At 113th Goshen College commencement, human rights activist encourages graduates to bring hope and compassion to a broken world


Total number of graduates: 261
Number by category: 6 candidates for master of science degrees, 5 candidates for master of arts degrees, 180 candidates for bachelor of arts degrees, 18 candidates for bachelor of science degrees, and 52 candidates for bachelor of science in nursing degrees.
Number of double majors: 21
Number of students graduating with highest honors — grade point averages of 3.9 to a perfect 4.0 (based on grades as of December 2010): 31
Number of students graduating with GPAs of 3.60 and above (based on grades as of December 2010): 86
Number of states represented in this year’s graduating class: 25 (and 1 U.S. territory)
Number from Indiana: 124
Number of countries represented (other than U.S.): 13
Number of graduates by top programs of study: Nursing, 52; Organizational Leadership, 18; Art, 18; English, 15; Accounting, 13; Communication, 13; History, 13; ASL, 10; Music, 10.

GOSHEN, Ind. — Goshen College’s Class of 2011 received degrees on Sunday, May 1 after being challenged to have the courage to serve others by President James E. Brenneman and encouraged to bring hope and compassion to a broken world by 1969 Goshen College graduate Marjory M. Byler, a human rights activist and organizational consultant.

The Class of 2011 consisted of 261 graduates who were awarded the following degrees: 180 Bachelor of Arts, 52 Bachelor of Science in nursing, 18 Bachelor of Science, six Master of Science as family nurse practitioners and clinical nurse leaders and five Master of Arts in environmental education.

At a morning baccalaureate worship service in the college’s Church-Chapel, President Brenneman delivered a sermon titled “Courageous Bow,” which was based on Joshua 1:1-9 and Philippians 2:1-11 – Scriptures selected by the graduates for the service.

“Before Joshua put one toe in the Jordan River, before he took one step forward into the Promised Land that God had promised him, God said to Joshua three times, ‘Be strong and courageous!'” Brenneman said. “I can think of no better words this morning to share with our beloved graduates, as we send you toward a promising but unknown future.”

First steps almost always prompt a combination of excitement and fear, Brenneman said, noting that most parents recall the shaky first steps their offspring took, which often elicited thrill, panic and joy in the children.

“Now, after years of guided wandering in the wilderness of learning, you have finally arrived at your own Jordan’s banks, ready to graduate, to cross over to the other side, where the ‘Promised Land’ awaits you,” he said. “We call it commencement because it’s a new beginning, a new day, and, I’m guessing the first step from student to graduate may resurface some of the same thrill-panic and terrified joy of those first steps you took in life, not so awfully long ago.”

For some graduates, Brenneman said, the next courageous step in their lives may be typing the first word of what could become the next great American novel or a first byline in a local or national newspaper. For other graduates, courage may mean teaching third-graders, treating patients in an emergency room, auditioning for the Boston symphony, taking a risk on a dream, deciding “what’s next” in their lives or simply getting up out of bed each day.

“For all of you, for all of us here, but especially for you who are graduating, there are first steps to be made, today, tomorrow and the next day,” Brenneman said. “If courage means anything, it means facing our fears, and taking the first step toward overcoming them. So, whatever you do, take that first step.”

Brenneman told the graduates that the fact they were graduating with a college degree made them among a privileged group of people in the world; only 1 percent of world’s 6.7 billion people have realized that dream. And with that privilege comes “the courage to pour out your lives in honor and service to others,” and to do so with humility.

Brenneman called on the graduates to emulate Jesus Christ — to have the strength to take a “courageous bow” in honor and service to others — and to have faith that God will be with them.

“And that should be good enough for all of us today. Whether you go from Goshen College to discover the cure for cancer, or win a Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy, or a Nobel Prize, or whether you become an ambassador of this or any other country, or travel to space, or rid the world of AIDS, or pastor a local church, or teach fifth graders their multiplication tables, or serve in a war-torn refugee camp half a world away, wherever your choices take you, be strong and courageous because God is with you.”

