To the House of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
The most helpless I’ve felt in my life was two weeks before the end of last year. I remember crying into my pillow until it was soaked and salty with tears. Once I regained my composure, I went downstairs to my friend’s apartment and proceeded to bawl into her shoulder. I was not looking forward to the fall.
I had just been elected president and I had absolutely no control of the future of my house. Our house was facing two main issues: the exec team had 2/4 positions filled, and we were only expecting eleven returning members for the 22-23 school year. That wasn’t normal, and these problems led to something worse. At the start of the school year, Bonhoeffer was set to enter probation since only half our exec team positions were filled. This meant that if we couldn’t fill the positions by the end of the fall semester, Bonhoeffer would be dissolved, and our
members would be dispersed into the other houses. This was an unprecedented situation.
Days before the semester started, Isaiah Fuenzalida chose to serve on the exec team as Chamberlain for his final semester at King’s. He was married, employed, and had no reason to take on more responsibility. Isaiah taught me what it meant to be a man built for others and to serve with sacrificial love. During the “fall gauntlet” (what Kingsians lovingly call the craziest time of year), Mike Behun showed me what could be accomplished when you are driven and dedicated to seeing Bonhoeffer flourish. Whenever I got spread too thin trying to hold down the
responsibilities of two roles, Mike would always ask me if there was any slack he could take up. Throughout this year, Mike has been overworked and underpaid. Mike is the unsung hero of Bonhoeffer this year.
For the rest of the semester, our exec team would operate as a trio. During this time, we welcomed eight new members to the house. Included in this group was a semester student named Daniel Carpenter. Daniel, when we hopped on a call before the semester started, you told me you were struggling to find a reason to invest in the people here when you knew you’d be leaving shortly. I struggled to give you an answer. Daniel, you were the most dedicated semester-student King’s has ever seen, and you lived out the answer I couldn’t give you. You discovered that a reason we should invest in people is because we have the ability to shape others for the better, no
matter the time constraint. You didn’t see your time at King’s as transactional; you chose to be relational with your time and to be a mentor to the youth in our house. You shaped these men. You are forever a Bonhoeffer.
Early in the semester, Isaiah, Mike, and I were workshopping many creative ideas to preserve the core tenets of Bonhoeffer despite having less people than any other house. Historically, an upperclassman has led Bible studies on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, none of our upperclassman had the bandwidth to lead a study. We considered inviting alumni, faculty, and professors to aid us in this venture. We considered these options until a freshman stepped up and offered to take on the role. This freshman was Avian “the tireless” Hall.
I have observed that commuter students tend to experience a disconnection from the student body. That hasn’t been the case for you, Avian. You didn’t dip your toe into the pool of King’s, you dove in. You dug your roots into Bonhoeffer, integrated yourself into the theater department, and freely engage with whomever you please on campus with confidence. You have been instrumental in our success this year despite your lack of recognition. You are completely ahead of the curve in so many areas of your life and I can’t wait to see the man you become. You already have everything you need to succeed in life—first and foremost being your relationship with the Father.
As the semester progressed, our leadership team got into a groove and things started to go smoothly (something I never expected to happen). The freshmen were completely bought in, and I credit that to the upperclassmen who led by example: David Rovis, Rafa Oliveira, and Titus Ward. I entered King’s with these three men and have seen them grow and mature into great men over the past three years. I am filled with joy whenever I see you sacrifice your time to disciple the underclassmen just as those who came before you did for you.
David, you consistently push our bible studies to the next level with your nuanced observations and connections. The strength of your faith and your dedication to living your life for the glory of God inspires me. During our first semester at King’s, you complained about lukewarm Christians—nobody can rightly complain that about you.
Rafa, you have flourished in your role as the Director of Spiritual Life. Your decision to serve the student body despite not being able to do so in the role you desired is admirable and noteworthy. Thank you for your wisdom at the end of the fall semester; it was you that I looked to for guidance in one of the most stressful points in my life—and you delivered.
Titus, you have been my best friend ever since the dinner on the rooftop at West, just days into our freshman year. Thank you for the late-night rooftop conversations, your humor, optimism, boundless love, and your many compliments. You have supported me despite my many oddities and fluctuations in reputation. You are loyal. You have been my rock and I refuse to think about losing you anytime soon.
As the first semester came to a close, it became time to hold elections to fill our vacant positions and to save Bonhoeffer being dissolved. Three brave freshman who had no idea what they were getting into stepped up to the task. These men were Matthew Peterson, Alex Cho, and Trey Shell. In the end, Alex was elected to be our Helmsman and Trey was elected to be our Chamberlain. Bonhoeffer was saved, but that’s not the end of our story.
At the beginning of the year, the leadership team of each house presents a brick with a word that represents the houses’ goal for the year. Our word was “resurgence”. In my speech to the rest of the student leaders, I stated that we chose “resurgence” because we didn’t just want to marginally improve the state of the house—our goal was to surge forward. We believed that if you aim for survival, you are destined to fail. When you push men to greatness, that is when you see communities thrive.
