Messages to the Class of 2017

Valedictorians from three post-secondary schools share their hopes for their peers

Aaron Epp | Young Voices Editor

Canadian Mennonite spoke with the 2017 valedictorians from the three Canadian post-secondary institutions affiliated with Mennonite Church Canada, to find out who they are, what their undergraduate experience has been like, and what wisdom they hope to impart on their peers.

Jenna Song and Ryan Newman
Columbia Bible College

Abbotsford, B.C.

At Columbia Bible College, where graduates vote for their valedictorian from a faculty-approved list of candidates who are nominated based on their grade point average and involvement on campus, this year’s vote ended in a tie.

As a result, 26-year-old Jenna Song and 22-year-old Ryan Newman delivered their address together at the school’s 2017 graduation ceremony on April 22 at Abbotsford Pentecostal Assembly.

Song grew up in Vernon, B.C., and was drawn to study at Columbia by her desire to know God more. During her four years at the school, she was involved on campus in a variety of ways. She sang in a travelling ministry team, served as a leader in the residence, and sang and played keyboards in chapel.

As part of her degree in counselling and human services, she did an internship with Child and Youth Mental Health Services in Abbotsford, assisting in group therapy for children.

Song’s portion of her and Newman’s valedictory address focussed on the impor-tance of community. She hopes her fellow graduates will take the message to heart. “I really do hope that they . . . commit not only to Jesus, but to reaching out to others [and] pursuing community,” she says. “There’s so much wholeness when we’re connecting with each other. It’s what we’re made for, and it’s good for us.”

Like Song, Newman felt honoured to be chosen as valedictorian. The Langley, B.C., native, who also graduated with a BA in counselling and human services, says that one of the biggest things that sticks out for him about his time at Columbia is the friendships he has made with both peers and professors.

Columbia “is so focussed on community and relationships, and I really value [that],” he says. During his time on campus, Newman had the opportunity to build friendships through his involvement as a student leader and as a volleyball player.

He hopes that his valedictory address encouraged his fellow graduates. “I hope that they can realize that what they do and who they are truly matters in the bigger scheme of God’s story,” he says.

Anika Reynar
Canadian Mennonite University
Winnipeg

Anika Reynar is the first-ever student to graduate from the interdisciplinary studies program at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU).

That means that throughout her degree she was able to study a variety of topics, including international development, theology and philosophy, as well as mix in-class learning with her work with the Metanoia Farmers, a worker cooperative that farms on CMU’s property.

“More than any one discipline or any one class, what’s made my time at CMU interesting is the connections between them and the way that’s encouraged a different form of learning and questioning,” says Reynar, 22, who is originally from Olds, Alta.

One of her hopes for her valedictory speech, which she delivered on April 23 at Immanuel Pentecostal Church, is that students would walk away encouraged. “I hope that my fellow graduates . . . recognize they’ve become somebody in the course of their education, and the person they’ve become has been gifted by the people, professors and family members that surround them,” she says. “I hope that those things they’ve learned continue to linger with them.”

Rachel Trites
Conrad Grebel University College
Waterloo, Ont.

Originally from Halifax, N.S., Rachel Trites took on a variety of leadership roles while living in residence at Conrad Grebel University College. She also co-founded a study cafe where students could gather to work on homework together, started a fitness class and participated in two musicals at the university college.

The mixture of ages at Grebel appealed to the 22-year-old. “I really appreciated learning from people older and more experienced than me, as well as mentoring people when I got older,” she says.

Trites will graduate in June from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor of knowledge integration degree. She was chosen as valedictorian by students, faculty and staff at Grebel.

At Grebel’s 2017 graduation ceremony on April 9, she used her valedictory address to reflect on what Grebel has meant to her and her peers, saying, “My challenge to them was [to ask], how can we use what we’ve learned throughout our degrees in the future? How can it influence our understanding of the world and our compassion for others?”

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