A Family Affair

by Cynndie Hoff

The accumulation of knowledge, faculty and peer influence, and crossing the threshold into adulthood inevitably shape the lives of undergraduates on every campus. More and more, discerning students seeking the right college carefully consider the character of the graduates in addition to the traditional criteria of academics, athletics, location, tuition, and prestige. And they start with a look at their older siblings, because no one can spot authentic growth and development like family. That’s why so many families send multiple students to Azusa Pacific—they witness sons and daughters, brothers and sisters undergo a purposeful and holistic transformation that begins on day one and permeates every aspect of living and learning at APU.

At the May 2016 commencement, two such families celebrated that process as the last of their lines walked across the stage marking the end of an undergraduate era and the beginning of a legacy.

The Vaudreys

With six APU bachelor’s degrees, three master’s degrees, and one doctorate to their family name, the Vaudrey family epitomizes this concept. Scott and September Vaudrey sent their five children to APU and gained a daughter-in-law here—and some returned to pursue advanced degrees. Why?

“Nobody falls through the cracks at APU,” said September. “And it’s not just lip service. The school puts its financial support behind amazing programs and people like the D-Groups, which disciple students and offer a safe place to deconstruct and reconstruct their faith.”

The first Vaudrey to enter the college search, Matthew ’07, M.Ed. ’09, loved the feel of Azusa Pacific and admits that the warm Southern California climate added to the draw for the native Chicagoan. What he could not know at the time was that his choice of college would influence each of his siblings and spark the beginning of his own family after meeting his future wife, Andrea (Gerali ’07), M.Div. ’10. Today he serves as a technology coach and math teacher in the Bonita Unified School District, and recently coauthored The Classroom Chef (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2016). Andrea is an adjunct professor in APU’s School of Theology.

Although each of the Vaudrey siblings considered other college options, younger brother, Sam ’14, and sisters Bethany ’09, MFT ’12, Psy.D. ’15, Katie ’11, and September “Tember” ’16, each chose Azusa Pacific—not because of Matt’s choice, but because of Matt’s life. They saw for themselves that this was a place where they could become difference makers. “Each of them explored their faith here. They expanded their worldviews, grew in their compassion for those who are marginalized, and chose a career path that helps others,” said September, who attributes this trajectory in part to the care they received at APU. Bethany serves as a therapist for at-risk children and families in L.A. County, Sam at a public-health marketing agency in Hollywood, and Tember begins law school at UC Davis this fall, with an interest in international justice. Katie, a studio art major, passed away from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm after her freshman year but received her degree posthumously. “Each of our kids had someone who took them under his or her wing,” said September, who recently wrote Colors of Goodbye (Tyndale House Publishers, 2016) about the Vaudrey family’s journey of losing a child and the significant role APU played. “The faculty walked alongside them through the loss of their sister, through relational struggles, spiritual explorations, and career planning. Wise and caring adults mentored them and demonstrated how APU really cares about the individual and the whole family. They each left APU with a faith and future that is their own.”

The Brazells

“When my husband, Alan, and I visited APU with our oldest daughter in 2002, and stepped on campus for the first time, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and knew this was the right place,” said Karma Brazell, mother of four APU graduates and mother-in-law to another.

Pioneering the Brazell clan’s Azusa Pacific connection, Corrie (Brazell ’06) Myers, M.Ed. ’11, developed a deep love for teaching and met her husband, Kasey ’06. When her younger brother, Phil ’08, M.A. ’13, began searching for a college, the overachieving ambitious leader applied mainly to Ivy League schools. His parents wisely asked him, “What are these next four years about, and what place will help you become who you want to be?” Phil sensed God redirecting his life at that moment—a divine recalibration of his values and purpose, and he chose APU. Today, he works as APU’s director of the Center for Career and Calling.

The next in line, John ’11, knew APU was the right place all along and gravitated to the university’s renowned School of Music where scholars inspired and challenged him to develop the essential skills needed for his career—a singer/songwriter in the commercial music industry. The youngest, Bonnie ’16, a psychology major about to pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy, had also always known she would attend. “I have been visiting family here since I was a little kid,” she said. “My earliest memories are of sleepovers in dorm rooms and hanging out with my siblings and their friends. It was like coming home.”

Each Brazell chose APU for different reasons, but with similar aspirations—to become more Christlike. “We saw each of our children undergo an amazing transformation at Azusa Pacific,” said Karma. “Corrie and Phil, both assertive personalities, learned to temper and refine their leadership skills and use their gifts graciously and effectively. John tackled a demanding major and emerged an organized, responsible, and motivated man. And Bonnie found and defined her own voice within the family and became a confident young woman with a strong purpose and a plan. Each transitioned from following the faith of their parents to making that faith their own with the guidance of the body of Christ at APU who surrounded them, loved them, and walked alongside them.” In her blog, Corrie, a high school teacher in Carlsbad Unified School District, named Teacher of the Year in 2016, summed up well the shared experience of these families: “Day in and day out we were … drenched in truth, both externally and internally. We were challenged to become the best version of ourselves and then to work tirelessly to give that best of ourselves in service to others.”

Cynndie Hoff is a freelance writer and editor living in Walnut, California. ceh.hoff@verizon.net