Seniors Offer Parting Words to Fellow Students in Chapel

Software engineer Melanie Kafka remembers being at a critical point in her life when she discovered Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Melanie Kafka and Eric Aquino with Mark Kaprive     
 Brianna Brown and Caitlyn Girardi
Chloe Westrich and Tehila-Grace Wilson

Josh Gradwohl and Priscilla Babrick


She was in an internship program at her engineering firm but hoping for a promotion, and she was taking classes in computer science at another university. Then she and her husband divorced, and her grades began to slip, she told her fellow classmates at PBA this week in the DeSantis Family Chapel.

“I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to graduate. I didn’t think I was going to get the promotion. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to take care of my two kids, who were ages 2 and 4 at the time,” said Kafka, who previously served five years active duty in the U.S. Navy as an information technician and a year as a reservist.

“I was pretty desperate. I was pretty scared. I really didn’t know what was going to happen next.”

What happened next was that she enrolled at PBA, and now she is on track to graduate on Dec. 14 with a degree in organizational management.

Kafka, of Wellington, was the first of eight seniors chosen to offer reflections on their time at PBA during Senior Days in chapel. The other speakers were Eric Aquino, Caitlyn Girardi, Brianna Brown, Chloe Westrich, Tehila-Grace Wilson, Josh Gradwohl and Priscilla Babrick.

Kafka, who said that she is relatively new to the Christian faith, said that she felt God was calling her to attend PBA. “I couldn’t be happier with what has transpired since I’ve been here. I’ve learned so much. I’ve had some really challenging classes.”

After graduation, Kafka plans to pursue an MBA. In addition, she found out that she recently received the promotion that she had been praying for, she said.

Some of the graduating seniors, like Aquino, offered words of advice to their peers. Aquino, who has been active in the youth ministry at Community of Hope church, is graduating with a degree in cross-cultural studies.

“Realize that you’re part of a community, and not just the community of your dorm or your hallway,” he told his classmates. “There are people and churches and families outside of PBA who are dying to meet you guys. Some of the things that I’ve learned while at PBA haven’t been in a classroom. They’ve been at my church.

“It’s not about going and attending. It’s about belonging,” the Jacksonville, Fla., native said.

Girardi, a Syosset, N.Y., native who is graduating with a degree in biblical studies, spoke about how her future plans changed once she began to follow God’s leading. She said that at one time she was opposed to attending seminary, but now she is applying to do just that.

The thought came to her, “Maybe the reasons why you don’t want to work at a church are the reasons why you should,” she said.

Brown, a Kenneth City, Fla., resident who has co-led a PBA mission trip to the Caribbean, said that her faith brought her through challenging times.

“(God) was able to take those insecurities and use them for His own glory,” she said.

Other thoughts from Senior Week speakers:

Tehila-Grace Wilson, an elementary education major and biology minor from Chesapeake, Va., spoke about letting go of past hurts: “You have to open your hands to receive God’s blessing … you’re able to receive identity. You’re able to receive truth. You’re able to receive love.”

Chloe Westrich, a Christian social ministry major and psychology minor from St. Louis, Mo.: “There’s freedom in finding a balance between carefully considering your future and being fully present in what you’re doing right now.”

Josh Gradwohl, a biology major from Lenexa, Kansas: “Community is exceptionally uplifting,” he said. “We’re made after the likeness of God, and we’re made to live in community because of it.”

Priscilla Babrick, a management major and psychology minor from Palm Beach Gardens: “We have to believe that God is writing our story … for such a time as this.”