Jacob Schneider, a 2016 Bethany graduate, was the featured speaker at the annual “Senior Celebration” held prior to commencement in May. Schneider shared stories about life post graduation and what it means to be a Bethany alumnus.
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for having me on this special day. As Jake mentioned, my name is Jacob Schneider, and I am a proud graduate from the 2016 class. I am currently a Universal Banker/Loan Officer with a community bank in south central Wisconsin, and I handle everything from deposits to consumer lending. One might say that I traded in my liberal arts education for a liberal arts profession. As my title implies, I do a little bit of everything. In fact, I assume that’s why Bethany asked me to come and speak to you today; because I quite literally live and breathe “liberal arts.” The real reason that I am here today is to talk to you all about what happens after tomorrow; after you walk off this campus for the last time as a student. While there may be a little bit of fear or hesitation in some of your minds, you are about to embark on an exciting journey that will challenge everything you’ve just spent the last four years learning. Many of you may be asking, “Am I ready?” The short answer is yes. Let me explain why.
I’m going to start with the obvious. As of tomorrow, you are all going to be college graduates. According to the United States’ Census Bureau and the US Department of Commerce, as of 2015, only about 35% of adults over 18 have achieved that level of education. So, congratulations! You are now more educated than 65% of our country. That’s a terrific feat. Every single one of you in this room should feel a deep sense of pride. You have all come a long way since you arrived on campus as freshmen.
My seventh grade teacher had a phrase that he told us almost every day in class. That phrase was “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.” I’m sure others have used it as well. I think that phrase is applicable in many different stages of life, but especially in college. The first day of school, when you were on your own, mom and dad had left, you were hiding in your dorm hoping that four years would pass in the blink of an eye if no one did so much as look at you…Yeah, I remember those days! Maybe that was just me… Anyways, you improvised! No one had given you a textbook on how to make new friends! You decided on your own to go talk to the person down the hall that looked like the least likely person to run in the other direction. You talked a little, went to dinner together, and all of a sudden, you had a new friend.
Over the next several years you adapted. You adapted to life on your own, which isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’re 18 to 20 years old. You learned how to live your own life while also learning the essentials like balancing classes with extracurricular activities or maybe even a job. You learned what it meant to be an adult when no one chased after you for not submitting your homework on time, and you learned real quick not to do it again when that 0% brought your overall grade from an A to a C-. You adapted!
Now, here you are. Today is the day before you graduate from Bethany Lutheran College. You overcame the challenges. You overcame the statistical odds that said six out of every ten of you will not be educated at this level. You overcame four years of educational training that was most definitely a challenge, and you emerged a better, more equipped person for all of that hard work you have put in. So, in simple terms: you improvised, adapted, and overcame. You are all college graduates, and that alone deserves a lot of credit.
The next step for many of you is a profession. Some of you are probably transitioning into a graduate program as well. So, let’s talk a little bit about what sets you apart when the recruiting/admissions team sees your information versus anyone else’s.
Bethany is a unique place. I don’t think that anyone would argue with me about that. Bethany is small, private, and relatively unknown to the vast majority of the public once you leave the Mankato area. Unless you are Lutheran in other states, even in Minnesota for that matter, you probably haven’t heard about Bethany. That is a perfect opportunity to generate a story. Your application is already unique to a recruiter. Why is that? Because it is different. Many employers receive thousands of applications from graduates of major universities like the University of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, etc. When they receive one from a Bethany graduate, it almost instantaneously sparks curiosity. They want to know more about you. That is not a knock against other universities; I’m just stating that sometimes employers are eager to find the “diamond in the rough.” I have had the interviewer ask me about Bethany for every position that I have applied to. It strikes up a conversation. It truly does set you apart right off the bat. As an additional bonus, many employers who have hired a Bethany graduate (or know of someone else who has) speak very highly of them. When your prospective employer asks around about you, Bethany’s reputation proceeds itself. You have a leg-up on the competition in that regard.
The moral of that story is this: do not be afraid when interviewing for a position or for higher education to be yourself. Sure, you probably are up against other talented and well-educated people who want that spot as badly as you do. But you are not below them. You are just as thoroughly equipped and educated. You are just as prepared. As I mentioned before, you just spent the last four years becoming the best version of you! Be confident in yourself, and the opportunities will continue to come to you.
Until this point, I’ve left out one very crucial element of your education and overall preparedness for life’s next steps. That special piece is our Lord, Jesus: the one thing needful. Throughout your time at Bethany, you may have noticed the Christ-centered approach to education. That is Bethany’s strongest asset in order to get you ready for whatever life throws your way. There are several different ways in which God’s Word impacts your daily life, and I just want to share a few examples.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of listening to former United States President George W. Bush speak at an event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He spoke about how God changed his life and helped him become a better leader for our country. One of the most amazing spiritual quotes of the night came from his father, George H.W. Bush, another former president. President Bush stated that his father always used a phrase to emphasize the importance of Christian leadership. That phrase is “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
Think about that for a moment. What an incredible statement. We should live our lives every single day to the glory of our Father in heaven. We preach the gospel to everyone we come across by how we act and by what we do. Do you think Bethany has helped you with that? That has been a cornerstone of the curriculum here at Bethany since day one. During one of your religion courses, I’m certain you’ve heard 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” Each and every one of you has a special purpose in life, and you are all special in God’s eyes. People take notice of that. Your Christian education demonstrates the type of person that you are, and employers also take notice. Christian ethics and morals do not disappear post-college. They are even more crucial in the real-world that only seems to turn more secular. You will make a difference wherever you end up. You may not always know how, but you will impact the lives of many people. Bethany has helped prepare you for that.
Finally, I want to share with you that real-life isn’t always easy. There is no instruction manual on how to navigate life’s many challenges. Sometimes, faith alone helps get you through. I’ll share a quick personal example. After college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I spent the whole summer reading about positions, applying to them, interviewing, getting turned down or simply not ever hearing back from them. I turned down other jobs because they just didn’t feel right or the location was wrong. It was a struggle. I finally took a position in cell phone sales simply because I couldn’t stand not having a job yet. I was a little upset because I had a business degree, financial experience, and an eagerness to succeed. Yet, I just hadn’t found anything that felt right to me or something that I could fully utilize my skill-set in. That was probably one of the biggest challenges of my adult life to this point. I prayed a lot while all of that was going on. I sent dozens of e-mails to people asking what I should do. There wasn’t a clear answer.
Then, shortly after Christmas last year, I received word from a family friend that there was a position that had just opened up at a small community bank about 30 minutes from where I was living. I gave it a chance and sent over my resume. Within a few days, I had an interview. That interview lasted 3.5 hours, and it ended with a job offer to be an officer in the bank. They promised to help train me, send me to additional schooling, and evaluate me along the way to make sure I wasn’t overwhelmed. It has been a blessing for me on so many levels to work there. The best part is that Christian beliefs are shared almost every day. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about how God’s hand was at work for me. He really handled all of my worries for me. Bethany’s training was also paramount to my ability to keep my composure and trust in my abilities during that time. You will face obstacles in life, some much worse than what I just described, and God’s Word will always be there to guide you through them. This institution that you are about to graduate from is special, and so are the people that have worked or learned here. You are forever a piece of this college’s fabric. You have all become a family, and you’ll always be a part of that family.
As you enter the world as professionals, remember the instruction that you received here. You are ready for life’s next steps. You are prepared to tackle the world’s challenges. You are unique. When you leave this campus, remember to stay connected with it. Reach out to your friends that you made here. Remember, you are always welcome on campus. You are family. God’s blessings on your graduation and future endeavors.