Class of 2019 Commissioned to Influence the World for Christ
by Kristina Garvelink (M.S. ’15)
Commencement ceremonies on May 10 and 11 recognized the academic achievements of record classes for Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. The university conferred degrees to 272 traditional undergraduate students, 296 adult students and 88 seminarians.
Program participants included commencement speakers Dr. Donald Denyes and Lori ("Maranda") Cook. An adjunct professor for GRTS, CU board of trustee member and senior pastor of South Church in Lansing, Mich., Denyes spoke to GRTS graduates on May 10, using the life of John Mark to illustrate the importance of relationships and overcoming failure. Cook, a CU board of trustee member and children and family services manager for WOOD TV8, WOTV 4 and WXSP-TV, spoke during the university’s two commencement ceremonies on May 11.
Students honored for their academic records and in-depth investment in the university's student-focused learning community also gave motivational charges to their peers. Student speakers included BethAnn Kriz, valedictorian for this year's traditional undergraduate class; Shaquille Anthony, a graduate student in the Professional & Graduate Studies division; and Susan Burner, the seminary's highest honor graduate.
Traditional Undergraduate Awardees
To the applause of family members, friends and faculty, the university's largest number of traditional undergraduate students walked across the stage to receive their college degrees.
The ceremony featured special award presentations to honorees by Dr. Joe Stowell, university president; Dr. Desiree Duff, chair of the Communication, Media and Music Division; and Dennis Graham, director of alumni relations.
- BethAnn Kriz was named valedictorian for the traditional undergraduate class of 2019.
- Joe Corsten, captain of the baseball team and a NAIA Duer Scholarship Award recipient, and Rita Zoumbatlis, a digital media student and active participant in the Multicultural Organization, received the President’s Award from Dr. Joe Stowell.
- Matt Taylor (B.S. ’01, M.S. ’03), vice president of marketing at Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan, received the Cornerstone University Undergraduate Alumni Award.
Professional & Graduate Studies Division Awardees
For PGS, the graduating class featured two pioneering graduates from the school's new Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership and Development program.
"Doctoral education gives those who earn the degree access to people, places, jobs and opportunities that other degrees do not," Dr. Jeff Savage, associate dean of business for the PGS division, said. "Both of this year's graduates—Tara Kram and Leslie Visser—carried out research projects for their capstone experience that exemplify the best of doctoral education. Their research identified a problem of practice that privileged stakeholder values; leveraged empirical research and the extant literature; and allowed each to use her clinical or professional expertise to produce research that other academics and professionals can use to improve the lives of others."
In addition, the PGS ceremony also gave special recognition to faculty and alumna participants.
- Carolyn Koole, executive director of Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center in Fallbrook Calif., received the PGS Alumni Award.
- Heidi Cate and Dr. Tonya Fountain were named recipients of the Colleen S. Smith Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Having started the calendar year by celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Urban Cohort program, festivities continued with recognition of this year's record class which included the 101st Urban Cohort graduate.
"The GRTS class of 2019 is large in the number of graduates, but it is even larger in potential for kingdom impact," Dr. John VerBerkmoes, executive vice president for academics and dean of GRTS, said. "As I sat on the platform at Commencement and scanned the rows of graduates, I was so impressed with this group of graduates. These are men and women of competency, character and commitment, and they will certainly make a significant mark for the sake of Jesus Christ."
The GRTS ceremony named this year's institutional awardees:
- Ana Cruz, recipient of the Urban Cohort Community Award and William Clarence Haas Award.
- Anna English, recipient of the Carl B. Hoch Jr. Award and Educational Ministries Award.
- Anthony Raffa, recipient of the Owen John Lydecker Memorial Award.
- Austin Davidhizar, recipient of the Urban Cohort Academic Award.
- Clarence Stamps, recipient of the President’s Award and Strauss Expository Preaching Award.
- Garrett Saul, recipient of the Zondervan Theology Award.
- Hillary Marker and Travis Gordon, recipients of the Counseling Award.
- Kyle Rouse, recipient of the Leon J. Wood Award.
- Matthew Hilbert, recipient of the Baker Book House Award.
- Steven Lister, recipient of the Nickolai Wiens Pastoral Award.
- Susan Burner, the seminary’s highest honor graduate, who received the Dean’s Award.
- Christopher Brauns (M.Div. ’93), lead pastor for Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley, Ill., and past President’s Award recipient, who received the GRTS Alumni Award.
Equipped for Kingdom Impact
Prepared for new professional and personal beginnings, Cornerstone and GRTS graduates joyfully celebrated the milestone of graduation.
"GRTS has sharpened my mind and shaped my heart in many ways," Burner reflected. "I have gained skills in understanding Scripture, theologizing, preaching and counseling others while also focusing on my own soul care and spiritual formation. I have so appreciated being able to apply what I learned in the classroom directly into my ministry context with college students and know that by God’s grace, the experience has made me a more careful and compassionate minister of the gospel."