By Marina Gaytan

Dealing with loss, finding community, sharpening ethical standards and encouraging others to seek Christ-centered friendships were the stories shared by Fresno Pacific University graduating seniors during College Hour chapel April 24, 2024. The four offered parting words ahead of commencement May 4, when 979 students in traditional undergraduate, bachelor’s degree completion, graduate and seminary program will earn degrees. 

Brianna Gutierrez
B.A. in Kinesiology – Pre-Occupational Therapy

Brianna Gutierrez’s Catholic upbringing told her to trust in God, pray and believe. It was a belief that, at the age of 7, she couldn’t quite understand. But as she grew older, she says she grew closer to God, joining her church youth group. As she struggled in her home and school life with her parents’ separation, her faith was something she could hang onto. She began to understand her tribulations somehow always led her to see better days. 

When Brianna was named high school valedictorian, she felt she had accomplished a huge milestone, including speaking in front of a large crowd. Brianna moved on to Reedley College, becoming the first in her family to earn an associate degree. When it came time to pick a university, she was set on FPU.  

“I prayed about it a lot, trusted God, and would say ‘Let it be your way, God, and not mine,’” Brianna says. “I didn’t apply anywhere else because my heart knew it would only be FPU.” 

Calling FPU the best decision she ever made, Brianna credited friendships who helped shape her by sharing her vision to live and walk like the Lord. Brianna highly commended Office of Spiritual Formation (OSF) staff who stuck by her when times got tough.

Brianna believes God hand-picked her to be at FPU. “Looking back on my life now, I see and understand how God makes way for the greater things he has planned,” she says. “I thank God for what he did.”  

Sydnee Van Ornam
B.A. in Biology

Sydnee Van Ornam’s parents raised her in a Christian home and encouraged her to grow up with the word of God in her heart. Sydnee said she had a blessed upbringing, having two parents who kept her comfortable and safe. But that safe space wasn’t short of challenges. 

Sydnee said her twin sister was born with a disability that took away her capacity to comprehend. Although she loved her sister deeply, Sydnee admitted she struggled with the around-the-clock care her twin needed. 

And that wasn’t the only struggle she would face. In high school, Sydnee started to experience chronic migraines, which no doctor could diagnose—he just had to learn to manage. The migraines led to depression and anxiety, along with many other issues, including pushing everyone away, leaving her lonely. However, that loneliness subsided at FPU. She joined a peer mentor program and gained a group of like-minded friends, ultimately making a difference in her life and the lives of others. 

“I’m not the most outgoing person,” Sydnee said, “but FPU has turned me into a person that experiences things, makes new friends and has confidence.”

Day after day, Sydnee soared in her faith and grew closer to God, questioning why she doubted him in high school. Today, she believes that all her sufferings challenged her to become a better person. 

“My life shows that God gives us struggles,” Sydnee said. “Not for us to understand, but to look back on and to glorify him through it.”

Chabelli Perez
B.A. in Business Administration – Management


That word is what Chabelli Perez credits with shaping her character. However, it wasn't just any community that made the difference, it was the FPU community. The way her peers, friends and mentors dropped what they were doing to help brought her so much joy and sharpened her ethical values and standards. 

It’s no coincidence Chabelli ended up at FPU. She believes God placed her here so she could be close to him and grow in her faith. Accepted at 16 colleges and universities, she felt judged when people asked why she chose FPU over so many options. “I now know, my plans are not God’s plans,” she says. She knew there was a bigger purpose behind her decision, and it wasn’t just because her dad was in love with the fact that she’d be close to home. 

At the start of her freshman year, Chabelli was faced with a lot of personal loss after losing several beloved family members and friends within about 18 months. Her body was there, but her heart wasn’t in it. That’s when God showed up, knowing what her heart needed. Her FPU family kept her on her toes, and she got involved in campus activities, a campus job and prioritizing spirituality. 

“Here at FPU, I found my people,” she says. “People who inspire me constantly to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ.”

Chabelli encouraged others to be open to Christ-centered friendships, “because even in the Bible, a man is healed because of the faith of his friends.” 

Daniel Devore
B.A. in Business Administration – Marketing

At age 5, Daniel Devore recalled accepting Jesus into his heart, but he soon realized that accepting Jesus and knowing Jesus were two different things.

Raised in a spiritual household, Daniel’s family moved from Whittier to Placerville when he was 13. A few years later, he attended a conference where someone told him that God would speak directly to him that day. It dawned on him that he had been a Christian for 16 years, yet had never talked with God. Minutes passed, and Daniel wondered if he would ever hear from God. Then, he received word through the Holy Spirit—that God was real. It was an experience he had never felt before and would never forget. “For me, it was that moment when a third part of my heart opened up,” Daniel said. 

Since then, not a day has gone by that he doesn’t speak to God and open up to others about his spirituality. He offers encouragement and hope to others to seek a relationship with God just as he had.He also shares scriptures that touch his heart, like Romans 8:14-17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

“Jesus is everything to me,” Daniel said. “This isn’t the end of my time at FPU; this is the start of something new for you guys, but then also for me too. Our whole lives are an offering.”  


PHOTO (from left): Sydnee Van Ornam; Brianna Gutierrez; FPU President André Stephens, Ph.D.; Daniel Devore; Chabelli Perez; Campus Pastor Brian Davis (FPU photo by Marina Gaytan)



Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations