EJ Dionne, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, gave the address at EMU's 97th annual commencement. Dionne urged the roomful of graduates: “Commencement is the beginning and not an end. Never stop learning.” (Photo by Jon Styer)

Author and Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne urges EMU’s Class of 2015 to ‘never stop learning’

In an address to Eastern Mennonite University’s graduating class of 2015 Sunday, commencement speaker E.J. Dionne Jr. pulled inspiration from a rather unlikely source: former comedy talk show host Stephen Colbert.

“Colbert said precisely what I think about cynicism nine years ago,” Dionne, a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, told the crowd. “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it’s the farthest thing from it.

“Cynics always say ‘no,’ but saying ‘yes’ begins things. Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow,” he continued. “Cynicism isn’t realism, because realism accepts people as they are.”

Hundreds of students and thousands of family members and friends crowded into Yoder Arena at EMU to watch the university’s 97th annual commencement ceremony.

A total of 486 degrees and certificates were handed out. Of those 486, 370 were undergraduate degrees — including 139 adult degrees — 106 were graduate degrees and 10 were certificates in pastoral ministry studies. Last year’s commencement awarded 467 degrees. A total of 497 degrees were awarded in 2013.

EMU students proceed into University Commons for commencement. (Photo by Jon Styer)

EMU also awarded a posthumous honorary degree on behalf of Ruth C. Jones of Verona, who died in June at the age of 40 while enrolled in the adult degree completion program.

Jones was finishing a bachelor’s of science in nursing and was employed at Augusta Health, where she had worked for 15 years. Her husband, Nicholas, received her diploma on her behalf.

Throngs of people filled the 3,600-capacity arena, packing the bleachers and seats on the floor, the track circling above the arena and a theater that showed a live broadcast of the ceremony.

Dionne, 63, who also is a professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University, titled his address “Cynicism Isn’t Realism: Letting Joy Surprise You.” In it, he highlighted what he said is the importance of finding the good in everything and everyone, staying humble and continuing to learn.

Remember, Dionne told members of the graduating class, you can always learn something from everyone.

“The smartest people on this Earth are never, ever the know-it-alls,” he said. “The truly ingenious people …  are constantly amazed by how little they know.”

He also took time to acknowledge the sacrifice and help from parents in guiding their children to graduation.

“I always disliked the phrase ‘self-made,’” he said. “None of us is self-made. It’s a biological and spiritual absurdity.”

Other speakers included Najla El Mangoush, a master’s graduate from Benghazi, Libya, in the university’s conflict transformation program; Kimberly Groff, a graduate from Ephrata, Pa., in the adult degree completion program; and undergraduate students Emily Shenk, of Goshen, Ind., and Jordan Luther, of Martinsville.

Speaking to the class, Luther compared the new graduates to a box of crayons.

“Some of us came from five minutes away down the road while others grew up 5,000 miles away,” he said. “Our identities are like a 64-box of crayons, filled with subtlety, diversity and compassion; colors to create portraits of peace and transcendence in your community and in your world.”

Dionne graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University and a doctorate from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. In addition to writing columns for The Washington Post and serving as a professor at Georgetown University, he is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife and three kids.

Before concluding his speech, Dionne said to the roomful of graduates: “Commencement is the beginning and not an end. Never stop learning.”

Courtesy of the Daily News Record, April 27, 2015

More from commencement weekend:

97th annual commencement ceremony (video)

Commencement photo galleries

Cords of Distinction ceremony (podcast)

Seminary commencement ceremony (podcast)

Nurses’ pinning ceremony (podcast)

Seminary Baccalaureate (podcast)