President Susan Schultz Huxman shares the four goals of Eastern Mennonite University's strategic plan during fall convocation with the dramatic aid of (from left) students Jakiran Richardson, Black Student Union; Ariel Barbosa, Latino Student Alliance; and Paul Kayembe, International Student Organization; and Multicultural Student Services Director Celeste Thomas. Their linked arms illustrate "Engage." (Photos by Andrew Strack)

Fall convocation highlights diversity’s opportunities

In the annual fall “coming together” of convocation at Eastern Mennonite University, President Susan Schultz Huxman invited community members, both the newly arrived and those returning to Harrisonburg and off campus sites in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., to contemplate the parable of the self-conscious spoon who learns to value his own diverse talents and those of other utensils in his “family.”

The story of Spoon (Hyperion Children’s Books, 2009), written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Scott Magoon, is one of Huxman’s favorites, she told the crowd in Lehman Auditorium, and provides an encouraging lesson relevant to the start of the new academic year.

Little Spoon decides life isn’t “cutting it,” and it takes hearing from the other utensils about their limitations and what they envy about him (for example, he has the joy of diving into a bowl of ice cream and the warmth of swirling around in a cup of hot tea) to make him think twice about his own capabilities.

“We should zealously value the diverse attributes of others if we want to succeed as citizens, as experts in our field, and as innovative entrepreneurs in society,” Huxman said.

Sometimes reflecting on “your special attributes and your unique talents” in the company of others brings a new perspective, that “your talents are important, valued, and even necessary,” she concluded.

With diversify joining grow, engage and celebrate as one of the four goals of EMU’s 2017-22 strategic plan, Huxman encouraged students to become active partners and participants: “Students, I wish you well. In addition to doing well in class and making new friends, I encourage you to think boldly and ask yourself, ‘How can I engage around the table with a diversity of people and ideas?’”

To highlight diversity around campus, Huxman introduced representatives from four of the 30 campus clubs. Jakiran Richardson, with Black Student Union, Ariel Barbosa, Latino Student Alliance, and Paul Kayembe, International Student Organization, each spoke briefly about upcoming opportunities for involvement. Celeste Thomas, director of Multicultural Student Services, gave a brief plug for February’s Martin Luther King Day – a “day on,” she called it – of service, learning and remembrance.

Convocation also included a welcome from Provost Fred Kniss, who situated EMU as a faith-based learning community within a larger history and legacy of liberal arts institutions.

Professor David Berry gets a high-five from President Susan Schultz Huxman and a standing ovation from the crowd after his “instrumental response.”

EMU is “a safe place where faculty and students can explore together the most difficult and most significant questions of our day, using all the tools of science and scholarly inquiry,” he said. “And we do this within the context of a community of faith.  As we gain a deeper understanding of our world, our society, and our selves, we also come to know more deeply who God is and how to live more faithful lives.”

The standing ovation of the morning (supplemented by heartfelt whoops of admiration) was awarded to Professor David Berry, who performed a jazzy piano selection billed as an “instrumental response” to the preceding speakers. (To watch and listen, go to 40:30 in the livestream video.)

Convocation closed with a commissioning of the China cross-cultural group, departing late in the evening, led by Professor Mary Sprunger and Myrrl Byler, adjunct professor and director of Mennonite Partners in China.

And then ice cream was served on Thomas Plaza. Spoons were available.

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