Some 500 voices joined in the litany of investiture today to welcome and bless Eastern Mennonite University’s ninth president, Dr. Susan Schultz Huxman, during the inaugural ceremony at Yoder Arena.
The confirming confluence of diverse voices was one of those “beautiful and brazen ‘Behold!’” moments that Huxman spoke about in her inaugural address as “an awesome mystery … something really unusual and unconventional unfolding before you.”
It was indeed: Acknowledging EMU’s 100-year-history, its growth as a diverse, Christ-centered community, and its historic commitment to nonviolence and peace, the litany, written by Professor Vi Dutcher, blended voices of EMU’s students, faculty and staff, and the board of trustees, as well the broader community, including representatives from Mennonite Education Agency and Mennonite Church, USA, into an encouraging message of legacy, faith and Christian community.
Present for the ceremony were 17 delegate representatives from colleges and universities, including Mennonite institutions.
Harrisonburg mayor Deanna R. Reed brought greetings on behalf of the city and framed the university’s unique role as “the very moral compass which a vast number of residents reference for social, political and spiritual wisdom and guidance,” she said. “We will forever be grateful for Eastern Mennonite University and the EMU community for teaching and instructing us — the city — how to embrace, celebrate and welcome neighbors and stakeholders from all faith, backgrounds and cultures.”
The choice of Huxman, the university’s first permanent female president, to represent EMU’s educational mission on the local, national and international stage in working towards peace, racial reconciliation and restorative justice is significant, Reed said. “I am prayerful and hopeful we can further cultivate a community even more closely reflective of EMU’s mission, vision and values.”
EMU’s countercultural story
In her address titled “Behold and Enter the Countercultural Story,” Huxman pointed to two such “Behold!” moments and the trajectories that followed. The first was the “leap of faith” taken by church leaders to open Eastern Mennonite School in 1917 with 20 students and four faculty members in the Shenandoah Valley. Now the institution includes nearly 2,000 students, two additional instructional sites, more than 100 faculty and 60 academic programs.
A second such moment, she noted, was in 1948, when Eastern Mennonite became the first historically white college in Virginia to open its doors to African-American students. EMU “continues to be a trailblazer in social justice education,” she added, linked inextricably to the “sacred premise that all students are viewed as gifted people created and loved by God” and to the school’s mission to “educate students to lead and serve in a global context.”
At EMU, she noted, students experience a life-changing visible academic and invisible communal curriculum and are immersed in a series of “eyes-wide-open” moments that lead to life-changing and “counter-cultural” transformation.
“I love to tell our unfolding, unconventional story in harmony with the ‘old, old story of Jesus and his love,’” she concluded.
‘She will speak for you no matter what…’
As the first woman invested as president, Huxman has already contributed this countercultural theme. She was previously president at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Canada, and prior to that, director of the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University, Kansas.
A family legacy of leadership in Anabaptist higher education was affirmed in an introductory address by her father, Dr. Harold J. Schultz, president emeritus of Bethel College (Kansas). Anabaptist institutions have through their graduates a “multiplier effect,” a cloud of “living epistles” who “make a difference, no matter where they live,” he said. “Beware students, if you come to EMU, there is both a promise and a warning that you risk becoming a changed person.”
Dr. Wendy L. Fletcher, president and vice-chancellor of Renison University in Ontario, Canada, affirmed the selection of Huxman to lead EMU in a tumultuous and dangerous time as the tenets of the faith call for radical action and a powerful voice.
“Susan is a disciple and a leader who will be able to take this journey with you,” she said. “She is feisty; she doesn’t give up; she will speak for you no matter what wolf may bang on the door nor what shadow fall across your floors; she is smart and strategic; she is full of energy for life and good work; she is beautiful from the inside out. She will go with you.”
Inauguration festivities continue with a student-planned gala evening event tonight.