At 109th Goshen College Commencement, the Rev. Joy Carroll Wallis encourages graduates to “dare to dream big things and don’t be afraid to take risks”


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GOSHEN, Ind. – Years of hard work, study, sacrifice and prayer culminated April 29 when members of the Class of 2007 received degrees after hearing inspirational messages from Goshen College President James E. Brenneman and the Rev. Joy Carroll Wallis, one of the first women to be ordained as an Anglican priest in England.

The Class of 2007 consisted of 243 graduates – 164 of them candidates for Bachelor of Arts degrees and 79 candidates for Bachelor of Science degrees. The class included 22 graduates with double majors and one – Rachel E. Sprunger of Scottdale, Pa. – who earned a triple major.

They were a class of high achievers, with 50 students graduating with highest honors – grade point averages of 3.9 to a perfect 4.0. In addition, 65 others were on track to achieve GPAs of 3.60 and above. Sunday was the first time in 40 years that the college has recognized such academic honors.

At a Sunday morning baccalaureate service in the Church-Chapel, President Brenneman told the graduates, their families and their friends that they were invited and empowered by the power of God’s Spirit to become leaders of a future not yet here, but still imagined.

“At Goshen College we hope we have prepared you well to be thought leaders in a world in much need of new ways of thinking and acting,” Brenneman said. “You are the prophets, the visionaries, the dreamers who open our mind’s eye and our imagination, our intuitive vision and invite us to squint with you into the future. Such a future can’t be predicted; it must be imagined.”

Brenneman quoted biblical Scripture, religious figures, authors, teachers, civil rights leaders and others who have demonstrated that ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they simply imagine a new vision and a brighter future.

“As you go out into the world as teachers, as business professionals, as rock stars, as doctors, as nurses, as poets, pastors, artists, farmers, politicians, glassblowers and janitors, and any other vocation, may your minds always be kindled by the wild fire of the Holy Spirit,” Brenneman said.

“Fire up your imagination and dream a better future for us all. Imagine a future not yet contemplated by any one of us. And if actions almost always follow imagination, and they do, then surely you will have helped to build a better world for the glory of almighty God.”

Kicking off the 3 p.m. commencement ceremony, 125 current and retired faculty members led 223 graduating seniors in a joyful procession into the gymnasium of the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center on a picture-perfect Goshen afternoon.

After an invocation and a congregational hymn, the seniors were encouraged by the Rev. Wallis to embrace joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith – and to avoid such negative emotions and feelings as anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, lies, and, especially, fear.

“Just because you are all set with this fabulous educational and spiritual experience here at Goshen, it doesn’t mean it’s easy or plain sailing from here on in,” Wallis said. “At college, we often believe we can think our way into a new way of living, but that’s actually not the way it works. In reality, it’s more likely that we will live our way into a new way of thinking.”

Wallis, who was the model for the lead character of the BBC show, The Vicar of Dibley, urged the graduates to resist the temptation to live an easy but unfulfilled life.

“Don’t just ask the question, ‘Does this career path bring me job satisfaction?’ Ask, ‘Does it bring meaning?’ And the Christian question is ‘Does it contribute to the building of God’s kingdom?’ Don’t just go where you are directed or invited. Don’t just do something because you can, but try and make the connections between your talents and gifts and your deepest values and beliefs. Go where your moral compass leads you.”

Above all, Wallis told the graduates to avoid being paralyzed by fear – of personal disease and violence or of internal and external threats as claimed by national leaders.

“Fear – it’s become the foundation for American foreign policy. We are directly and constantly encouraged to be afraid – afraid of attack, afraid of immigration, afraid of pandemic diseases, afraid of poverty, and it makes us want to build walls,” Wallis said.

“But as James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, once said, ‘There are no walls.’ What he meant was that building walls cannot protect us from all the critical forces and threats of the world from environmental degradation, pandemic disease, random violence and threats of terrorism.”

Citing the teachings of the prophet Micah and Jesus Christ, Wallis told graduates to consider an alternative to fear – justice, love and courage.

“The answer to fear is not fearlessness,” Wallis said. “It’s courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the resistance to it.”

Referring to the April 16 murders at Virginia Tech, Wallis talked about faculty members and students who risked their lives to save others from a student bent on killing as many people as he could. In all, 33 people, including the student gunman, died.

“After the horrible shootings at the Amish school in Pennsylvania there were the parents that lost their children who reached out in forgiveness to the perpetrators and their families,” Wallis added.