Brenneman closed his 19-minute sermon with a final message: “In receiving your diplomas later today, should you somehow feel that you have both feet planted firmly on the ground, then Goshen College has probably failed you. I hope and pray that one foot is off the ground, the hands are akimbo, and with a gracious bow, you step into God’s promised future with great courage and much strength. May God bless you.”

Later in the day, at 3 p.m., 140 current and retired faculty members led the graduates in a procession into the gymnasium of the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center for the 113th Goshen College Commencement. The Goshen College Commencement Orchestra, directed by Assistant Professor of Music Christopher Fashun, played pre-commencement music and a processional.

Brenneman welcomed a crowd of more than 2,000 people gathered for the joyful ceremonies by stating that no other responsibility as president gave him as much joy as conferring degrees on graduates.

After an invocation and the hymn, “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,” Brenneman introduced the commencement speaker — Marjory M. Byler of Chicago, a 1969 Goshen College alumna who has worked as a human rights activist, an organizational consultant and a teacher.

Byler, who was born and raised in Argentina, worked with Amnesty International for more than 30 years and oversaw a wide range of programs, both in the United States and internationally. She began in 1980 as a volunteer and worked her way to the position of Senior Director for International Mobilization at the International Secretariat in London from 2002 to 2010. She has developed standard-setting programs of support for the more than 70 Amnesty International entities around the world, addressing the challenges nongovernmental organizations face in different cultural and historical contexts.

In her commencement address, “There is a crack in everything,” Byler talked about her background, which led to a career in human rights work. She also offered advice on bringing the light of compassion and hope to a broken world.

“I believe that human rights are not just a set of rights — the right of association, expression, the right to shelter, to food, to education — but perhaps most importantly a framework through which to understand how to deal with a broken world and how to begin to help mend it,” Byler said. “One way to think about this is to think about the ideas of voice, access and engagement.”

Byler said that people whose human rights have been abused must be able to find and use their voices to define the parameters of the struggle for the rest of us. To affect social and political change, it also is important to create access to those who can help reverse injustice. “All of us can play a part in facilitating access to power, whether as educators, artists, healers, business people,” she said.

Illustrating that point, Byler said that she arranged a 1988 visit in Argentina between the famous English musician Sting with children who had been recovered after their parents were killed for taking part in political activity and the children were adopted illegally by military families and acquaintances. Sting met with the children to learn their stories before performing at a benefit concert.

“There was not a dry eye at the concert the next day when Sting spoke of the courage of these children before he sang ‘They Dance Alone,’ an emblematic song of the struggles of the families of the disappeared in Latin America,” she said. “He gave them, the most vulnerable of survivors, access to a stage most of us can’t hope to walk, but it was a simple act of compassion, of light, that reverberated through that stadium and will not be forgotten by any of us there that night.”

Byler described engagement and action as another essential step in securing human rights. “The action may be as dramatic as that of the first group that met in Tahrir Square in Cairo or as apparently small as finding one’s way to the polls in Belarus or in Burma. Knowledge that emerges from and derives in action is truly learned and doubly valuable and a powerful component of passionate learning,” she said. “The job never ends, but the victories along the way bring light and hope to marginalized peoples everywhere.”

Byler encouraged the graduates to broaden their concern for others and to help others suffering from discrimination and oppression throughout the world.

“As you leave this hall today, I urge you to remember that the brokenness in the world is what allows the light of compassion and action to burn brightly. As you take your place wherever your life calls you, there is always the option to join the struggle to mend that which is broken, and you can shine with the knowledge that you can – and I am confident, will – build a better world.”

After Byler’s 20-minute address, there was recognition of retiring faculty members: John Blosser, professor of art; Mervin Helmuth, associate professor of nursing; David Janzen, director of human resources and affirmative action officer; and David Miller, associate professor of biology. Together, they provided decades of service to the college.

