Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) President Loren Swartzendruber called students, faculty and staff to be “like no other,” as a Christian university and as servant leaders, to the standing-room only crowd in Lehman Auditorium during opening convocation Wednesday, Aug. 29.
“The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us that those who serve most effectively are not typically the most respected among us, nor do they often come from the ranks of those with obvious power,” said Swartzendruber. “Servant leaders are those who frequently did not seek leadership roles but act out of deeply held values which are often then noticed by others.”
Swartzendruber linked his message to several alumni who have made an impact as servant leaders across the world, including: Leymah Gbowee, a 2007 graduate of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and a 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate; Eliza Barnhart Burkholder, a 2009 nursing graduate who received the first Nurse of the Year award from RMH Healthcare in Harrisonburg; Isabel Castillo, a 2007 social work graduate and DREAM Act advocate; and Liza Heavener, a 2007 liberal artsgraduate who is leading an environmental effort in Borneo to stop palm oil producers from taking over the rain forest, among others.
In distinguishing EMU from its peers as a “Christian university like no other,” Swartzendruber noted its diverse program base.
“There are five Mennonite colleges in the U.S. and EMU is the only one that embodies a seminary, a Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, a Center for Interfaith Engagement, and with the advent of the new M.A. in Biomedicine this fall, a total of seven masters degrees offered,” said Swartzendruber.
EMU also includes an Intensive English Program to prepare non-native speakers for futher academic study and a popular Adult Degree Completion Program.
In closing, Swartzendruber issued a promise to students that an education at EMU is more than just a one-way “dissemination of information” that can be found on podcasts and mass lectures.
“Our promise is that for your tuition payments, you will have every opportunity to become an educated person, one who will be prepared to serve and lead in a global context. And we will fulfill that promise by seeking to be ‘like no other.'”
The convocation closed with a commissioning for students who left campus Wednesday on fall semester cross-cultural seminar to New Zealand and South Africa and Lesotho.
Jim Yoder, professor of biology, and his wife Kathy, will lead a group of 22 students to New Zealand to explore the variety of sustainability issues facing the island country.
The program will have two themes—cultural and environmental. The cultural studies will center on homestays and the book, “The Sociology of Everyday Life in New Zealand.” They will spend time in urban and rural areas, focusing on specific environmental issues and applying them to their particular interests and fields of study.
The majority of the stay will be in the mountainous and agricultural environments of the South Island.
The South Africa and Lesotho group, led by Harlan de Brun, instructor in physical education and recreation, and assisted by EMU alumni Denay Fuglie and Kelsey Yoder, will study the values and norms of South African culture, learn about the African Independent Church movement, do elementary Sesotho language study and focus on community development and projects with particular attention given to AIDS issues.
The group of 21 students will read, hear lectures and journal about the history and culture of Southern Africa, including the Apartheid era and how religious beliefs affected government policy. They return to campus Dec. 5.
Returning students, faculty and staff gave new members of the EMU community a traditional “Shenandoah Welcome” as they wended their way through a human “tunnel” of smiling faces and clapping hands accompanied by Appalachian bluegrass music.
EMU’s fall semester ends Dec. 14.
Listen to the podcast of convocation (President Swartzendruber speaks at 12:50)