Ten graduating seniors were honored as Cords of Distinction recipients in a ceremony Saturday afternoon, May 4, 2019, at Eastern Mennonite University.
Faculty, staff and fellow students nominated the recipients, who were cited for their “significant and verifiable impact” on the university and on student life; for their contributions to developing the institution’s positive image; for substantial contributions to the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County area and beyond; for their high academic and social standing; and their embodiment of EMU’s shared values of Christian discipleship, community, service and peacebuilding.
A nursing major from Cheonan-Si, South Korea, Heyrin was honored by Micah Keller Shristi, director of International Student Services.
Heyrin Cha began her studies at EMU in the Intensive English Program in 2013 after completing high school at Bell Academy in South Korea. It takes a special kind of determination for an 18-year-old to travel halfway around the world and begin working towards a degree in a language that is not their own. Determined and tough, that’s Heyrin. She does not give up.
During her first years at EMU, Heyrin felt supported by International Student Services, the International Student Organization (ISO) and Campus Ministries. She turned that around and began helping other students through those organizations. She served as a Ministry Assistant, worked for four years as a dedicated work-study employee in International Student Services, and served as a long-term member of the leadership team of ISO. Heyrin has always extended friendship and helpful advice to new international students. She has also been very active as a volunteer and supporter of CrossWay Mennonite Church, the local Korean-language church that meets at Park View Mennonite Church.
Heyrin is always ready with a smile, and when she smiles, she means it. It’s not an empty gesture. Heyrin genuinely cares for others and wants the best for everyone she meets. Take this example: One Sunday, Heyrin’s associate pastor gave a sermon about the Great Commandment, that admonishment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” After church, Heyrin spoke to the pastor saying that she wanted to apply the sermon to her life. The pastor helped her connect with Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community residents and Heyrin began weekly visits to these elderly neighbors, spending time with them, listening to their stories, reading the bible together, and trying to help them in any way that she could.
Heyrin Cha comes across as a friendly, patient and competent professional. She maintains her graceful composure in the most difficult and complicated situations. Whether she’s taking tickets from 300 students at the International Food Festival or in the emergency room during her nursing clinicals, Heyrin is unflappable.
As we contemplate Heyrin’s many accomplishments at EMU and celebrate the beginning of this new chapter with her, I leave you with these words from one of Heyrin’s favorite scriptures, Isaiah 58:11: “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (NIV).
A liberal arts major from Lynchburg, Virginia, DeVantae was honored by Brian Martin Burkholder, campus pastor.
Some people start out ten steps ahead. Others are playing catch up from the beginning. DeVantae was accustomed to leading the pack as a runner and making the play in baseball. He saw himself as an athlete who wanted to get a college degree, something relatively unknown for his family, but found that he had to convince EMU to admit him. In a letter of condition, he pledged to “make an impact (on) this community” if admitted. He was admitted and the impact-making soon began.
DeVantae, known mostly as Tae, joined the Gospel Choir and Black Student Union (BSU) as a first-year student and quickly moved into leadership positions in his second year. He served as co-president of BSU for three years, contributing also to the Diversity Task Force and the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion; with residence life as a community adviser and assistant residence director; on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration planning committee; and finally this year as a pastoral assistant with campus ministries. Some of his projects include coordinating and facilitating the Town Hall on Race, helping to plan and lead the spring break Civil Rights Learning Tour, coordinating the President’s Ball, assisting with the first AHANA Alumni Soiree and with developing the concept for The Royal Treatment barbershop and salon lounge as well as launching a men’s Bible study.
Leadership on campus was only the beginning. Since 2016, Tae has immersed himself at Divine Unity Community Church, contributing to ministries such as Divine Unity Community Kids, teaching the pre-teen class, assisting the pastoral care ministry by supervising Armor Bearer and serving the pastoral staff on Sunday mornings, as well as broadening the discipleship ministries of Every Nation Campus here at EMU.
Tae notes that “serving is my opportunity to making an impact on the community.” He says, “If it wasn’t for a community of people making an impact in my life, I would not have half of (these) accomplishments. My acts of service (are) an outward expression of the inward love that I receive from God.”
Even though Tae’s collegiate track career came to an unexpected early end, he is still running the race. Academics and other struggles have provided ample challenge, turning his college run into more of an obstacle course at times. The jury is out as to how this race will end, but if I know Tae, he’s still got some final kick in him. Let’s thank him for his years of service and leadership with the Cords of Distinction and cheer him on for a strong finish.
A biology and history double-major from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Mario was honored by Professor Mark Metzler Sawin, history department chair.
“EMU prepares students to serve and lead in a global context.” This dichotomous and ambitious proclamation is EMU’s one-line mission statement. Mario Hernández is the dichotomous and ambitious student who proves that sometimes we truly achieve this lofty goal, for while he has been at EMU, Mario has quietly and faithfully served, engagingly and innovatively led, and constantly and confidently existed within a truly global context.
Mario is difficult to define because whenever there are choices: he typically embraces both—he is quite definitively a “both/and,” not an “either/or,” sort of person.
Mario is a Honduran resident proud of his home country and an American student who knows more about his host country than the vast majority of its native residents. He speaks and writes with fluency and academic poise in both Spanish and in English.
Mario is a science student, with a biology major and pre-med aspirations; he is also a humanities student, with a major in history who researches, writes and argues with compelling flare. At this year’s ACE Festival, he presented a senior capstone project that demonstrated his scientific and statistical chops by carefully analyzing the retention of STEM students at EMU, and another senior capstone project that uncovered and explained the historical complexities of Arthurdale, West Virginia, a failed community experiment from the Depression era.
Mario is a leader, having served as the co-president of both the Latino Student Alliance and the Student Government Association and in leadership positions for the Honors program and the International Student Organization. With a sly twinkle in his eye, he can stand at the mic and lead the student body with poise and cool composure whether he’s talking about serious issues, planning the new tradition of EMU’s Easter alfombra, or giving goofy, pun-laden Friday announcements. And he is also a servant, for at the very events that he has organized and led, you will also find him setting up tables and moving chairs beforehand, and sweeping up and taking out the trash afterwards, quietly and contentedly doing basic tasks so others can continue to chat and socialize.
Though a commuter student, Mario has always been highly involved in on-campus student activities—he is fiercely proud of his many intramural championship t-shirts. And while fully engaged in student activities, he is also highly involved in non-student events, serving alongside faculty and staff on EMU’s Centennial celebration committee and the presidential inaugural gala committee, and in the Academic Success Center and as the assistant for the history department.
Mario is a serious student who gets things done promptly and well—at any given time he is producing lab reports, data analysis and long essays about obscure 19th-century authors. He also refuses to take life too seriously—he watches fútbol with grinning fervor and is contentedly laughing and joking with his wide and diverse set of friends. And in both work and play, he goes beyond what is expected—when asked for basic research, he produces multi-colored graphs and charts showing correlations and connections; when asked to do a simple bulletin board with pictures of all the history majors, he instead set up a pictorial game where he gleefully kills us off each week based on the survival rates of all kinds of historical disasters, battles and plagues.
But most importantly and most strikingly, Mario is quite simple to define—he’s a truly kind person. He lives up not only to EMU’s mission ideal of servant leadership, but also to our guiding verse, Micah 6:8. Mario is one who seeks justice, who loves mercy, and who walks humbly with God. All his dichotomous skills and talents are what got him nominated for the Cords of Distinction, but it is this one singular attribute that makes him truly deserving. I am thus proud and honored to present him with this award.
A biology major from Alexandria, Virginia, Lindsey was honored by Carleen Overacker, assistant athletic trainer.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5: 3 – 5 (New Living Translation)
Lindsey lives everyday by this Bible verse and has experienced tribulations that have made her persevere during her four years at EMU. During her sophomore year of basketball, Lindsey tore her ACL in her left knee. She knew immediately what happened because she experienced the same injury in high school in her right knee. At this point, Lindsey knew she wanted to continue to be part of the team so she became a student coach.
