Commencement Caps 90th Anniversary Celebration

By Dan Wright, Daily News-Record


EMU graduation
Erin Hess, her daughter, Emily, 3, and son, Jacob, 6, watch EMU seniors during the procession at the annual Commencement on Sunday afternoon. Photo by Michael Reilly


Sunday was a big day for Erika Escalera and more than 400 others who graduated from Eastern Mennonite University.

In 1991, Escalera arrived from the central highlands of Mexico and experienced the culture shock of learning a new language and starting kindergarten in an unfamiliar land.

On a cool and cloudy Sunday afternoon, though, Escalera, 23, reflected on the years of hard work that got her to this point.

“It’s been a tough road,” she said after receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood education. “But I made it through.”

In August, Escalera begins her teaching career at Waterman Elementary School, where she will teach second-grade students in the Language Enrichment for Academic Progress, or LEAP, program.

As a student who’s been fully immersed in two cultures, Escalera considers herself uniquely qualified for the position.

Her English is impeccable, but she still speaks Spanish at home with her husband and 6-year-old son.

“I was an [English Language Learner] student myself,” Escalera said. “I’ll be able to share the feelings I went through in elementary school.”

Graduation and an Anniversary


EMU President Loren Swartzendruber at 2008 graduation
EMU president Loren Swartzendruber (center) chats with graduates Erika Escalera (left) and Lisa King before commencement ceremonies on Sunday. Photo by Michael Reilly


EMU President Loren Swartzendruber conferred 411 diplomas, including 89 graduate degrees, to students at Sunday’s commencement.

Among the undergraduate degrees, 90 were honors graduates and three graduated with a perfect grade point average of 4.0.

“To the Class of 2008, this is your day,” Swartzendruber said in his opening remarks.

The ceremony capped the university’s 90th anniversary in a celebratory way, he added.

“We’ve had a variety of activities throughout the year to recognize the anniversary,” he said.

EMU Provost Beryl Brubaker delivered the commencement address, calling on the graduates to “offer healing and hope.”

Brubaker is wrapping up a 37-year career of teaching and administrative roles at EMU.

She plans to retire in June, but will manage aspects of the university’s upcoming re-accreditation.

Tying the graduation to the anniversary was 90-year-old Chester L. Wenger, who gave the commencement blessing.

Wenger, who celebrated his birthday on April 10, is the lone surviving son of A.D. Wenger, EMU’s second president, Swartzendruber said.

Crowd at EMU 2008 graduation
Brady Caplinger, 10 months old, holds a program as he is held by an aunt, Karen Smith. Another aunt, Sherrie Arey, was among the graduates. Photo by Michael Reilly

“Chester himself is an EMU graduate, long-time church leader, pastor and missionary in Ethiopia,” Swartzendruber said. “And he had eight kids at EMU, along with six of their spouses and eight grandchildren.

The EMU Experience

EMU requires its students to spend one semester in another culture to develop a sense of global awareness.

In her sophomore year, Lisa King spent a semester in Guatemala and Nicaragua, working and going to school.

“We lived with families in Guatemala City, then went to northern Guatemala for two weeks of service with Mayan indigenous people, living with them in their village,” King, 21, said. “Then we traveled to Nicaragua, [where we] studied Latin American and international relations with Guatemala and Nicaragua.”

King, a native of Lancaster, Pa., who moved to Harrisonburg recently, received her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.

She is senior class co-president with Christopher Lehman. The two delivered the class salutations Saturday evening during the baccalaureate service.

In the fall, King will move back to Pennsylvania to begin working at Lancaster General Hospital.

Over her graduation gown, King wore a brightly colored stole that she purchased in Guatemala.

“The stole represents the cross-cultural semester in Guatemala and Nicaragua,” King said. “It’s part of our EMU experience and I wanted to carry that with me.”

(Read about this spring’s crossculturals to the Middle East and Latin America…)