Millicent Otieno, of Kisumu, Kenya, (left), Ahmed Tarik, and Elizabeth Valverde-Barrett (right) celebrate with friends at the end of Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding commencement reception. (Photos by Joaquin Sosa)

‘Be the community you wish to see in the world’: Center for Justice and Peacebuilding graduates 37

The Center of Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University celebrated their 2016 graduates in a Sunday evening ceremony at Martin Chapel with singing, short speeches and recognition of each graduate.

A choir of African students led by Professor Carl Stauffer opened first with a hymn, “Siyakudumisa,” and then the South African freedom anthem “Thula Sizwe.”

Twenty-two graduates earned master’s degrees in conflict transformation and 15 earned graduate certificates. Of those 15, 11 were members of the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program from Kenya and Somaliland who were recognized in a ceremony in January in December. Four others earned a graduate certificate in conflict transformation.

[Read about capstone presentations about practicum experiences by second-year master’s students here and view photo album of the university’s undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies here.]

Executive director Daryl Byler’s welcome focused on the strong development of community within the program. Each graduate, he noted, had mentioned community in reflecting on the impact of CJP on their life and work.

“Be the community you wish to see in the world,” Byler said, slightly changing Mohatmas Gandhi’s famous quote, Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Jacques Mushagasha (left), Ahmed Tarik and Mikhala Lantz-Simmons spoke on behalf of their classmates about the experience of studying at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

“Talk is cheap,” he continued. “Building just and sustainable communities is priceless. Wherever you go, help to build a kind of community that you experienced here and you will also be part of the change you wish to see … May you continue to draw strength from the community you have built in this place as you scatter around the globe and help to recreate communities wherever you are.”

The class of 2016 included students from 14 countries – Germany, Egypt, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Uganda, Indonesia, South Korea, Peru, Iraq, Ecuador and China  – as well as nine states and the District of Columbia in the United States.

Graduates Mikhala Lantz-Simmons, Ahmed Tarik and Jacques Mushagasha spoke on behalf of the cohort. Lantz-Simmons, who came to CJP from Missouri and Canada, led off the trio with a short humorous speech about applying the “theories of change” model to this final CJP assignment. She then showed a video of her fellow students sharing their learnings from the CJP experience.

Jacques Mushagasha, who came to the United States from war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003, is a leader in the local Congolese refugee community. “I have been able to process all the trauma I experienced during that time,” he said. “I am really thankful for the program … I promise that I will forget you for a few months to take some time to rest and then I will recollect, and then I will be back in touch.”

The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s class of 2016.

Ahmed Tarik, who witnessed war in his native Iraq and was also, like Mushagasha, a refugee, came to CJP “to find a way to stop such realities from happening … to graduate with a magic formula to transform the toxicity” of war and violence.

While he didn’t find that formula, he found “a group of people that are so diverse in their experiences, values and creeds but all having a similar sense of agency and responsibility to fixing the wrongs of our worlds. I came to a community that cherishes each other and cares for their relationships, a community that encourages curiosity and wrestles with the hardest of human realities. Mentors and teachers who see their role as seed-planters and their students seeds that will forever keep on growing, seeds of hope and peace.”

While semester classes have concluded, the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) welcomes global participants and MA students to campus on May 9. SPI continues through June 10.