As the year comes to a close, we often take a moment to reflect on the moments that make up the semester.

However, when we look back on the year, we recall the month of January when Azusa Pacific University grieved the loss of two students and two alumni.

This is a tribute to one of those students, Josh Millender, who unexpectedly passed away on Jan. 10, 2024.

Millender was a sophomore living in Engstrom with plans to major in Psychology and Honors Humanities. Passionate about learning, the first-generation college student planned to pursue a career advocating for students with disabilities.

Following his tragic passing, the Dean of the Honors College, David Weeks, shared words of encouragement with students within the Honors family:

“In the aftermath of the sudden loss of Joshua Millender, we struggle in our sorrow to find adequate words to say to one another, desiring to act in a way that brings God’s mercy, comfort, and strength to bear.

“In memory of Joshua, the Honors College dedicates this semester to one of our own, remembering his family and one another in prayer, asking God to ‘heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds’ (Ps. 147:3).

“Joshua’s passing follows so soon after the tragic death of Jollyfisher Ekpe, the brother of fellow honors student Efa.  In remembrance, let’s use this semester to deepen the ties that bind our community.  Let’s prize our friendships even more and extend our circle of friends to include others.  Let’s show more gratitude and extend more grace.  Doing so will honor those who have departed all too soon.”


This semester, I got the chance to sit down with a few fellow Honors students and friends of Millender, as they chronicled their time with Josh over the last two years.

Ty Lipus, Heath Koranda, and Heejae Jeong took turns sharing stories of his selflessness and devotion to his faith as well as touching on the lessons they learned from his life. Throughout our conversation, Josh was praised for his humility, obedience, and kindness — attributes that all of us can only strive to emulate as well as he did.

“I really wish we got to know him better. I mean, there’s only a few times that he came over and we kind of connected. But just in those small times, you could always see who Josh was,” said Koranda.

One thing about Josh that stood out to students was his ability to weather any storm. Born with cerebral palsy, he was adamant about not letting it hold him back from doing things he loved, especially doing those things in community with others. One of those things that stood out was his love for video games.

“One day, he just knocked on our door, came in, and just introduced himself,” said Lupus, who was Josh’s suitemate in Engstrom, along with Koranda. “We were playing video games at the time. And one thing about Josh was due to his cerebral palsy, he played video games on a controller with one hand and I thought that was just so cool.”

Koranda added that the three boys really bonded over Smash Bros, the Spider-Man games, NBA 2K and other PS5 games.

“We had him come over and we were gonna play Smash Bros. And then he was like, ‘I’ve never played it before but I could give it a go.’ So he took it, figured out the controls, and just started playing it with one hand, with no problem. I was like, ‘That is so sweet.’ But in a funny way, that is kind of who he is,” said Koranda. “He took it in stride, what he was born with and he made it work. He had fun with it too and was always so willing to talk to us about how it worked. You could really sense that [his cerebral palsy] was something he had reconciled with and had found a lot of like peace about.”

Jeong’s relationship with Millender was a little different than the other two boys. Jeong and Millender shared both Honors colloquy and a writing group together which meant that they met several times a week, eventually establishing themselves as more than peers but as good friends.

“He was very diligent [with his work]…and I was not,” joked Jeong in our conversation. Together the two would meet every week to go over papers for Honors and bounce ideas off one another. 

Jeong recalls Milender taking a significant liking to Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince which sparked a heartfelt conversation about Machiavelli’s philosophy of what makes a great leader. Heong remembered even more so that no matter the topic, Josh always pointed it back to Christianity.

His deep love for Scripture (inspired by his Uncle DeShaun and other family) has fueled him to uphold God’s truth amidst talking about difficult subjects within Honors which often challenge biblical foundation.

But between those short 1-2 hour sessions spent dissecting the works of Aristotle, Erasmus, Shakespeare, and more, Jeong and Millender shared sentimental conversations about their individual struggles as young students in college.

“I shared my story and how coming here from Korea, I struggled with academics plus just life in general,” said Jeong. “But I also shared how God helped me go through all the struggles. He shared about his struggles and how he sees his life now… But I remember that he didn’t really complain, ever. He said he trusted God, rather than complaining about his life.”

“He never dwelled on his challenges but instead focused on the connections and joys that life brought, inspiring those around him to appreciate the beauty in simplicity,” said Curtis Isozaki, former director of strategic initiatives and enrollment of APU’s Honors College.


After someone passes away, we often feel inclined to recall every moment we spent with that person, every conversation, every fleeting moment. But often, what follows that is the moments of “what could have been” or the “if only.” Lupus and Koranda shared that the latter sentiment is something that they have struggled to feel guilty for.

“He was super brave to make that first initial step [of] walking into the room,” said Koranda. “We really, really appreciate the time that we spent with him and I think looking back on it, there were so many moments where we thought ‘you know another time’ and just like we just put it off. So [following his passing] I think we were left with this impression to always try your best to see the unseen in every in every way that you can, because you never know when the opportunity will be taken away.”

He added, “Appreciate those moments, as simple as they are, with all of your heart, because that’s really where the love of Christ thrives and is built on.”

Following his testament, Lupus added that after Millender’s passing, he was reminded of Paul.

“Paul says [in Hebrews 13:2] , ‘Show hospitality to everyone, because some of you have unknowingly entertained angels’…But seriously, like if anyone’s an angel, [it] was Josh.”

When asked about what qualities of Josh stood out to them the most, words like humility, kindness, and resilience came to the front.

“A lot of people say that someone is kind, but like, very rarely is someone truly, truly kind… But Josh was one of those people,” said Koranda.


In the first semester in Honors, students read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The book details that the truest and greatest form of friendship is one based on mutual goodness. Within this type of friendship, Aristotle notes that kindness and selflessness must be present — both qualities that Millender so naturally embodied during his lifetime.

“In friendship, kindness is essential. Friends should be kind to each other, not merely in their actions but also in their intentions. Genuine kindness involves a sincere concern for the well-being of the other person, manifesting in acts of generosity, support, and understanding. Through kindness, friends nurture the bond between them, creating a relationship grounded in mutual respect and goodwill,” said Aristotle.


Although we cannot change the past and welcome Josh with the same kindness that he demonstrated in his friendships with Lupus, Koranda, and Jeong, we can certainly learn from his traits of humility, strength, and selflessness. By doing so, we can apply these qualities to our future connections with people and ensure that Millender’s legacy continues well beyond his time here at APU.