Seniors reflect on four years of undergrad, express God’s goodness through testimony

Commencement day is quickly approaching, and BJU seniors are ready to view the FMA from a different angle: on stage receiving their diplomas. While looking forward to the next step in their lives, these seniors are also taking a look back at their four years at the University and thanking God for His faithfulness in their lives.

Janelle Newcomer, a piano pedagogy major from Chesapeake, Va., grew spiritually under the direction of her professors and residence hall staff and made involvement in others’ lives a priority in her busy schedule.

Senior Portraits
Photo: Amanda Ross

During her four years at the University, faculty and staff invested much time in her life outside of the classroom.

“They go beyond just teaching you the subject matter,” Newcomer said. “They show that they care more about the person than just a grade. I’ve learned a lot from their examples and discipleship model.”

After two close friends passed away during her junior year, Newcomer was impacted by their testimonies.

“I was reminded of how short life is and not to waste it,” Newcomer said. “I’ve strived to live for God’s glory and make people important.”

After graduating, Newcomer will marry Leighton Upton, a senior Bible major, in June and teach in a piano studio while Upton attends seminary.

Emily Robinson, an interior design major from Greer, S.C., said the most important thing she learned during her four years at BJU was to trust God through every circumstance.

Senior Portraits
Photo: Amanda Ross

In late 2012, Robinson’s mother, Roxane, sister of Dr. Stephen Jones, was diagnosed with stage four cancer.

“My world was falling down, and God was constant,” Robinson said. “It drew me closer to Him.”

Robinson learned to stay consistent in the little things, like homework, friendships and her devotional life, through her trial and continue to lean on God for strength.

Brian Pantele, a business administration major from Phoenix, Ariz., said he has learned through trials that God will give the strength needed to endure them.

Trials are a part of life, Pantele said, but we must depend on God’s strength to get through them.

Senior Portraits
Photo: Amanda Ross

“Sometimes it’s best to fall on your knees and face and just pour your heart out to God,” he said.

Pantele has also learned the importance of good friendships and encouraging others in their spiritual walks with God. While he has grown under the counsel of friends, Pantele noted that it is also important to help others grow in their own walks.

“I can honestly say it’s because of the godly friends I’ve made that [I am] where I am today,” Pantele said.  “But don’t just be a taker from godly friends. Be that godly friend, encourage others and make time for friends in need.”

Pantele plans to enroll in the Marines officer program after graduating.

Having joy in all circumstances is a theme that has stuck with Cheryl Barrett, a music education major from Acushnet, Mass., throughout her four years at BJU.

Senior Portraits
Photo: Amanda Ross

“Whatever comes my way, I can still be joyful,” Barrett said. “Even though things can be sad or upsetting or not necessarily going my way, I’ve learned this past year especially to have the joy of Christ.”

 Through personal devotion times, chapel messages and prayer, Barrett said she has gotten to know God on a deeper level.

The sovereignty of God in trials has also taken precedence in Barrett’s life through different situations at home and at school.

“It’s just knowing how powerful He is, how He provides for me, how He’s brought me through things and just protected me in decisions I’ve made even though I didn’t realize He was,” Barrett said. “It’s like little baby lessons, and He’s been so patient when I’ve messed up or didn’t even want to get to know Him. And I’m obviously still learning. That will never stop.”

Barrett will marry Adam Bailey, a senior business administration major, in August, and both plan to work at their former school after graduating.

Mark Bonikowsky, a communication major born to missionary parents and raised in Zegama, Spain, learned to delegate his time appropriately, including time for Bruins soccer and work, and to make time specifically for God’s Word.

Senior Portraits
Photo: Amanda Ross

“College was the first time I was really on my own, and I had to decide for myself that I wanted to pursue Christ and build my relationship with Him,” Bonikowsky said. “I feel like I’ve learned so much more when I’ve had to decide that I wanted to.”

When Bonikowsky tore a ligament in his foot during the 2013-14 Bruins soccer season, he was reminded of God’s faithfulness to His people.

“God is in control in both the significant and insignificant things,” Bonikowsky said. “He’s been faithful in the past and will continue to be.”

Bonikowsky plans to become a judicial interpreter in South Carolina after graduation.

Josh Armstrong, a practical Christian training major from Jacksonville, Fla., saw many of God’s attributes displayed in his life during his time at BJU.

Senior Portraits
Photo: Amanda Ross

“He can use anything in our lives, whether good or bad, and mold us to be in His will and to be more like Him,” Armstrong said. “We see His goodness and His sovereignty and how He moves in all of that.”

While attending Palmetto Baptist Church in Easley, Armstrong was drawn closer to God and pushed in His walk with Him. “Just being consumed and having that passion has really been a theme this year that I’ve learned,” Armstrong said.

After graduation, Armstrong will marry Jess Crews, a BJU graduate, in June, and pursue a graduate degree in Biblical counseling.

These seniors’ testimonies challenge us to look to God and rely on His strength through the highs and lows of life.  No matter what trials you go through during your time at BJU, as these students can attest, God is always faithful. He uses every experience to mold you more into His image so that you may reflect Him.