Opportunities are for taking

On an afternoon that felt more like summer than spring, Eastern Mennonite University held its 91st commencement on the front lawn of campus Sunday, Apr. 26.

A celebratory crowd of nearly 4,000 family and friends applauded and cheered as the 465 members of the EMU class of 2009 received their diplomas. EMU President Loren Swartzendruber presented 348 undergraduate, 95 graduate, 9 graduate certificates and 12 study and pastoral ministry certificates during the ceremonies.

In her address, Joyce Bontrager Lehman, a 1965 EMU alumna, quoted anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, "Never doubt the ability of a small group of committed citizens to change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

Speaking from her perspective as a program officer for microfinance with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's "Financial Services for the Poor" initiative, she stated: "I believe that real lasting change occurs only at the grass roots, one person, one family, one village at a time."

Bontrager Lehman said that this conviction was solidified for her after starting up a microcredit program for women in Kabul, Afghanistan.

"Five years later, that program and many other grass roots efforts are thriving, whereas the government and macro structures are teetering under the weight of political violence and corruption," she said.

Declaring that "the need for reducing inequities in the world is greater than ever," the speaker identified several "opportunities" awaiting EMU graduates in areas of health, agriculture, finance and education.

"For every academic or technical field represented in this class, I can give examples of how your skills can be used to address critical global needs," she said, adding: "You are uniquely prepared [at EMU] to meet these needs.

"You have been prepared not only to serve, but to do so with the courage to go beyond your comfort zone, with curiosity and compassion, a commitment to excellence and the courage of your convictions and you passions," Bontrager Lehman told the graduates.

"These opportunities are yours for taking; you have been provided an enviable head start with your education and experience here," she said. "What matters most is that your work reflects what you believe, that you not be afraid to take chances, that you chase interesting ideas and are prepared to take advantage of the many opportunities available to you," she said.

She closed with a quote from German writer-philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that she has carried with her for the past 12 years: "Unless one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too."

EMU conferred an honorary posthumous degree to the late Jan Jennings Wampler of Weyers Cave, Va. She had completed all course work for an MA in education degree in literacy except for her action research project when she died on Mar. 7, 2009 of complications from a near 40-year diabetic condition. She taught physical education at McGaheysville Elementary School before going on medical leave. Wampler's husband, Wesley, received the degree from President Swartzendruber.

Ten undergraduate students wore blue and gold "Cords of Distinction" with their academic regalia. They were selected by faculty, staff and fellow students their peers for "consistently demonstrating a positive effect on the campus and broader community" and exemplifying the highest ideals of EMU.

Some students wore green ribbons to signify their commitment to a Graduation Pledge which states, "I commit myself to a lifestyle of social and environmental integrity and will seek to improve these aspects of the community in which I work."

The class of 2009 had 117 honors graduates - cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude, including three students who finished with perfect 4.0 grade point averages.

— article by: Jim Bishop; posted April 14, 2009