The graduates on hand Sunday then received degrees and signed their names in the Goshen College historical book – a tradition linking them to generations of alumni.

Presiding over the conferring of degrees was President Brenneman, who congratulated graduates after Academic Dean Anita K. Stalter announced their names. Assisting in the presentation of master’s degrees were David Ostergren, director of the graduate program in environmental education, and Brenda Srof, director of the graduate program in nursing.

After the degrees were conferred, the graduates, the faculty and the audience joined in the singing of the Goshen College Alma Mater.

Also taking part in commencement were two parents of graduating seniors: David B. Miller, the father of Peter Miller and Suzanne Miller, both of Elkhart, who offered the invocation, and Sophie Mathonnet-VanderWell, the mother of Chloe Mathonnet-VanderWell of Pella, Iowa, who gave the benediction.

After the benediction, faculty and administrators lined the main corridor of the Recreation-Fitness Center and applauded the departing seniors. The “applause tunnel” 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 25 states, including 124 from Indiana, and from 13 countries.

The class included 21 graduates with double majors. Thirty-one students graduated with highest honors – grade point averages of 3.9 to a perfect 4.0. In addition, 86 others were on track to achieve GPAs of 3.60 and above.

The academic program with the largest number of graduating students was nursing, which held its traditional pinning ceremony the day before commencement to recognize the 24 individuals who completed through the traditional, four-year program. In addition, 28 individuals were granted degrees through the Bachelor of Science in nursing degree completion program and six individuals got Master of Science in nursing degrees.

Other top majors in the Class of 2011 were Organizational Leadership (18), Art (18), English (15); Accounting (13), Communication (13), History (13), Music (10) and ASL (10).

Of the graduates, 125 took the Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility, a national program at more than 100 colleges and universities. By signing the pledge, the graduates 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.”

Students and faculty planned the morning baccalaureate service. It featured an instrumental prelude by graduating seniors Greta Breckbill, a music major from Stoughton, Wis., and Allison Yoder, a music major from Middlebury.

The service formally began with a welcome from Andrea Kraybill, an art major and Bible and religion minor, from Elkhart, followed by a congregational hymn, “Come let us all unite to sing.” Senior reflections were offered by Julia Baker, an interdisciplinary major from Fresno, Calif., Patrick Maxwell, an interdisciplinary and theater major from Winchester, Mass., and Moises Santos, a communication major from Elkhart.

Peter Miller, a computer science and applied mathematics major from Elkhart, and his sister, Suzanne Miller, an elementary and special education major from Elkhart, read the Scriptures for the service — Joshua 1:1-9 and Philippians 2:1-11. Their mother, Mary Kathryn Miller, also offered a prayer.

After President Brenneman’s sermon, a senior vocal ensemble — composed of 30 graduates — sang “Woyaya (We Are Going).”

Next, the entire congregation recited a litany of response written and led by Jennifer Speight, an English major from Cleveland, Ohio. The litany concluded with these words recited by Speight and the other graduates: “We have been shaped and molded, encouraged and strengthened by this community, and it is with the gifts that have developed here that we face the world. Weave our desires and your desires together, Lord, creating a picture of perfection, the realization of our dreams.”

The baccalaureate services ended with the congregational hymn “The Lord bless you and keep you” and a benediction.

Other events during the busy weekend at the college included a senior program, which showcased the artistic, comedic and musical talent of the Class of 2011, a senior art exhibit, academic receptions for graduates and their families, a reception for adult programs and an evening reception hosted by President Brenneman and his wife, Dr. Terri J. Plank Brenneman.

— Written by Richard R. Aguirre

EDITOR’S: For more information about this release or to arrange for additional photos, contact Jodi H. Beyeler, director of the campus news bureau, at (574) 535-7572 or, or Richard R. Aguirre, director of public relations, at (574) 535-7571 or


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