108th Goshen College Commencement celebrates 240 students’ achievements

GOSHEN, Ind. – Processing across campus just before 3 p.m. on April 23 to open Goshen College’s 108th commencement services, the more than 350 members of the Goshen College community – soon-to-be-graduates and current and retired faculty – marched with appropriate seriousness.

When the 240 members of the Class of 2006 filed out of the gymnasium of the Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center an hour and a half later, having been encouraged by commencement speaker Michael A. Mata to “Dance to the Rhythm of a Different Tune,” they were ready to celebrate with family and friends.

First, though, they were sent on their way by faculty and administrators who, having exited the gym first, formed a two-sided tunnel and warmly applauded the graduates – a tradition that also takes place at the beginning of each academic year to welcome students back to campus.

Experiencing a Goshen College commencement for the first time in several decades was Goshen College President-elect James E. Brenneman, who will join the campus full time on July 1, but who told the Class of 2006 “on this historic day” in their lives that college faculty and administrative leaders wished them each to live out “God’s best intentions for you.”

Brenneman also introduced Mata, whom he called “mi hermano” (my brother), the commencement speaker, a colleague of Brenneman’s on the faculty at the Claremont School of Theology. Mata, the national director of the Tools for Transformation Program of World Vision U.S., has served for 17 years on the pastoral team of a Nazarene multi-ethnic/multi-congregation church in Los Angeles.

Having focused in ministry and community leadership for the past 25 years, Mata said that while Christians look forward to the coming of God’s reign on earth, “the day of the great fiesta … when the tongues of the universe will sing the same song, and we will all line up in one great conga line, dancing from one end of heaven to the other,” that “we can experience elements and dimensions of the reign of God here and now.”

Said Mata, “Faith is not a passive experience.” He charged the graduates to “dance to a different rhythm … to love for those who do not love or have been hurt by love, and to dream a dream for those who do not or are not able to dream.”

In one of many tangible signs of their interest in living out their values, 73 members – about one third – of the Class of 2006 so far have signed a pledge, part of a national program, that states that they will “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.”

Represented in this year’s graduating class were students from 18 different states, including 124 from Indiana, and 16 countries, from Belize to Zimbabwe. The departing seniors represented 31 programs of study, having majored in everything from American Sign Language interpreting to theater at Goshen College.

The academic program with the largest number of graduating students was nursing, which held its pinning ceremony on Saturday to recognize the 58 individuals who completed a degree – 28 through Goshen’s traditional, four-year program and the rest through the BSN degree completion program offered through the college’s Division of Adult and External Studies that is designed for working adults. Vicky Kirkton, director of the Goshen College Nursing Program, said a “very meaningful” part of the nursing department’s pinning ceremony on Saturday was a special anointing of hands, a new part of the service, to commission the senior students (a number of whom already have positions in healthcare waiting for them upon graduating) in their future work.

Other top majors in the class were business (19 graduates), communication (14 graduates) and history (14 graduates). One student was recognized for earning a one-year certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages. On Saturday, each academic program held an informal reception for graduates and their parents, families and friends.

One of those departments had a unique reason to celebrate. The Class of 2006 includes six students who represent the first American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting majors to graduate from Goshen College, which is the only four-year ASL program in the United States to require juniors and seniors to take both state and national certification tests. Each of the six graduating ASL majors passed the national written exam on the first try.

Goshen resident Tracey Stack, the first among the group to yet take the required performance exam toward certification, also passed that test on the first try. She also holds the special honor of being the first person in Indiana to have received National Interpreting Certification under a newly revamped exam and to apply for the Indiana Interpreter Certificate. Within a week of passing her national certification, Stack’s phone was ringing with multiple job offers.

Presiding over the ceremony was Goshen College Interim President John D. Yordy, who congratulated each graduating senior as they accepted their diploma as their names were announced by Anita Stalter, academic dean and vice president for academic affairs. Also taking part in the service were two parents of graduating seniors: Ned Wyse, father of Layne Wyse, both from Camden, Mich., offered an invocation at the start of the commencement service, while international student Suzie Arsenovic’s mother Nancy, who traveled to Goshen from Brussels, Belgium, to celebrate her daughter’s graduation, offered a benediction.

On Sunday morning, a baccalaureate service planned by a student committee was rich with music, personal reflections and prayer that highlighted the community aspect of Goshen College life. Graduating seniors Joshua Weaver (Bluffton, Ohio) and Dominique Burgunder-Johnson (Vilseck, Bavaria, Germany) served as worship leaders, and hymns were led by Miriam Augsburger (Kidron, Ohio). With families and friends of seniors gathered in the Church-Chapel for the service, parents were meaningfully included in the program as Mag Richer Smith of Iowa City, Iowa, parent of Jesse Richer Smith, offered a prayer of invocation to begin the service, and Terry Shue of Dalton, Ohio, parent of Bethany Nussbaum and Krista Shue, led the benediction; senior Will Velez and his father, William Arturo Velez, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, read the Scripture guiding the service, Ephesians 4:1-7 and 11-13. Associate Professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies Joseph Liechty shared a message titled “Becoming Mature in the Fullness of Christ.” Biology and environmental studies major Marcos Stoltzfus (Bellefontaine, Ohio) and communication major E. Myra Karina (Semarang, Indonesia), an international student who transferred to Goshen after two years at Hesston College, each shared their reflections on their Goshen experience. Instrumental and vocal groups shared music throughout the service.

Miriam Loh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) wrote a litany for the baccalaureate participants that reflected the commencement speech theme of Michael A. Mata, reading, in part: “For it is by grace we now are moving on to new dances of our lives. In our coming endeavors let us return to others the grace that has presented herself in each of our lives… Let us do so, in our endeavors of Service… Of Peace… Of Education… Of Leadership… As we move to these new endeavors or continue to explore different areas, may our actions and thoughts be in the oneness of the faith we profess.”

Other events during the weekend included a senior art exhibit, the nurses’ pinning ceremony, a senior program displaying the array of performing arts talent in the class and a reception hosted by Interim President John Yordy and his wife Winifred.

– By Rachel Lapp

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year 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.