Her leadership abilities have grown over her four years here at EMU. She was captain of the women’s basketball team for three years in addition to being a member of the FCA Leadership team. During the summer of her senior year, she was asked to be a part of the search committee for the head women’s basketball coach. As a senior captain, she also had to encourage and lead the team during this transition.
Lindsey was very active on and off campus volunteering in a variety of roles. Just this past weekend, she and several other FCA members volunteered at the Smoothie Man’s Kids Mud Mile at Hillandale Park. She has not only worked with children but also volunteered with Arc of Harrisonburg at the Westover Community Center. About her involvement with the community, Lindsey says, “I choose to do volunteer work because I have been so blessed throughout my life that I want to be able to share it with others. I think it brings people together and provides a sense of community.”
Lindsey will continue her education in June, pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy at Mary Baldwin University’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences.
Lindsey, I am blessed to have been able to experience these four years with you and look forward to seeing you succeed. Thank you for being a part of the EMU community and sharing your smile, dedicated work ethic and positive outlook on life.
A global development and liberal arts double-major from Sarasota, Florida, Nicole was honored by Professor Gloria Rhodes, peacebuilding and conflict studies.
This semester, I read Parker Palmer’s book “The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring.” Nicole has embodied these concepts throughout her career at EMU.
Palmer defines work as action driven by necessity or demand: to earn a living or a degree, to pass a course, to survive. Nicole definitely does the work. For one thing, she excels academically. And she has been a Community Assistant, a Royal Ambassador, and has served on Honors Council, Cross Cultural Committee, the Inaugural Gala Planning Committee, and the Royal’s Cup Committee. She has served in SGA for 3.5 years as senator, vice president and co-president. Vi Dutcher, the faculty advisor to SGA, noted that Nicole has provided “Tremendous leadership. She has finesse…knowing how to maintain a balance of work and fun…and pushes forward meaningful decisions.”
Creativity in contrast, according to Parker, is born of freedom, not demand. Creative action is aimed at “giving birth to something new, transcending our earthly necessities.” Nicole is a creative actor. Among many other things, she has had three shows on campus including her senior show currently in the gallery. Her first show, Oscillations, was exhibited in downtown Harrisonburg as part of the First Friday series. But it is in her second show “It’s Personal, Investigating [my] Whiteness,” that she moved toward how Parker Palmer defines caring.
Palmer claims that caring is action freely chosen aimed to nurture, protect, guide, heal or empower something that already has life. It is expressed through compassion and addressing needs including those arising from injustice and oppression. Nicole cares. She has volunteered in Puerto Rico with Mennonite Disaster Service, served as a camp counselor, and as a conversation partner with students in the Intensive English Program. I’ve gotten to know Nicole best through hearing about the anti-racism internship she designed and carried out in Pittsburgh. That internship challenged her to consider how those of us with white skin continue to uphold “racist systems and ideas” even when we don’t want to. The stuff of that internship became the subject of that art show I told you about.
For Palmer, spirituality is knowing what it is to be alive… and “allowing that knowledge to transform us into celebrants, advocates, defenders of life where we find it. [Aliveness is what the active life is all about] …and it is relational and communal, and responsive to the reality and needs of others as well as our own.” Nicole, we have benefited because you have been alive and active in this community, sharing your work, creativity and caring. And we offer our blessing as you leave us to continue sharing those things wherever your path takes you.
A biology major from Broadway, Virginia, Sylvia was honored by Professor Tara Lynn Sanders Kishbaugh, chemistry.
“Every footstep that I take, Completes the circle my life makes, Every living thing has ties that bind, What I lost returns with love and time…”
I imagine that people’s names represent a larger meaning, a wish that their family held for them when they were born. We honor Sylvia today because of how she exemplifies her middle name: grace: simple elegance, generous spirit, giving honor and imparting strength to others.
While Sylvia and I attended the same church as she grew up, it was when she transferred to EMU in the middle of her first year that I began to really know her. Even in that setting, her practical, no-nonsense approach was evident. She was unfazed by needing to wait until the following year to start in biology classes and willingly jumped into Gen Chem 2, a rare response for a biology major. She has always worked consistently and diligently and raised the level of discourse in academic settings.
An example of her groundedness, relational skills and care for our world is the chemistry research she pursued this year. She took on solo a problematic organic synthesis project to find green alternatives to a toxic reagent and did a great job of sharing her knowledge by training one of her peers. She then worked on preparing and testing the chemical properties of an attractant for pest fruit fly species. Teams seem to work more smoothly, and are more enjoyable, when Sylvia is on board.
But really it’s not what she does (although there’s a long list: Student Government Association, student rep to Undergraduate Council, women’s soccer, Emulate, Chamber Singers, Y-Serve, worship team of Celebration, working with kids through Kids Club, camp counselor, interfaith peace camp, and more), it’s who she is that makes such an impact on those around her. She acts with courteous goodwill, forms relationships with ease, and listens well. Sylvia is kind, empathetic, uplifting and resilient. Sylvia manages setbacks and criticism well but speaks up against injustice and encourages other voices to be heard. Sylvia won the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest with her piece: “An Exploration of Language—Recognizing Harm in Silencing the ‘Political’ Voice of the Church.” Sylvia is welcoming, curious and willing to live in contradictory spaces. Sylvia doesn’t need to be an official, recognized leader, but instead gravitates toward actively supporting the more visible leadership of others. She thinks strategically about problems.
Sylvia sees an important distinction in how one chooses to be in community, not as we often think of it, as a means to serve, but infused with mutuality. For Sylvia, it is a choice to engage within, be immersed “within.” This embeddedness means engaging in all aspects: the beauty, the easy, the difficult, the brokenness. It means being gracious enough to give, but also able to receive. It is all these connections, these ties that bind, that make Sylvia who she is, that make her life vibrant, full of laughter, stories, insight and linked to something bigger and beyond any one connection.
As you go forward, may you continue to see yourself intrinsically linked in interlocking circles to those around you, to the global community, to something larger than the sum of the parts, and to a Creator.
A math major from Berlin, Ohio, Luke was honored by Professor Daniel Showalter, mathematics.
It was fall of 2015, the first semester at EMU for both Luke and myself. Luke was enrolled in my discrete mathematics class, a rigorous class taken mostly by math majors. As Luke walked into the class on the first day, there were a couple older students walking by in the hallway. One of them looked at Luke and then remarked to his friend, “Bet you he’s in the wrong classroom!” I can only imagine he was referring to Luke’s muscular build and implying that he was perhaps not a stereotypical math major.
As it turns out, Luke not only resists that particular “box,” but almost any box that he’s placed into. He is a math major, and one of the best I’ve encountered in my years of teaching. Yet he’s also a well-disciplined weight lifter. And, if that isn’t enough to distinguish himself mentally and physically, he excels in music composition and poetry. In short, Luke defies all boxes.
Luke’s list of external positions and accomplishments is remarkable. He has served as an Student Government Association senator and secretary, cofounder and president of the Composer Collective, co-president of the Math Club, and vice-president of the Royals Lifting club. His poetry has been published in a compilation of Virginia’s Best Emerging Poets, and his academic work has been published in a peer-reviewed education journal. His service record is just as impressive: He helped construct solar panels for the EMU chicken coop, volunteered with Mennonite Disaster Service in Puerto Rico for a week, spent a summer working at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp, was a math tutor through an National Science Foundation grant, and did some organizational work with the local retirement center. His musical endeavors alone would be far more than a short speech could contain, but highlights include having his compositions performed on several stages and scoring the soundtrack for a documentary about two UN peacemakers killed in the Congo.
Yet, despite his long list of accolades and constant spotlight from the press, I have rarely encountered anyone with Luke’s humility. When asked about his service track record, Luke quickly resisted the idea that he was helping others. Instead, he replied, “I choose to do service work because it is a way to use my privilege of ‘free time’ to learn and share with others.”
