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People of all types are welcome, indeed belong, at EMU’s table, say university leaders at convocation 2013

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In their kick-off convocation remarks for the 2013-14 school year, the top leaders of Eastern Mennonite University stressed the importance of embracing each other within the EMU community, appreciating the gifts and diversity that each student, staffer and faculty member brings to this community of mutual learners.

Addressing a capacity crowd of 900 in Lehman Auditorium on Aug. 28, Provost Fred Kniss declared “you belong at EMU” as a curtain-raiser for remarks by President Loren Swartzendruber and Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency, the oversight board for EMU and other church-affiliated educational institutions.

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Convocation 2013

“Whoever you are, student, faculty, or staff – whatever knowledge, wisdom, and experience you bring – you belong at this table, you are welcome in this community, your voice is needed in our conversation,” said Kniss.

He said that love is the most basic characteristic of God, “a God who welcomes the stranger, a God who tells each of us ‘you belong.’

“Thank you, each one of you, for joining this community and for contributing your gifts to our mutual quest, a great adventure we call ‘learning,’” Kniss said.

Romero, who was born in Puerto Rico and has spent years in Mennonite Church roles fostering intercultural competency and the dismantling of racism, introduced Swartzendruber as an educational leader with a remarkable track record, including the last 10 years at the helm of EMU.

Swartzendruber opened with a personal example of a way that individuals can be made to feel different, as if they don’t completely “belong.” His parents raised three sons, with Swartzendruber being the first-born and the youngest also being their biological child. The middle son was adopted and did not physically resemble his older and younger brothers, which people sometimes thoughtlessly commented upon.

“In a certain kind of way each of us is adopted into this particular community we call EMU,” said Swartzendruber. “And every one of us has a deep yearning to belong. The question is, How can each of us behave in such a way as to extend ‘belonging’ to each other?”

The answer, said Swartzendruber, is to apply any version of the “Golden Rule” that is advocated by the major religions of the world.

In Christianity, the rule is stated in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Students, faculty and staff new to campus are given a "Shenandoah Welcome" by the campus community. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Students, faculty and staff new to campus are given a “Shenandoah Welcome” by the campus community. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Using PowerPoint slides, Swartzendruber put up quotations with a similar message from the traditions of Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

In some instances, the sentiment was approached from the point of view of the other person, as in “Don’t cause someone to feel pain that you would not want to feel yourself.”

As is the custom at EMU, convocation also marked an emotional send-off for groups heading overseas for their required cross-cultural study experience. A group of 20 heading to Spain and Morocco and a group of 16 going to China were dispatched with prayers for safe travels and a transformational experience.

New students, faculty and staff were given EMU’s traditional “Shenandoah Welcome,” in which they walked between two rows of hand-clapping community members, as Appalachian bluegrass music played over a loudspeaker.

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