With the addition of Trey and Alex to our team, we were able to realize the full potential of our small yet mighty house. Our resurgence was in full swing. Alex stepped into arguably the hardest role within the house: the helmsman. He had no training nor prior experience, but he excelled in this role. I fully believe that he was one of the top three helmsman this year—and other helmsman have relayed similar sentiments to me. It was largely through his effort that our community thrived during the spring semester. Alex, you have been extremely dependable and proactive this semester and that speaks directly to your character. You have an innate ability to
make everybody around you smile. You have God-given joy that I wish I could steal for a day. I wish I had more time with you by my side, but I am thankful for the time that we shared. I am thankful to know that you’ll be bringing the light of God into a whole new community next year.
Matthew Peterson, you constantly impress me with your quick wits and your hospitable presence. I admired the grace you exhibited when you weren’t selected for the exec team despite being more than qualified. You didn’t let that disappointment dampen your spirit either—you went and created the letters project. In this you reminded me that you don’t need to be in a position of leadership to influence your surroundings. You and Aidan are the brains behind the single greatest production to come from the student body in years, remember that. Matthew, you have been the glue of Bonhoeffer this year. You are the four-way roundabout that unites this house.
Just as our exec team was getting acquainted, the news broke about the college’s financial instability. The new members of our team quickly became good friends with the weight of leadership. The student leaders at King’s were far from the only people affected though. One of the prominent themes that arose relating to King’s uncertain future was that of muddied communication. One student would hear something, share it with someone else, and that process would repeat like a game of human telephone. If you’ve ever played the game, you’d know that the information that gets passed along changes quite quickly. Colby McCaskill and the rest of the
Empire State Tribune team took it upon themselves to bring clarity to the student body regarding ever-changing information regarding the future of King’s.
At every community update, Colby would be sitting in the front row with his notepad out and a microphone as hot as they come. Colby’s work for the EST has far surpassed what is expected of him. He is currently undertaking a massive project in which he is interviewing those within and surrounding the Kings community with the aim of publishing an audio documentary to report an accurate representation of Kings history, present, and future. Beyond his work as a journalist, Colby has been a good friend to me this year. In him, I finally found my chess rival and a source of many generously shared meals. Colby, there are few men so concerned with seeking out truth and justice as you. I find that quality about you extremely admirable and I wish I had the same degree of fervor in me. I know that you can’t be here next year, but I hope you continue to be challenged in new ways wherever you go. I hope this because I have seen you grow so much this year, and I don’t want that to stop now.
The year is wrapping up now, and we just held our elections for next year. We elected Avian Hall as scholar, Matthew Peterson as helmsman, and Trey Shell as president. Trey, I have full confidence that you will excel in this role. You are one of the most intellectual people I have met and it’s not a coincidence that I’ve avoided debating you. It wasn’t until you had to write your justice paper that I realized just how much effort you put into ensuring the tasks you complete are done to the best of your ability. If you put half as much effort into your presidency as you did that paper, your name will be remembered. Beyond all that, I witnessed how you’ve navigated your relationships this year. You have been so intentional, thoughtful, and caring in ways that I don’t think most people are aware of. You are going to be a great father.
These are the men of Bonhoeffer that have shaped me for the better. I didn’t expect this year to be very rewarding, in fact, I expected it to suck. I was wrong. This has been my most fulfilling year at King’s and all the credit goes to this community. All this praise would be incomplete without recognizing two more men that have been powerful forces for good this year.
Richard Christensen, you had some big shoes to fill when you joined Bonhoeffer as our staff advisor this year. That didn’t seem to faze you. From day one you sought out each of our members and poured into them. You also poured into me. You answered my many unnecessary texts, affirmed my decisions made in doubt, and invested in me for my humanity rather than my role. You exhibited admirable wisdom and discernment when providing insight into the uncertainty of King’s. You were exactly what I needed this year. You were stable when nothing
else was.
Doc, I’m not sure if you knew this, but you were the blueprint to leading Bonhoeffer successfully this year. In your free time, you roam the halls and engage genuinely with everyone you can. You commute to campus on your day off to be with Bonhoeffer at PRS on Mondays. I didn’t realize how important those commitments were until it came time for me to lead the house. What you do is so much more than talking to people; you form a sense of belonging in our staff, faculty, and students. You make people feel seen and desired. This year, I led the same
way you lead. Whenever I came to campus, I made a point of passing through the fishbowl and library to greet and invest into our men. I credit this habitual action to a significant portion of the success our house had in convincing our freshman to buy in. In many ways, the success of Bonhoeffer this year is credited to you. You have been the one constant in our history from day one. You pour unyielding love into our men, past and present. It has been an honor to work alongside you.
No matter our futures, this group of men will forever hold a special place in my heart. Thank you for all that you’ve done for me. There are so many things that I can’t put into words here that I am extremely grateful for. The last time I cried was when the weight of leadership hit me at the close of my sophomore year. It is now the end of my junior year, and the burden of leadership is being lifted off my shoulders—I am crying once again.
Becket O'Neil
House President | House of Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Class of '24
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