“After the terrible but successful struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, it was a Christian leader named Desmond Tutu who showed the courage to lead a nation in forgiveness. And in countless situations of violence, fear and conflict, it is very often people like the Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams who are the ones to show both courage and hope,” Wallis said.

“Always look for the courage to counter the fear,” Wallis concluded. “I don’t want you to be afraid of yourselves or overwhelmed by the future. Dare to dream big things and don’t be afraid to take risks.”

After the recognition of retiring faculty members, the graduates received degrees and signed their names into the Goshen College book — a tradition linking them to generations of alumni.

Presiding over the 109th commencement was President Brenneman, who congratulated each graduating senior as he or she accepted a diploma after their names were announced by Academic Dean Anita K. Stalter.

Stalter also announced that 30 percent of the graduates signed a pledge — part of a national program at 100 additional colleges — in which they promised to “explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.”

Also taking part in the service were two parents of graduating seniors: Carl Horner, the father of Nathan Horner, of Wakarusa, Ind., who offered an invocation at the start of the commencement service, and Susan Mark Landis, the mother Laura Landis of Orrville, Ohio, who offered the benediction.

After the ceremony, faculty and administrators who had left the gymnasium first, lined up on either side of a corridor and warmly applauded the exiting graduates. This tradition also takes place at the beginning of each academic year to welcome students back to campus.

Represented in this year’s graduating class were students from 20 different states, including 110 from Indiana, and from 16 countries, ranging from Belize and Bulgaria to Ukraine and Vietnam. The graduates earned degrees in 36 programs of study, having majored in everything from American Sign Language interpreting to theater.

The academic program with the largest number of graduating students was nursing, which held its pinning ceremony on Saturday to recognize the 62 individuals who completed degrees – 37 through Goshen’s traditional, four-year program and the rest through the bachelor of science in nursing degree completion program. Part of the nursing department’s traditional pinning ceremony on Saturday was a special anointing of hands by President Brenneman.

Other top majors in the class were business (16), organizational leadership (16), biology (13) communication (12) and art (12). One student was recognized for earning a one-year certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages. On Saturday, academic programs held receptions for graduates and their parents, families and friends.

The 11 a.m. Sunday morning baccalaureate service in the Church-Chapel, which was planned by students and faculty adviser Malinda Berry, featured music, personal reflections and prayer.

Graduating senior Amanda M. Entz (Newton, Kan.) played a piano prelude and postlude while Daenielle John (Selangor, Malaysia) served as worship leader. Hymns were led by Kyle M. Yoder (Perkasie, Pa).

Faculty also were included in the program as Assistant Professor of ASL Julie White Armstrong, Associate Professor of Physical Education Valerie Hershberger, Professor of Bible, Religion and Philosophy Paul Keim and Associate Professor of Chemistry Doug Schirch read Acts 2: 1-4 and 14-17 in four languages, accompanied by a chorus of students. Later, a multimedia slide and audio program provided a concise summary of the core beliefs of the graduating seniors.

After the sermon by President Brenneman, the song “We Are” was performed by members of the women’s choir consisting of Kristine Bowman (Millersburg, Ind.), Sarah Buskirk (Grove City, Ohio), Jessica David (Archbold, Ohio), Rachel Derstine (Blooming Glen, Pa.), Rebecca Fath (Goshen), Kimberly Glick (Millersburg, Ohio), Kate Harnish (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Kirsten Hartwig (Goshen), Emily Hershberger (Cedar Falls, Iowa), Tara Hershberger (Hesston, Kan.), Christy Miller (Bellefontaine, Ohio), Adrienne Nesbitt (Goshen), Rachel Slentz (Butler, Ind.), Megan Sohar (Orrville, Ohio) and Emily Stuckey (West Unity, Ohio).

Later, faculty, staff, graduates, their parents, family and friends and the entire congregation recited a Baccalaureate Litany of Benediction, written by Alexandra Roth (Palmer Lake, Colo.) and Anna Yoder (Goshen). The litany concluded with the stirring words: “Passionate God, fill us with your Spirit of Fire.”

Other events during the weekend included a senior program, which displayed the wide array of performing arts talent in the class, a senior art exhibit, a reception for adult programs and an evening reception hosted by President Brenneman and his wife, Dr. Terri J. Plank Brenneman.

— By Richard R. Aguirre

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Richard R. Aguirre, director of public relations, at (574) 535-7571 or rraguirre@goshen.edu.

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Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit www.goshen.edu.

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