President Rebecca Stoltzfus speaking at the 2023 Baccalaureate Celebration during Commencement Weekend on April 29. (Photo by Julian Gonzalez)

Baccalaureate speech 2023 (full text): by President Rebecca Stoltzfus

Baccalaureate address (as prepared for delivery) by President Rebecca Stoltzfus at the Goshen College Baccalaureate Celebration on Saturday, April 29, 2023.

» Read the 2023 Commencement story
» Full-text of Commencement Address by Dr. Felipe Hinojosa
» Commencement photo album
» Academic Department Receptions and Baccalaureate photo album
» Nurses Pinning photo album

Greetings, Goshen College class of 2023, family and friends! Seniors: what a fabulous evening you have given us.

Tomorrow you will step across the threshold from being students to being alumni. You will sign the enormous, ancient, book of alumni, adding your names to the thousands of GC grads before you.

GC’s first cheerleader, 1956: Jim Conrad

You have become a part of this place. You have joined the stream of our history – from our founding in Elkhart 129 years ago, to this weekend in Goshen, and going forward in time and space. You have made history.

And making history is extremely cool.

Official GC cheerleading squad, 1968

When I think of your particular class of 2023, here are three particular ways that you have made history at Goshen College.

First, there is fan support. So a little history lesson here.

1970 & 1973 GC cheerleading squads

Here is a photo of one of the first cheerleaders at GC, James Conrad, in 1956. This photo raises so many questions for me.

  • How did he get there?
  • Did he land safely?

I’m happy to report that James went on to become a medical doctor and is still a proud Maple Leaf fan living in Pennsylvania.

Captain Maple Leaf, 1986

By 1958, when we began to hold official intercollegiate basketball competitions, we had a real cheerleading squad.

Our last cheerleading squad was in 1973, fifty years ago. I believe the women’s liberation movement led to its demise.

Dan the Squirrel Man, 2022

But the GC spirit is irrepressible, so in the 1980’s Captain Mapleleaf was born – a creation of students, not our marketing department. In this picture, Captain Mapleleaf is assisting in the ceremonial dunking of the president in the Schrock Plaza fountain. I have already been dunked, so don’t get any ideas!

Dash, the black squirrel, 2022-23

Forty years later came Dan the squirrel man, who inspired crowds, encouraged players and cajoled referees. Dan’s squirrel costume barely held it together until this fall, when

Dash appeared! And you were a part of that history!

This year we celebrated 297 wins in competition and our athletes set 25 new school records. Congratulations!

Perhaps more importantly, you were at GC during a truly historic global pandemic. Preparing for this talk, I went back to the now historic COVID page on our website and scrolled through all of the messages that we sent to you, all the way back to our first message on March 2, 2020, when we wrote that there were no confirmed cases of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Indiana, but we were closely monitoring the situation.

As I read the sequence of emails that we sent to you in March 2020 honestly, I felt nauseated, so I will not read them to you.

Instead, let us briefly review the parade of masks. When we first sent you home as first-years in March of 2020, we did not recommend masks. We did not think they were necessary and we wondered why Asian nations were so hooked on them. Well it turns out that Asians had a lot to teach us.

By May 13 of 2020, however, we were onto masks. Medical masks were not available outside of hospitals, so we began with the era of home-made masks.

And then came face shields. We were happy, because we could see and breathe well. The only downside was learning that they did not stop COVID transmission.

By the fall of 2020, when we welcomed everyone back to campus, we were into branded masks.

During that year, as we tired of our GC masks, we began to experiment with fashion masks. I got this one from Macy’s in time for the spring season of 2021.

Finally, supply chains caught up with demand and we transitioned to much better KN95 masks.

Forget branding or fashion, we just wanted to be safe. And once again, thank you Korea for teaching us what works. Seriously.

And now, here we are tonight, mostly maskless!! I have a new love for all of your faces! For your wonderful chins, and lips and noses!

The pandemic was a huge course of study that none of us signed up for. An interdisciplinary course in science, public health, politics, economics, and the social and behavioral sciences. A course in structural racism, and the limits to our mental health. We learned, and we adapted as we learned, which is what life is all about. And we took care of one another, as best we were able.

Thank you for being courageous, creative and compassionate leaders through the whole ordeal. I am truly fortunate amongst presidents to have had you as students and families during this time.

And third, here’s one of the most important ways that you have made history during your time at GC. During your years here, we have become a “majority minority” college, meaning that no racial or ethnic group is the majority of our student body.  We became recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution. And that is because of you. Because of who you are, your dignity, your individuality, your humanity. Because you became part of this place.

We do not live perfectly amidst our diversity, we still have plenty of work to do. But the diversity that you have brought to our campus is beautiful and it is strong. Keep being you. Keep making history.

It has been our privilege to bear witness to your success – your questions, your achievements, your bravery as you tried new things. We have cheered you on as performers and athletes and writers and scientists and leaders.

College is not a solo act. If you are seated tonight with a friend or family member who has been a companion to you through these GC years, take a moment to turn and say thank you.

Because Goshen College is a community that educates not only in the classroom, and not only as professors, but as fellow travelers on the human journey.

I hope that we have been for you, and will continue to be for you, a community that inspires your courage, creativity and compassion.

I know that you have been that for me. You have made me better. Thank you.

And I hope that this place, with its leafy maples and buzzing prairies, is a place that you will always consider home. Please come back for Homecoming and class reunions.

And in the year 2073, when you come back for your 50-year class reunion, you will tell the president of Goshen College – who will be younger than you – what it was like to live and study here through the COVID 19 pandemic. You will talk about having to leave campus in the midst of a spring semester, about quarantine in Miller and isolation in Kenwood, having to zoom into classes in your pajamas, and getting your food in green boxes.

And that president will be amazed by your stories and inspired by your resilience.

It has been our immense privilege to learn to know you.  We will always be your curious and enthusiastic cloud of witnesses—eager to see what the world holds for you, and what you hold for the world!

So, dear ones, go and be salt and light for the world!

Be warmth in cold nights, and when the heat is scorching, be shade.

And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in in love, may have power, together with all of God’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Amen.

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