Hundreds of students are preparing to graduate this month from post-secondary institutions supported by Mennonite Church Canada and its regional churches.
Canadian Mennonite spoke with five students about their experiences studying at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C., Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg and Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont.
Columbia Bible College
Around 130 students are set to graduate during a ceremony that will take place on campus on April 22.
Katie Rempel is making history. She is the first person to graduate from a pilot program of Columbia and Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind.
The program allows students to study the Bible and theology at the college while taking courses in other subjects at the university. Rempel will graduate with two degrees: a bachelor of arts in practical theology and a bachelor of science in business management.
“I’ve come away with a diverse selection of knowledge in practical, biblical and managerial subjects, all of which can ultimately help me succeed in my career, ministry and lifestyle pursuits,” says Rempel, 22, who is from Courtenay, B.C.
Since the Indiana university offers a variety of online options, Rempel never had to leave Columbia. That meant she could stay involved as a student leader and further develop the friendships she’s made.
Rempel’s studies have convinced her that faith and everyday life are inextricably linked: “Our lives should reflect the truth and character of Christ so that others may come to recognize and know him by our words and actions. This is how I view business and entrepreneurial pursuits in the secular world—as an opportunity for me to utilize my strengths in creativity, entrepreneurship and leadership for furthering the Kingdom of God . . . as well as being his light in everyday situations.”
Conrad Grebel University College
Grebel will celebrate 101 undergraduate students and 29 graduate students during a convocation service on campus on April 23.
After graduating from UMEI High School in Leamington, Ont. in 2018, Hayden Epp thought he was finished living and studying in a close-knit Mennonite community. For his first year studying at the University of Waterloo, he decided against living at Grebel.
It ended up being a difficult year. He didn’t like the residence and made almost no friends. So he reached out to Grebel and inquired about moving to its residence, located on the UWaterloo campus, for his second year.
“Coming here may be the best thing I’ve ever done,” says Epp, 22. “I just feel I belong around here.”
While numerous student leadership experiences have made his Grebel experience meaningful, some of his favourite memories are of impromptu get-togethers with peers.
This past year, he lived in an apartment with three friends. One of those friends organized an occasional gathering called Brendan’s Books Before Bedtime, during which he read a children’s story to any students that wanted to stop by.
“People I normally wouldn’t hang out with were in my living room,” Epp recalls. “It was fun.”
Epp’s passion for spending time outdoors led him to study science. He’ll graduate with an honours degree specializing in environmental biology.
He’s thankful that he connected to Grebel. “It feels like a really significant choice I made, and I think my life is better for it.”
Sneha Praveen has been concerned about climate change ever since she was a child researching the ways increasingly warmer temperatures are impacting polar bears. Now the 22-year-old is preparing to graduate from the University of Waterloo with an honours degree in environmental studies.
Praveen lived at Grebel on and off throughout her degree. During her time at the college, she played Chip the teacup in a production of Beauty and the Beast, worked as a social media assistant at the Centre for Peace Advancement, was part of the student leadership team and co-led Tuesday night worship gatherings.
Being part of the Grebel community has impacted her faith and life “in so many ways,” she says.
“The people at Grebel really showed me a portion of what it means to experience God’s love, and everyone was very accepting of who I was, even though I was a bit hard-set [in my beliefs] at the start.”
As Praveen looks ahead, the warming planet is still on her mind. In the fall, she will enter the University of Waterloo’s master of climate change program.
“I really care about the environment, but I also really care about people,” she says. “At the end of the day, climate change isn’t just an environmental problem; it’s a social problem. That’s the approach I’m walking into my master’s with.”
Canadian Mennonite University
Ninety-six undergraduates and 10 graduate students will receive their degrees when CMU hosts its annual convocation service at Bethel Mennonite Church on April 29. During the service, CMU’s president, Cheryl Pauls, will present the university’s PAX Award to César García, Mennonite World Conference’s general secretary. The award honours people who lead exemplary lives of service, leadership and reconciliation in church and society.
Lyn Hildebrand’s family has a history of attending CMU and one of its founding colleges, Canadian Mennonite Bible College, where her parents met in the 1980s.
“CMU’s been a part of my life forever,” says Hildebrand, 21, who grew up in Rosthern, Sask.
While earning her English degree, Hildebrand studied everything from Ancient Greek classics to early 20th-century literature. Along the way, she took journalism classes and a few peace and conflict transformation courses—something she never thought she would do.
“I don’t know if I’ve taken a bad class,” she says.
This past year, Hildebrand joined CMU Singers, the university’s 80-member, mixed-voice choir. That led to one of the most memorable experiences of her four years at CMU—performing at Canadian Foodgrains Bank fundraisers in Winnipeg and Winkler.
“It was really cool to see how people reacted to us as a group, and feeling that connection to other CMU students off campus was really fun,” she says.
Another memory that stands out is participating in the global climate strike in 2019. She was heartened to see how many students, faculty and staff attended the event at Manitoba’s legislature.
“We’re not just here to take classes and go home at the end of the day,” she says. “There’s so much more that we do as a community.”
Jubilee Dueck Thiessen
Jubilee Dueck Thiessen, 22, is thankful for the way her studies at CMU have refined her critical-thinking and writing skills.
During her first year, she placed third in a binational speech contest administered by Mennonite Central Committee, delivering an address that explored caring for creation with joy. In her third year, she hosted an hour of conversation about gendered spaces and language on campus and, this past year, she wrote a letter to the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, of which her church is a member, advocating for LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Being able to bring theological perspectives into all of her courses has helped integrate faith into the rest of her schoolwork and life, says Dueck Thiessen, who is graduating with an English degree with minors in theology and philosophy. “It’s been a really holistic experience.”
Dueck Thiessen’s student leadership involvement included serving two years as external vice-president on the student council. She also worked with the school’s maintenance and student life departments to provide free disposable menstrual products in student bathrooms, and helped to establish a food bank for students.
Being a student during the pandemic was difficult at times—an experience that was exacerbated when her brother was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2020—but she says those challenges have taught her important lessons about honouring one’s capacity and focusing on relationships instead of being productive and striving for excellence at all costs.
“I’m sure there are things I missed out on [because of the pandemic],” she says, “but I think it also made room for unique moments of intentional relationship and tenderness toward experiences of pain.”
—With files from Columbia Bible College.