Rainy weather for much the weekend gave way to mostly sunny skies and breezy conditions by Sunday afternoon, May 1, allowing Eastern Mennonite University to hold its 87th commencement exercises on the front lawn of campus.
An audience of more than 3,600 got caught up in the celebrative spirit, with sustained applause and cheers punctuating the two-hour ceremony.
EMU President Loren E. Swartzendruber presented diplomas to the 380 members of the EMU class of 2005 that included 317 undergraduates; 60 persons awarded master’s degrees in Conflict Transformation, counseling, education and business administration; and three graduate certificate recipients.
Commencement speaker John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service, the oldest and largest ecumenical humanitarian organization in the world, used the familiar Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken,” as a springboard for his address on choosing life’s direction.
“The road taken is a statement about values and traditions,” McCullough said. “It defines priorities and brings into focus those things about which one may feel a sense of urgency.
“When you step off this campus, you will immediately set foot on a path reflective of your commitment to mold a quality of humanity consistent with what you fundamentally believe to be both noble and just,” he told the graduating class. “But doing so requires that one must also be clear about that which is ignoble and fundamentally unfair,” he added.
Citing statistics on the unprecedented disparity in the world today between rich and poor, the 80 countries and regions of the world that are presently at war and the staggering demands on agencies and programs that seek to meet overwhelming human need, McCullough challenged the graduates to “find your public voice and . . . choose a path where your gifts are used to improve the quality of our common humanity.
“If you choose the road of solidarity among the poor, then be more than just a presence – be an outspoken and courageous witness for the dignity and rights of the poor,” he said. “If you choose to walk among those of wealth, then use your privilege to be a lightening road for justice and real social change.”
“Two roads that set out from any common point, if traveled far enough into the horizon, must eventually intersect once again,” the speaker said. “This convergence must be about the reconciliation of those who hunger with those whose tables overflow with abundance; it must be about the meeting of those in poverty with those having more than enough to share.
“This is the transformation that is required, and we look to this early graduating class of the early 21st century to help us reach the mark,” McCullough concluded.
Joseph W. Mast, professor of computer science at EMU, offered a prayer of blessing to close the commencement. Dr. Mast plans to retire this year after 37 years of teaching.
During the baccalaureate service Saturday night, senior class officers presented a check for $5,000 to Susan M. Godshall, EMU board chair. The gift will be used to purchase lighting for the sidewalk along Northlawn residence hall, reconstruct barbecue pits and build picnic tables for the hill overlooking campus. Class members gave $2,500, which was matched by a gift from a local donor.
The undergraduate class included three students – Jason D. Garber, Hutchinson, Kan.; Rachel E. Medley, Harrisonburg; and Davi R. Soesilo, Indonesia – who received degrees in three majors, an unusual achievement. All three earned academic honors.