Luke is typically calm, balanced and eager to engage in conversation. His unbridled laugh carries through walls and floors, brightening the day for those who hear it. This isn’t to say that Luke is always carefree. In fact, in some ways, watching Luke makes me think of what Jesus may have been like. He feels a constant draw to act with integrity, even in difficult situations. His perpetual care for others often leaves him drained, but he has learned ways to recharge himself. And, just as Jesus had righteous anger when people were buying and selling items in his Father’s house, the only time I’ve seen Luke angry is when some injustice was being committed.
Luke, may the legacy you’ve left here at EMU continue to blossom as you head forth into the broader world and share your unique and “unboxable” aspects with those who have the honor of sharing life’s journey with you.
A biology (pre-professional health sciences) major from Virginia Beach, Virginia, RJ was honored by Ben Durren, admissions counselor and assistant men’s volleyball coach.
I have had the pleasure to know RJ for the last four years and have been able to see him grow and impact the community around him positively during those years. There is no better candidate in my mind for someone who should receive a cord of distinction for how they represent EMU. Throughout his years at EMU, RJ tried to impact everyone he knew in a positive manner.
One way that the community felt his presence was in Residence Life. He was a Community Assistant in Elmwood where he affected all the people on his hall and every student he held an event for. I know from his residents that he made them feel welcomed at EMU and was able to create a tight bond and community feeling for those residents on his hall.
He also has represented the school in the athletics as a starter for his four years with men’s volleyball and a captain this past year. As a former teammate and now assistant coach, I feel confident in saying that RJ was everything you want in a teammate. He always was committed to the goal of the team and was always willing to help teammates with whatever they may need. He also represented EMU internationally in volleyball playing on a Division III select team in Brazil last summer.
RJ has had an impact on students’ faith while here on campus. He regularly helped plan, facilitate and play in the Sunday evening student-led worship “Celebration” held in Martin Chapel. He also played in several weekday convocations during his time here. He was vocal about his faith too and shared it at EMU Athletes Speak, a time where athletes and coaches speak about their faith and how it has influenced and affected their relationship with sports. He also spent another summer in the Philippines working with kids and providing with them much-needed schools supplies. Additionally back home in Virginia Beach, he works with an organization that provides blankets and other supplies for the homeless.
RJ has also been the model student when it comes to academics. He has been able to balance athletics, work and all his other extracurricular activities while excelling in his pre-med track. All four years he has been named to the all-academic team for keeping a certain GPA while participating in athletics. He also was the secretary of the Pre-Professional Health Society club where he helped balance the budget and plan activities for the club.
A social work major from Richmond, Virginia, Precious was honored by Celeste Thomas, director of Multicultural Student Services.
The Cords of Distinction Award is presented to Eastern Mennonite University students who make positive contributions to student and campus life, the institution at large, and the broader community while maintaining good academic standing.
Webster’s Merriam Dictionary defines precious as highly esteemed or cherished. From the time Precious Ta’mia Waddy entered this world three months early weighing a mere one pound, she not only survived but thrived. She has been determined to live a life that would be an example of her favorite scripture from Proverbs 31:25-26: She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
I recall meeting Precious during an 8 a.m. meeting with the women’s basketball team because they were struggling academically as a team. Well, I am pleased to say we have come a long way from that meeting. Sometimes the lens just needs to be refocused, and Precious has left her stamp on Eastern Mennonite University with her electric smile, but more importantly by serving the least of these while being a student athlete and model of leadership both on and off campus.
As I have gotten to know you and appreciate the young lady you are becoming, I know in the words of Langston Hughes, “that life for you ain’t been no crystal stair,” and despite that, I have not seen you lose sight of the goal of graduation despite struggles. I know that it has been tough being a first -generation college student and that you have had to work harder than others, but what I have experienced from you is sheer resilience and determination regardless of the obstacles that could have sidetracked you. Instead of giving in and giving up, you remained on the journey and for that I am so proud of you. You are why James told us to rejoice in the face of trials and tribulations (James 1:2). Because God is with us in our struggles and adversity helps us develop and strengthen our faith (James 1:3). You have definitely grown spiritually during your matriculation at EMU.
