Eastern Mennonite University’s (EMU) graduates are “called to peacebuilding, at the personal, family, community and global levels,” university president Loren Swarztzendruber told hundreds packed into the opening-semester convocation on Jan. 11.
“My dream is whenever I shake the hand of an EMU alumnus, anywhere in the world, with a degree in any academic discipline, as a practitioner of any vocation, I can be sure he or she is a peacebuilder.”
Called to build peace
Swartzendruber noted that violence is not something new to the world, pointing out the Biblical story of Cane and Abel and the transgressions of former Presidents Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman and Alexander Hamilton, the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.
“Statistically violence is decreasing, but the bad news is that violence is far too prevalent, and for those who have been directly impacted by violence, it’s all too real,” said Swartzendruber. He cited data collected by a Sweedish institute headed by peace scholar Peter Wallensteen, his host at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Norway on Dec. 10. Swartzendruber went to Oslo to see the prize conferred on a 2007 master’s degree graduate of EMU, Leymah Gbowee.
“One of the strangest experiences in recent years that I’ve had, was to be lobbying state legislators in Richmond on the same day as folks were roaming the same offices with big buttons on their jackets, ‘guns save lives.'”
Being a peacebuilder
The president affirmed the work of Eboo Patel, a Muslim who founded Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, saying that service is something common to all world religions and it should be compassion based and not anger based.
“Of the many things at EMU of which I am proud, the establishment of our Center of Interfaith Engagement is one of the highlights of my years here thus far, and I encourage each of us to engage with others in honest and respectful conversations, not only between world religions but within our Christian, Muslim, Jewish, traditions.
“As we’ve all discovered, just because two Christians claim to be followers of Jesus does not mean we agree on how we should live,” Swartzendruber said. Peacebuilding should not wait “until we exit this place with our undergraduate or graduate degrees; indeed this environment provides ample opportunities to practice the art of peacebuilding.”
The convocation ended with a commissioning for the first group of students who will spend the spring semester on university-sponsored cross-cultural seminars.
Nineteen students led by Don Clymer, professor in language and literature department, and his wife, Esther Clymer, will spend the semester in a study-travel seminar to Mexico and Guatemala. Through home stays and study in both Guatemala and Mexico, students will discover how these historical and cultural realities have shaped the people in the region; and how these factors have formed their cultural and economic destinies.
Another 30 students who will spend the semester studying and traveling in the Middle East were commissioned at the close of university chapel Friday, Jan. 13. The group, led by Linford Stutzman, associate professor of culture and mission, and his wife Janet M. Stutzman, will be immersed in the ancient/ modern world of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
EMU’s second semester runs through April 27.
Peacebuilding video: emu.edu/now/video/2012/01/11/peacebuilding/
Student Life photo gallery: emu.edu/photos/student-life-fall-2011/