Sometimes Samantha Axtell has endured such extreme pain from bouts of fibromyalgia that she was barely able to walk.
Against doctor’s orders, the mother of two enrolled in pharmacy school at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where she’s now on track to graduate.
“God was calling me to do it. How could I not do it?” Axtell said Thursday, reflecting on her journey during the final day of Senior Week in chapel.
Axtell, of West Palm Beach, was one of eight seniors chosen to offer words of inspiration to their peers as the fall semester draws to a close. Some of the others were Rebekah Bouch, Kyra Brundell, Jason Dodrill, Chris Hernandez, Deborah Levinsky, and Bradley Mack.
Axtell likened life to a hurricane in which the calmest place is in eye of the storm. “If you’re in that eye, you’re protected from everything around you.”
Other students also shared stories of overcoming personal adversity. Senior Chris Hernandez, a journalism major who is minoring in biblical studies, spoke about how he struggled with depression and contemplated suicide before transferring to PBA.
“I wanted a Command-Z (reset) button for my life,” said Hernandez, a New York City native.
Although PBA gave him a fresh start, he still has endured difficult setbacks at times, he said. “I’m still a work in progress, and God is not through with me by any means,” he said.
Jason Dodrill, another fourth-year pharmacy student, spoke about how he went from struggling academically to helping to tutor his classmates.
The Fort Myers resident challenged students to take stock of each spiritual gift. “My hope is that you would use those gifts … to take care of those around you and to serve the Lord.”
Another speaker, Deborah Levinsky, did exactly that, but in a rather unexpected way.
The West Caldwell, N.J., native said she had put aside her childhood dream of becoming a therapeutic horseback riding instructor for children with disabilities when she arrived at PBA to study elementary education. Then through the Workship program, she discovered Vinceremos, a therapeutic riding organization based in Loxahatchee.
“I instantly knew this was what I wanted to do with my life,” said Levinsky, who said she is sometimes known as the “crazy horse lady.”
Through volunteering and later accepting a staff position at Vinceremos, Levinsky has now become a certified riding instructor. In recent weeks, she also has discovered a love for classroom teaching that she didn’t know she had, she said.
She said her parents not only encouraged her to attend PBA, they helped her remain focused on her degree.
“I can’t believe my parents were right,” she said.
Other thoughts from Senior Week speakers:
Rebekah Bouch, marketing major and dance minor from Oviedo, Fla.: Bouch’s five keys to success are embracing change, finding yourself, knowing what you know (and don’t know), achieving a balance and using your time wisely. “College should not be completely about academics. There’s so much more to it.”
Kyra Brundell, cinema-television major from Shoreview, Minn.: After spending last summer with several PBA students on the Africa Trek, Brundell now hopes to return to Africa to serve on a two-year mission assignment. “God is just blowing my mind,” she said. “All He asks from us is that we just trust Him.”
Bradley Mack, theatre major with a concentration in musical theatre from Melbourne Beach, Fla.: Mack offered six reminders to students — know that God’s grace is one day at a time, be thankful, be real with God, wait on the Lord, work hard for God and remember that Jesus believes in you. “He calls us because he believes in us.”
Fall commencement will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.