder that there is a greater purpose unfolding before them. “As we step into the next phase of our lives, we must embrace the uncertainty that lies ahead, knowing that God is at work, guiding our steps towards greater fulfillment and growth,” he said.

Similarly, Hannah King ’23 touched on that greater purpose in her own speech. She shared a story of hearing a rival track and field coach tell a student-athlete that Bethel’s runners were good “because they run for Jesus.” To her, that came across most through the way the team prayed for and supported one another. That spirit wasn’t unique to track and field. Professors incorporated faith into their teaching, Facilities Management supported King and helped her through her first job, and—in the Department of Business—professionals left prestigious jobs to teach students.

“Bethel University, not just Bethel track, runs for Jesus.”

— Hannah King, B.A. in Business: Economics and Finance
Commencement 2023

Bethel students watch their commencement ceremony over the weekend in Bethel’s Benson Great Hall.

George Bolt ’23 reflected on the difficult decisions that led him and his classmates to graduation day—choosing a major, deciding to travel abroad, and more. Though he didn’t feel strongly called to any decision, he looked back and saw God giving him the tools, information, and support to make a wise choice. As he and his classmates face challenging decisions as graduates, he encouraged them to trust their knowledge and interest—even if God’s call isn’t clear. They can still use the knowledge and interests that He equipped them with to take their next steps.

“At times, I have felt that God isn't directing me; but in hindsight, I can see that his footprints were there the whole time. Allow that to encourage you as you go out into the next chapter of your life.”

— George Bolt ’23, B.A. in History and B.A. in Social Studies Education, Grades 5-12
As graduates move forward, Marissa Cutlan ’23 urged them to take timeouts—even during busy seasons of life—to avoid getting swept up in the ever-growing to-do list. They’ll never regret finding time to rest and enjoy the wonderful life God has provided.

“So in this craziness, I urge you to take the time out; make time to rest with Jesus and find peace and joy, because this rest will enable you to get up from each failure and persevere again.”

— Marissa Cutlan ’23, B.A. in Chemistry and B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
College of Arts & Sciences

Graduate school

In the Bethel Graduate School, 136 students from 19 states earned degrees on Sunday in a joint ceremony with the CAPS grads. David Brickner GS’23 reflected on all that he and his fellow M.A. in Counseling graduates put into their educations—hundreds of hours and thousands of words in papers. “Today we celebrate your hard work,” he said. “Whether your program was two years, three years, or felt like 10 years, you have sacrificed much to get here and I want to take a moment to honor your dedication and accomplishment.”

Much happened during their years in the program. Many graduates started the program during COVID-19 lockdowns, and Brickner said the pandemic and murder of George Floyd helped expose suffering in the world. But through his studies and life events, he noticed that suffering ebbs and flows with joy. He and his wife, Allison, moved twice, purchased their first home, dealt with unexpected health challenges, and they welcomed their first daughter, Quinn. Through it all, Brickner and his classmates learned much about life’s joys and sufferings.

“To my fellow graduates, whatever you have encountered along this journey, the joys and the sufferings, the reality is that you have persevered. You have made it to the end of this chapter. And as you step into the next chapter, all the things that you have been through over the last three years have the potential to be meaningful if you allow it.”

— David Brickner GS’23, M.A. in Counseling
Graduate School


In Bethel Seminary, 99 graduates from 21 states earned degrees. In a student reflection, Brandon Wald S’23 spoke of the challenges of balancing a graduate program with everyday life. Life doesn’t slow down when you return to school. He started a new job, he and his wife also moved, and they welcomed a third child during his time in the program. “Life just kept going and going,” he said. Wald remembered focusing on a paper he had to finish while at his daughter’s birthday party. Like Brickner, Wald recalled the challenging time in our nation in recent years—the pandemic, Floyd’s murder, the 2020 election, and more. It was a journey. But that journey has prepared him and his fellow graduates for what’s next.

“I think of us in this room when I think of Jesus telling the parable of the talents. We have all been given a chance to do something different now. A door is now going to be open that will give you influence in a space that you would not have had before. Are you going to use your talent to make more or are you going to bury it in the ground out of fear?”

— Brandon Wald, M.A. in Transformational Leadership
Bethel Seminary
Commencement 2023

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