CJP’s virtual blessing ceremony honors 16 grads

With EMU’s Commencement rescheduled to fall 2020, Sunday’s virtual Ceremony of Blessings for graduates of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding was in no way normal. Yet there was still all the ritual the CJP comunity knows and loves – music, drumming, words from classmates and beloved faculty and staff, heartfelt appreciations that lift up personal journeys and transformations, smiles, joyful dancing, and tears.

More than 140 well-wishers joined the virtual event for 16 graduates, who with their new degrees enter an expansive 668-strong alumni network around the globe. The 2020 grads represent nine countries — Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Pakistan, Palestine, Phillipines, South Africa, South Korea, and the United States. Within the U.S., grads hail from Ohio, Texas, Minnesota, Virginia, and Washington state.

Executive Director Jayne Docherty blessed the graduates as they “crossed a threshold back into a world that is terrible disarray, some would say chaos,” with undeniable inequalities and threats of violence from both those whose privilege is being challenged and those who have suffered harm for decades or centuries.

Completion of their degree program at CJP symbolizes the work “to refine your calling,” Docherty said. “You are each better prepared now to find those places where your deep passion meets the world’s great need. And that, more than any diploma, has prepared you to find your true work and to make your true way in the world – to your benefit and just as importantly to the benefit of the world.”

“You are sorely needed and you are ready,” she added. “You’re ready because of what you did while you were here. You invested in building and experiencing real community, you invested in deep friendship and you invested in being a friend to yourself. Finding and polishing the gem of your authentic self is some of the hardest work you can do but it moves you closer to being the transformational leaders that are really needed in these difficult times.”


CJP Class of 2020

The following graduates have completed all coursework, or are slated to complete coursework in summer or fall 2020.

  • Pablo Akindoa, of Harrisonburg, Va.,earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Muhammad Akram, of Sheikhupura, Pakistan, earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Prerna Barua, of Assam, India, earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Tala Bautista, of Tabuk, Phillipines, earning an MA in conflict transformation and a graduate certificate in transformational leadership,
  • Kirby Broadnax, of Cleveland, Ohio, earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Dawn Curtis-Thames, of Dallas, Texas, earning an MA in Restorative Justice
  • Scott Eyre, of Harrisonburg, Va., earning an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations on organizational leadership and restorative justice 
  • Maha Y.A. Mehanna, of Gaza, Palestine, earning a graduate certificate in restorative justice
  • Shinwon Jung, of Pocheon, South Korea, earning a Graduate Certificate in conflict transformation
  • Hannah Kunde, of Seattle, Washington, earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Yasmiene Mabrouk, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Rodrigue Makelele, from Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Rhoda Miller, of Harrisonburg, Va., earning an MA in Restorative Justice 
  • David Nyiringabo, of Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Oscar Siwali, of Cape Town, South Africa, earning an MA in conflict transformation
  • Julian Ward, St. Andrews, Manitoba, Canada, earning an MA in Restorative Justice.

Graduates sharing reflections included Tala Bautista, Hannah Kunde, and David Nyirigando.

Bautista lamented the loss of a final meal, game night and sharing of coffee that she had looked forward to after the classmates returned to Harrisonburg from their practicum settings. But she took consolation in a memory, a sudden awareness during a classroom break that her classmates were people of strong hearts and questioning minds, believers in nonviolent revolution and insistent advocates of justice.

Kunde spoke of her move from the Pacific Northwest and the immediate sense of community she felt when her dog Delilah disappeared during the first day of classes. That community grew into a network of supportive, caring people that she thinks of gratitude. 

Nyiringabo, the first graduate from the DRC benefiting from the Michael J. Sharp Peace and Justice Scholarship, reminded his classmates of the work before them: 

“In this decade, probably more than ever before, leaders at all levels are going to need to work together,” he said. “Nature has stood up to remind us of our interconnectedness and the need for authentic collaboration. I just want to remind you that the community of care and support we have created in the last two years, despite our differences of many kinds, is a proof that we have been prepared to work together with others wherever we will be.”

Students Emily Powell and Lindsay Acker provided the traditional blessing from classmates. Their words commemorated 

  • memories of classroom experiences, from “analysis lens templates” and coffee breaks in Foundations, 
  • the tools of the trade (talking sticks, chalk, “the right container for every conversation”),
  • continued utilization of such valuable words and intellectual actions as problematizations and historicization, 
  • and CJP personalities (including Amy Knorr’s golden retriever, Henry).

“May SPI welcome you back any summer you want/ May we remain grounded in the values CJP nurtured in us, even though we are physically so distant/ May Harrisonburg always feel like home/ And may you come back to visit often,” they concluded.

Each graduate was celebrated with a few words from their advisor, though as Professor Gloria Rhodes noted, “all of us have many more words than three times three, so know that these words we share are a tiny window into what we have seen.”

The final sending was given by Dean David Brubaker, who lifted up the commitment of the graduates to justice and peace and their commission to continue the work of shalom, and also CJP’s own commitment to “standing with you as you work for justice and peace in your community, your organization and your world.

“You are not alone,” he said. “Your family, your friends, your ancestors and your CJP community will accompany you…”

The program also included introductory music by CJP student Jim Cole, a vocal selection by graduate Kirby Broadnax accompanied by Jonathan Welle, a slide show created by student Lindsay Acker with music by Luke Mullet and audio mixing/mastering by Stephen Angello. Graduate Rodrigue Makelele closed the ceremony with drumming.

Organizational and technical support for the program was offered by Janelle Myers-Benner, academic program coordinator, as well as Bridget Mullins MA ’15, Brian Gumm MA ’11 and Brad Lehman.


Eastern Mennonite University’s commencement ceremony has been rescheduled to fall 2020. At that time, the university will formally confer 429 degrees: 300 undergraduate degrees; 96 graduate degrees, plus 13 degrees from Eastern Mennonite Seminary; 16 graduate certificates; and four doctoral degrees.

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