Shemara Fontes and Hogan Spencer Share Testimonies During 2021 Baccalaureate Service

Olivet graduates spoke from the heart about their university experience.

During the 2021 Baccalaureate service at Olivet Nazarene University, two graduating seniors shared testimonies and memories. Following is an excerpt from each student’s speech.

Shemara Fontes, Class of 2021, holds a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. She is from Cape Verde.

“A sentence I use often is ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ I love this sentence so much that I used it as my high school senior yearbook quote. It is a phrase that reveals new meaning every time I use it.

We serve a mysterious God, a God that is always at work even when we don’t see it. 

God worked mysteriously for [me] when my father—after going to a Nazarene church General assembly in America—gathered a bunch of souvenirs to bring back to his young free-things loving kids. God worked mysteriously in September 2016 when I first moved to America alone. He worked mysteriously when I was told I needed to apply to colleges a week after starting my first year in an education system that was foreign (literally) to me and the only schools I could remember were the ones from the stack of free stuff my dad brought back from America. God worked when the purple school in Illinois not only accepted me but also provided enough financial assistance so that pursuing a higher education was possible. God worked mysteriously in August 2017 when I first arrived on this campus for the start of my freshmen year afraid that I would not be able to connect with anyone, just to meet dear friends that are now like family to me.

God was working when I felt called to the RA ministry and was selected to serve for 3 years in the upperclassmen women’s dorms by being a friend, an ear and a loving presence. He was working when I officially changed my major concentration to radio, and was offered a position at Shine.fm. A place where I learned skills that I will take with me into the professional world. 
God worked through the Office of Spiritual development who arranged missions trips that I had the privilege to go on. 

Mysteriously He worked when my eyes were opened to the brutal treatment people of my complexion were receiving, encouraging me to become an advocate for justice and reconciliation. He worked in mysterious ways when I was able to become a representative for the Olivet Nazarene Student body through the Associated Student Council, becoming an advocate for my peers and a leader seeking to learn from others. ‘Educating myself to educate others.’

You see, God was working mysteriously in my life when I heard the news that my older sister had passed away at the age of 23 in a different country. He was working when I felt helpless, lonely, depressed and anxious. He worked through the regret of not going home and through the eternal ‘saudade’ I feel every day. 

I can say that God is working mysteriously right now! And if there is one thing I want to leave you—it is not that I really like repetition or will get stuck on one sentence for years. I want to leave you with the knowledge that the same God that is working in my life is working in yours. And whether you are able to see it or not, he is forging a path for you. So, to my fellow classmates and family, to the faculty and staff at Olivet, remember this: our God works in mysterious ways.”

Hogan Spencer, Class of 2021, holds a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science/data science. He is from Cedarville, Kansas.

“When I came to Olivet, I had high expectations for what the college experience was going to be. These past four years have been beyond what I could’ve ever imagined.

When I became an RA my sophomore year in Grand 303, I knew I wanted to [host] a Bible study. Like any logical college student, I knew apartment residents would never willingly come to a Bible study without incentive. One of my favorite things to do on a Wednesday night was preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, I would combine the dry and wet ingredients. Then carefully scooping the batter, I would roll them in sugar. Then, lightly pressing the top, place them in the oven for 7-8 min. This is a paraphrased recipe of my Aunt Sharon’s famous chocolate chocolate chip cookies. While scones, coffee cake, and brownies would eventually make their way into the oven, these cookies were my go-to staple those nights. For the next 3 years, whenever I made these cookies for the floor or building Bible study, I couldn’t help but think of my Aunt Sharon. 

When I think of my testimony, I think of many individuals, but the first person that comes to mind is Aunt Sharon. The impact of her life is foundational to mine. It marks the way I strive to lead and serve those around me. I remember freshman year during Christmas break we received the diagnosis of advanced stage pancreatic cancer. Up to that point in my life, I feel I have never experienced real grief. I had never lost someone that I loved and cared so deeply for. It was in those last six months of her life that I began to realize the importance of preserving the chocolate chocolate chip cookie recipe. 

I still can’t make the cookies quite like Aunt Sharon did. This reminds me, that no matter how badly we want to do things on our own, we will always be limited in what we can accomplish. Many of us are content living on the cusp of greatness. It’s easy to set realistic goals when you measure them by our own capability. It is safe, and it’s comfortable. But when we align our desires with God’s agenda, limits are boundless. God has equipped us each with unique gifts and talents. And He has positioned people and opportunities in our lives to achieve this excellence.  

Looking back, I’ve been intentional with many things, but have failed to give attention to what matter most. Throughout my life, especially in my college years, I find myself trapped in this mindset – That the lists of the things on my resume are what define me. God ends up on the back burner and is there when I decide I need Him. But God wants to do more than give us the recipe and watch as we serve the warm cookies. He desires to make the cookies with us. He desires to share in the joys of rolling them in sugar, and the anticipation of watching them rise in the oven, and the painstaking waiting as they cool on the pan. Because if He’s a part of that WHOLE process then when we get to that final bliss moment, where taste and up-close aroma collide into one perfect bite. We experience more than just the sweet flavor, because the true joy was in how and who the cookies were made with. 

Friends, we are at that finish line, whether we see it or not, God has been with us every step of the way. Too often, just like the cookies, we wait til they are already in the Tupperware to taste them. We don’t notice til we are in our cap and gown just how far He has carried us. Only now we acknowledge His hand in it all. We don’t savor them hot in the pan. 

‘This is the day’ – was the mantra that defined Aunt Sharon’s whole life but was amplified in her final cancer days. It was taken from Psalms 118:24, ‘this is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.’ Every time I visited her, without fail, this psalm was recited. For me there was always a certain irony. Someone who has every reason to not rejoice is proclaiming ‘this is the day.’ It contrasts well, to one of my dad’s favorite sayings, ‘It is what it is.’ Now that is a life motto I can get behind. 

Starting senior year with COVID ‘is what it is.’ Starting final essays and projects a week before grades are due ‘is what it is.’ Finding the perfect dream job after graduation ‘is what it is.’ Moving away from all your hype friends back into your childhood bedroom ‘is what it is.’ Don’t ya hate and love that saying? I use it all the time. Those statements are mostly sarcastic, but painfully true. Even a quippy dad phrase can contain wise realizations. Rarely does God deliver us from suffering, rather He delivers us through it. Everyone in this room has had moments that leave us saying ‘it is what it is,’ but how many people are responding with “it is what it is, but this is the day Lord has made’ and how fewer are saying, ‘I will rejoice and be glad in it.’ It is so easy to let the world around you define your outlook on life. We all live in the ‘is what it is’ but we also all have the choice to preheat the oven and live out Psalm 118:24 'This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.'”

To learn more about student life at Olivet, contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@olivet.edu or 800-648-1463.

Published: 5/24/2021
LB