Sharon E. Kniss of Harrisonburg takes seriously the mission statement of Eastern Mennonite University: "to experience Christ and follow His call to witness faithfully, serve compassionately and walk boldly in the way of nonviolence and peace."
Ms. Kniss, a rising senior justice, peace and conflict studies major, lives out this aspiration at EMU several ways.
In mid-March this year, she took first place in the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest held on campus with her address, "Engaging the Terrorists: A Discourse on Living with the Other." She received a cash award.
In her presentation, Kniss asked what needs to happen to purposely engage "the other" – to begin to communicate with those of differing persuasions and viewpoints, noting that applying handy labels like "conservative" or "liberal" aren’t helpful in that process.
She used Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 to support her points, arguing that "how we learn to live with each other forms the basis of peacebuilding in society."
Immediately after second semester, Kniss plunged into a whirl of responsibilities as lodging coordinator and community advisor (CA) in Parkwoods Apartments for the annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) held May 9-June 21. The event brought some 200 persons from more than 50 countries to campus for intensive training in peacebuilding skills, restorative justice and trauma healing.
"I loved doing it," she said of the SPI experience. "The staff was easy to work with, and I got to meet and interact with everyone who came through the program." She also took an SPI class, "Indigenous Peacemaking Processes."
No sooner did this assignment end than Kniss was off to Harlan, Ky., to spend the rest of the summer working with a Mennonite Central Committee program there. She served as site coordinator for groups coming to do home repair and rebuilding projects in that Appalachian community.
Being an honors student and a dean’s list regular hasn’t kept Kniss from a host of extracurricular pursuits. She’s a member of the EMU Chamber Singers and the varsity tennis team and helped form a student lecture committee to bring noted speakers to campus.
She was co-president of the Young People’s Christian Association (YPCA) her freshman and sophomore years and presently coordinates the Y-church program, which she cites as "one of the highlights of my time at EMU." She is deeply involved at Crossroads Mennonite Church near Timberville, leading music and worship and playing piano there.
After EMU? Kniss isn’t sure yet, but she’s considering a service assignment – Colombia, South America is a first choice – or "some form of church work."
This article will appear in the August 2005 issue of "Connections," a publication of Virginia Mennonite Conference.