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Mark Shriver: On Being a ‘Pencil in God’s Hand’

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Commencement speaker Mark Shriver said he had to battle his own ego to address the 2013 graduating class of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) about what really counts: “To perform acts of hope and love… [This] is what matters.”

“I initially accepted the invitation to speak here because it is such an honor and it felt good for my ego,” he said during the 95th annual commencement exercises on April 28, 2013. “I was being recognized for all of my great achievements: Should I talk about my work as a member of the Maryland legislature, or what lessons I gleaned from my successful private sector experience? Maybe I should speak about writing a bestselling book and the experience of a national book tour? Surely this was my chance to speak about my thoughts, to share my pearls of wisdom.

EMU graduation 2013. (Photo by Annie Diller)

“But when I started to write this speech, I struggled,” he added. “Those very thoughts conflicted with what Eastern Mennonite University stands for, and has taught each of you. Indeed, by extending the invitation, Eastern Mennonite University was teaching me that what I am trying to do in my life—to serve poor kids and their families, to perform acts of hope and love—is what matters.”

Shriver referenced stories from his father, Sargent Shriver, and his work with the Peace Corps, War on Poverty, Head Start, and Job Core. Looking back through letters written to him by his father, Shriver identified three key virtues embodied by his father’s life – faith, hope and love.

“Indeed, being good, when no one is looking, being good when the cameras are off and the lights are off, being good to presidents and cardinals was as important as being good to the waitresses or the garbage collectors – goodness, for him [Sargent Shriver] was more important than greatness.”

Mark Shriver is the author of A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver (Henry Holt and Co., 2012), which describes how his father lived out his faith, hope and love in his marriage of 54 years, parenting of five children, and wide-ranging service work.

From left: James Souder and Phillip Martin, EMU class of 2013. (Photo by Lindsey Kolb)

“My dad would’ve loved today, he would’ve loved the joy that permeates this day and this wonderful university. He would’ve especially loved that each of you, as traditional undergraduates, has completed at least nine semester hours of cross-cultural work. You’ve demonstrated a commitment to peacebuilding, to global awareness and … to the interdependence of cultures and nations.”

Shriver, who is senior vice president for strategic initiatives and senior advisor to the chief executive officer of Save the Children U.S. Programs, modeled humble gratitude to the thousands in the audience. “By asking me to stand in front of all of you—a guy who is not a political potentate or a high-ranking legal scholar, who is not a famous bestselling author—by inviting me to speak—someone who is striving to be a pencil in God’s hand—Eastern Mennonite University has taught me—and I hope all of you—that what is truly important in life is to accept Jesus’ invitation to love and serve each other, to commit to daily acts of hope and love. Maybe even be a good woman, or good man.”

Graduating class

EMU President Loren Swartzendruber conferred 497 degrees and certificates: 406 undergraduate,

Sylvia Hooley Meyer, a graduate of EMU’s master in education program, shares her perspective on her time at EMU during the 95th annual commencement ceremony. (Photo by Lindsey Kolb)

87 earning one of five master’s degrees (not including those from the seminary), three graduate certificates in conflict transformation, and one graduate certificate in non-profit leadership and social entrepreneurship.

The undergraduate class had 104 people who graduated with honors, finishing with cumulative grade point averages between 3.6 and 4.0.

The undergraduate class of 2013 bestowed a monetary gift to develop the area between Northlawn residence hall and Campus Center into a recreational area for future students.

Eastern Mennonite Seminary conferred 24 degrees and certificates: 13 master of divinity, four master of arts in religion, one master of arts in church leadership, five certificates in ministry studies, and one certificate in theological studies.

To listen to the full commencement exercise visit: emu.edu/now/podcast/2013/04/28/2013-commencement/

A full gallery of photos from commencement is posted at emu.edu/photos/commencement-2013/.

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