When three 2022 Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School graduates from the Education Department walked across the Good Shepherd Chapel stage on May 13, they had a piece of their students with them.
Natalee Jensen (’22), Suzanna Rouse (’22) and Rebecca Wonders (’22) were all part of LBC | Capital’s unique and beneficial 4+1 program, in which they earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education in five years total. Each wore a special dress under their graduation robe that was decorated in colorful drawings and well wishes from their students.
Rebecca shared that the close group of future teachers, who called themselves the “grad girls” on group texts, came across the idea on the image-sharing social media platform Pinterest. Immediately, the trio of grads knew this was how they could bring their students to Commencement in a special way—even if they couldn’t invite them to the ceremony.
“I student-taught at Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy in York City, both in a regular education first-grade classroom and kindergarten autistic support classroom,” Rebecca said. “My students were beyond excited to help color my dress for my ‘prom day,’ as they called it. For me, my students were a huge part of my growth and development as a teacher. They taught me the importance of intentionality, patience and extending grace in every part of my life.”
Rebecca, who was also the Lancaster Bible College Class of 2022 co-valedictorian [read her speech, “Never Say Never,” below], added that her students also taught her about the power in relationships, the power in her words and the power in a positive classroom environment.
“Each one of my students, both from my first-grade placement and autistic support placement, colored a part of my dress, and each one of them forever has a piece of my heart,” she said. “It meant so much to have them ‘with me’ as I walked across the stage at graduation, as I wouldn’t have made it to this point without them! Plus, it was meaningful to them as I went back to my classrooms to show them pictures of me in my dress at graduation, and they realized that they helped me accomplish such an important task such as graduation! I think it was a great way to demonstrate to my students that they were valued, appreciated and important to me.”
Suzanna was in complete agreement, stating that she wouldn’t have been able to graduate without all the students who signed her dress, as well as the teacher who lent their signatures, too.
“Throughout my student teaching placement, my students taught me how to be a better teacher, and they are the reason why I pursued my passion to serve children in education,” Suzanna said. “I wanted to have a reminder of the two very special classes that made it possible for me to get my degree.”
Likewise, as she developed teacher-student relationships with the students in her student teaching placements, Natalee realized “just how big of a role they had in both my education and my life.”
“These students were helping shape me as an educator,” she said. “I knew that I didn’t want to spend my graduation day without them. I had remembered seeing online that teachers would have their students sign a white dress and wear it on the last day of school—a way to celebrate the growth and accomplishments of their class family. I knew this was something I wanted to do! So, talked with Suzanna and Becca and convinced them to do this with me for graduation day.
“I had two student teaching placements in two different schools with a total of 70 students in grades kindergarten, second, third and sixth grade,” continued Natalee, who was honored this graduation season with membership into the Delta Epsilon Chi honorary and the Master Teacher Award. “Each of those students have helped me, encouraged me, inspired me and challenged me to become the best I can be. While I didn’t have enough tickets for each of them to be part of graduation, I’m glad that I was able to find a way to bring all 70 of them to graduation with me—through the unlikely mode of a dress. It was a way to celebrate all the ways that my students and I grew throughout the semester.”
Rebecca Wonders (’22) Co-Valedictorian Speech
“Never say never … because God will make sure it happens.”
This is a quote my high school science teacher often said, but I never realized the great truth in it until recently.
Never did I imagine myself to be standing here today, graduating with a master’s in special education, seeking employment in an inner-city school district and giving a speech at my college graduation. These are all things I said I would never do, yet God clearly had a different plan in mind.
I think there are many “nevers” we all have spoken during our college journey. Maybe it was, “I’ll never be able to submit this assignment in time” or “I’ll never be able to pass this Kouterick science exam.” “I’ll never make it to class in time because I’m stuck in traffic—in the Dunkin drive through—or getting slushies at Sheetz.” Guilty of both. Or maybe you have even said, “I’ll never make it to graduation.”
Whatever your “nevers” were, take a moment and recognize you made it. You overcame what you never thought you could. I know I can confidently speak for both myself and my fellow graduates that we didn’t get here by our own strength. It was only by God’s strength, faithfulness and amazing grace that we’re all here today. In the midst of all those “nevers,” God provided, He was faithful, and He never left us nor forsook us. Before I end my time up here, I want to encourage you with some nevers that LBC has taught me:
From Doc Ayers, never underestimate the power of a relationship.
From Dr. Timothy Nichols, never forget how essential the truth of the Gospel is, both in the mundane and monumental parts of life.
From the Education Department, never stop learning.
From one of my amazing mentor teachers, never forget to view people for their beauty, worth and abilities.
From my students, never stop being intentional in every interaction you have, always being an extension of God’s love and grace.
And from my high school science teacher … never say never. Because you never know how God will work in and through you to do things you never thought were possible.