During her four years, she has contributed unselfishly to help make others’ journey a little easier than hers. When responding to why she volunteers, she shared: “First, I love being of service to others in any way that I can whether by being directly involved or just by giving of my time to those who may not have enough or anything at all. For me, choosing to do volunteer work brings a lot of meaning and fulfillment to my life and the lives of others”.
Precious has been a leader on and off campus. She has been both secretary and co-president of the Black Student Union, captain of the women’s basketball team, SAC representative for the athletic department, secretary of Social Work is People, senior class secretary, and she is a founding member and President of Destiny’s Daughters. Additionally, she has volunteered numerous hours with the Salvation Army, Good Will, Virginia blood services, the Boys and Girls Club, and this semester she completed her practicum with the On the Road Collaborative youth empowerment non-profit organization that sets middle and high school youth on the road to college and career. She has served her community well.
When asked, what would you like to be said about you, Precious remarked, “Tell them that I am one of a kind.” Indeed you are and I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey, and remember the sky is the limit to what you can have as well as to who you are becoming.
A social work major from Palmyra, Virginia, Cameron was honored Rachel Roth Sawatzky, Director of Student Services.
The Cords of Distinction Award is presented to Eastern Mennonite University students who make positive contributions to student and campus life, the institution at large, and the broader community while maintaining good academic standing. Cameron is just such a student.
I remember meeting Cameron before she was even enrolled at EMU at the information fair for June SOAR. She had sparkling eyes and a big smile. She was full of energy, ready to make connections, ready to get involved and excited to get to know people. Throughout her four years at EMU, Cameron made significant contributions to a number of student clubs and organizations including to Black Student Union as Activities Coordinator and on the MLK Celebration Day Committee; as a member of Alpha Omega Dancers for Christ; as a Ministry Assistant with Campus Ministries; as a member of the social work department club, Social Work is People (or SWIP); and as a choir member with Gospel Choir from 2015-2017.
One of her most significant contributions in terms of longevity of involvement was her service to the campus community through Campus Activities Council, which she participated in all four years on the marketing committee for a year, as vice president in 2016-17 and as president for the past two years. Over the past four years, we have spent many late nights and early mornings together with the rest of the Campus Activities Council team making fun stuff happen on campus whether that was the homecoming color run, CAC trivia, dances, movies or large formal events like President’s Ball and the Inauguration gala.
Cameron always brings a can-do attitude and a lot of humor to her work. But she also has a caring heart and a loyalty to the team. I remember one particular time when I was working with Cameron and some other students at a CAC dance very late on a Friday night. In the midst of the hubbub, Cameron pulled me aside and said, “Rachel, don’t you have a family to get home to? I really think you should leave. We’ve got this. Get out of here!” I worked for a while longer, finishing up some tasks when Cameron found me and said firmly, “Rachel, I told you to leave.” In her role as president, Cameron has brought a fun and light-hearted spirit, but she is also organized, has very high standards for the team, and is ready to offer accountability when it’s needed.
In addition to Cameron’s involvements on campus, she has been active in the community through her church, work at a children’s camp and with a girl’s empowerment program. She has also been able to offer a positive impact through work at our local domestic violence shelter called First Step, where she served as a shelter manager this year and an internship this semester with People Places where she worked as a therapeutic family consultant.
A long time CAC colleague and friend of Cameron’s who is now EMU graduate student in counseling, Da’Jahnea Robinson says, “Cameron was a great CAC president. She was always responsible and reliable. I appreciated working alongside of her. I wish her all the best in her future endeavors. I know she will be successful wherever life takes her!”
Cameron, you have been wonderfully created by God and gifted to serve and lead wherever you go from here. I leave you with these words, which make me think of you- a principled, kind, hard working woman; a dedicated social worker, serving others and having fun along the way: From Proverbs 31:25-26: She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.