Eastern Mennonite University’s spring 2017 semester convocation marked a new era of leadership with President Susan Schultz Huxman’s first address to the campus community in a packed Lehman Auditorium. Huxman, who assumed her duties Jan. 1 from Interim President Lee Snyder, introduced herself as a leader who pays attention to ceremony.
“My academic field of study, as you have heard, is communication,” said Huxman. “The Latin root word of communication is community. So in my discipline, we take special interest in symbols and occasions that bind us to one another … like this one.”
Huxman then turned her attention to another ritual— the New Year’s resolutions we often make but seldom keep, in part because they are so “audacious” in their high expectations.
“The three most common New Year’s resolutions are: lose weight, exercise more and be a better person …no wonder we never succeed,” she said. “But I don’t want to us to lose sight of the reason we make these big, audacious, ‘I want to be a better person’ kind of resolutions. Believe it or not, they have their place, especially if we want to create healthy, vibrant communities.”
A reading from Winnie the Pooh —performed by Huxman in voices that brought the rotund bear, Rabbit, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet to life, and the audience to laughter—contributed the point that friends don’t ask for change, but instead “help you to be more of who you are.”
She invited the audience of several hundred to write a resolution on a 3×5 card for her to read later. Make these “not for personal gain,” she requested, “but for community-building gain, not for advancing ourselves, but for advancing our school. I want us to think about New Year’s resolutions we should have for EMU in 2017, to help it become more of who it is.”
The previous day, Huxman packed a full day of activities into learning more about “who” EMU is.
Beginning at 8 a.m., she took an interactive campus tour, occasionally accompanied by EMU’s mascot Herm, with visits to academic departments, participation in first-day-of-class activities, and informal interactions with students, faculty and staff in their normal work and living spaces. Her day ended 11 hours later after an alumni gathering in downtown Harrisonburg and the women’s basketball game against Washington and Lee in Yoder Arena.
Well-wishes into the new academic year
Preceding her convocation address, several representatives offered greetings. Provost Fred Kniss reminded the audience that despite news analyses of 2016 as the “worst year ever,” the recent celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is a reminder of the embracing presence of divine love “as we continue to carry the mission of peace of justice that He launched.”
In her welcome, Student Government Association co-president Quinn Kathrineberg urged her fellow students to take risks in the new semester: “I hope you find ways to celebrate the new and initiate change, though it may not always be easy … practicing an unfamiliar language on cross-cultural, starting that hobby you always wanted to try, or joining a new club.”
For the invocation, campus chaplain Brian Martin Burkholder selected two passages — John 17:13-19 and Micah 6:8 — that “have been formative for the university,” which “has been inspired by and dedicated to God and Christian scriptures, in the past 100 years.”
Huxman was introduced by Kevin Longenecker ‘91, a member of the EMU Board of Trustees. “We can all look forward to getting to know her better,” Longenecker said, “but this is what I know about her already.” He then listed six attributes: “a scholarly academic … a woman of deep faith … a committed historian … effective communicator … skillful teammate and collaborator…dedicated wife and mother.”
“All of these attributes make Dr. Huxman uniquely qualified to lead EMU at this time, to provide confident leadership to the institution and even more broadly as together we seek to tackle the critical issues facing our community, our church our society, and our globe.”
The convocation concluded with a blessing for two cross-cultural groups, totaling 51 students, traveling to Guatemala and Columbia, led by Professor Ann Hershberger and her husband, Jim, and to the Middle East, led by Professor Linford Stutzman and his wife, Janet.