Commencement speaker takes leap of faith

Student speaker Abbigale Burdett details her faith-filled testimony at Friday afternoon's Winter Commencement.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow / Video

Student speaker Abbigale Burdett knows what happens when you put your trust in God, sharing how she overcame her fear of public speaking during Friday afternoon’s Winter Commencement ceremony at Grand Canyon University.

A student decorated her graduation cap with white roses.

Burdett, who earned her bachelor's degree in Christian Studies, always struggled with public speaking — something you wouldn’t expect of someone who danced competitively for 15 years in front of hundreds of people.

For so long, she relied on dance to be her voice, replacing words with movement. Still, she remains grateful to the art, as it has led to her true passion.

“The only way I knew how to communicate what I truly felt was through dance. It was in this escape and a major creative outlet that sparked my love for worship,” she said to the audience, which included graduates from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Theology, and College of Arts and Media.

A family member adorns a graduate with a flower lei before the start of the ceremony.

Seeing how assured she looked on stage, you would never think Burdett struggled with thoughts of mispronunciation, stuttering and failure. What seemed like a nonexistent battle on the outside, paralyzed her on the inside.

“It was hard to think I could confidently perform onstage in front of hundreds of people but was so anxious presenting to a class of 30,” said Burdett. “I was always viewed as confident, and it seemed like everyone had me figured out. Yet I was having an internal war just trying to sum up the courage to give something as subtle as a compliment.”

A student displays a faith-centered message on her graduation cap.

She needed a remedy, something to calm the storm inside her mind. So she turned herself over to God. Instead of saying "no" to facing her fears, she found herself saying “yes” to God's calling for her life.

During her senior year of high school, Burdett attended a youth summer camp where she sacrificed her lifelong passion for dance and stepped into a different season and new calling God placed in her life. That calling led her to GCU.

“Truly, when I say I give the Lord glory for giving me strength and knowledge to further my studies in theology, I give Him praise for allowing me the courage to say ‘yes’ to His calling on my life,” she said. “I’m grateful for that in the same way Jesus entrusted Himself in the hands of God.”

Students celebrate and flash their first 'Lopes Up' sign as alumni.

Part of earning her degree meant presenting in front of the class. Her fear of public speaking made that a challenging endeavor, but stepping out of her comfort zone led her to a place of desperation. Burdett quickly discovered that where there is desperation, there is also God.

“A desperate heart that is eager to honor the Lord is the exact place I needed to be in order to faithfully follow Him,” she said. “A mentor of mine once said you cannot acquire leadership without obtaining willingness.

“Although what she said sounded really good, I knew that word ‘willingness’ meant refinement, surrender and a lot of prayer.”

Confetti showers graduates after they swivel their tassels from right to left.

She left the crowd of graduates with a piece of advice — wisdom only God could have given her.

“Take heart in the truth that God will lead you down a path of righteousness that you were created to be on,” said Burdett, beaming with the knowledge that she overcame her fear of public speaking.

“My goal today is to remind you that your purpose is not a product of what you do. Rather, it is the reason behind why God created you in the first place.”

Contact staff writer Lydia P. Robles at 602-639-7665 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU News: Early exit gives Winter grads a head start

GCU News: A star is born on Commencement stage


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Bible Verse

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

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