Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding Class of 2019 includes a teacher from South Korea, a U.S. Army veteran, a former PeaceCorps worker and dancer who plans to use arts as a healing ministry, and a immigrant and human rights advocate who has worked in Oregon and El Salvador. Five Fulbright Scholars – from Lebanon, Republic of North Macedonia, Western Sahara, Afghanistan and the Republic of Georgia – and many others were also among the 30 graduates.
The traditional CJP Celebration of Blessings in Martin Chapel followed EMU’s main commencement. Family, friends, mentors, former graduates and current students gathered with faculty and staff for the ceremony. Ram Bhagat, a Richmond-based educator and Summer Peacebuilding Institute instructor, provided the drumming for the processional and recessional. He was also among the celebrants, having added a graduate certificate in restorative justice to prior educational achievements of a doctorate in educational leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s degree in school and community counseling from Virginia State University.
Executive Director Daryl Byler, welcoming the audience at his final commencement before moving onto his new position in Washington D.C., noted that the past year, though full of challenges for all in the CJP community, was preparation for the hard work to come. Peacebuilding is by its nature a challenge, he said. “We all struggle with how to hold in appropriate tension concepts that on the surface often appear to be at odds with one another: the importance of truth telling and the importance of mercy and grace and suspending judgment; the importance of justice that holds accountable and the importance of justice that heals and restores; the importance of changing systems and the importance of nurturing relationships.”
Graduates Eunkyung Ahn, Benton Stull and Talibah Aquil offered graduate perspectives. Ahn shared a celebratory poem. Stull thanked all for the “life-giving” experience of being in community with people who “believe that peace is possible and who seek to build it in this life.”
Quoting Genesis 2:7, Aquil spoke of breath as the gift of life from God. “There is power in the breath, our voice, our collective,” she said. “My prayer is that we remember our breath wherever we go in the world, fighting for justice, praying for freedom.”
Tala Bautista and Kirby Broadnax passed on thanks, congratulations and blessings from the first-year students.
Professor Gloria Rhodes noted that each graduate, and those they bring into the community, impacts, and will continue to impact, the ongoing work at CJP. “We’ve benefited from our connections with you. We’ve been challenged by you. We’ve learned from you. We’ve done our work better because of you. We’ve felt your love and caring as we’ve developed relationships with you…We have seen you and you have made a difference through your presence here.”
Each graduate was celebrated with a short speech by a faculty member before moving down the reception line to receive greetings and congratulations from other faculty and staff.
MA in Conflict Transformation graduates
Samira Ibrahim Abou Alfa, Barja, Lebanon
Eunkyung Ahn, Chungchengnam-do, Republic of Korea
Talibah Atiya Najee Aquil, New York, New York
Bouela Lehbib Breica, Western Sahara
Filip Cvetanovski, Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia
Eric Jon Eberly, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Tyler Jeffrey Goss, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Felix Mutinda Kioko, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Bethany Renata Loberg, Salem, Oregon
Kamran Mamedovi, Tbilisi, Georgia
Maha Y A Mehanna, Gaza, Palestine
Anna Catherine Messer, Staunton, Virginia
Claudia N Costa Ferreira Moreira, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Caitlin Amelia Morneau, Alexandria, Virginia
Christopher Mwita Ndege, Mwanza, United Republic of Tanzania
Bahman Shahi, Kabul, Afghanistan
Astur Muse Tahlil, Portland, Maine
Ying Wang, Nanchong, China
MA in Restorative Justice
Ilaria Buonriposi, Baltimore, Maryland
Emily Margaret Higgins, Hendersonville, Tennessee
Katrina Cender Poplett, Plymouth, Minnesota
Benjamin Joseph Rush, Quakertown, Pennsylvania
Benton Will Stull, Pratt, Kansas
Mikayla Chelsea Waters-Crittenton, Sterling, Virginia
Graduate Certificate in Conflict Transformation
Jessica Rose-Miller Francar, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Graduate Certificate in Restorative Justice
Sarah Elizabeth Appelbaum, Eugene, Oregon
Ram Bhagat, Richmond, Virginia
Jessica Rose-Miller Francar, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Edward Joseph Hagan, Hagerstown, Maryland
Melody Marie Pannell, Harlem, New York
*The following students earned MA degrees in interdisciplinary studies, a separate program of study at EMU, with a conflict transformation focus: Eugene Kraybill, Berryville, Virginia, Nicholas Alexander Love, Hardy, Virginia; Angelia Maria Miller, Bridgewater, Virginia; Kathryn Glick Smucker, Harrisonburg, Virginia.