Baccalaureate speech 2024 (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 27, 2024.

Greetings, Goshen College class of 2024, family and friends!

Seniors: Thank you for this beautiful evening.

Tomorrow you will cross 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.

You have become a part of this place. You have joined the stream of our history – from our founding in Elkhart 130 years ago, to this weekend in Goshen, and going forward in time and space.

You have made history. And making history is extremely cool.

When I think of your particular class of 2024, there are some particular ways that you have made history at Goshen College.

Let’s begin with the fact that you began your college journey in the weirdest of pandemic times. Chances are, you did not have a normal high school commencement.

Some of you who began as first-years in the fall of 2020 did your entire fall semester online because you could not obtain a visa to get here. I respect you for persevering and I’m so glad you’re here now!

And for those of you who did arrive at Goshen College in August of 2020, I gave my welcome speech to you here, in this concert hall, where we had the space to seat you all six feet apart.

You might remember that as my “I will send you home” speech. Here’s what I said to you:

None of us can pull this off by ourselves. It will take all of us to create a healthy culture of kindness, common good, learning and trust. . . .We hold one another in trust. 

I will be your number one fan.

I will be your ally.

I will listen to your concerns, and if our plan is not working, we will change it.

I will speak truthfully to you.

I will respond to your mistakes with grace and education. I make mistakes too. 

But if you persist in not complying with our COVID safety measures this fall, I will send you home.

Soon after, this sidewalk chalk art appeared just outside the KMY connector, which managed to combine a colorful word of WELCOME, with a sketch of me in a mask and the “I will send you home” quote.

President Stoltzfus delivers her 2024 Baccalaureate address.

It also contained this little bit, circled in orange, which I had never noticed until I imported the photo from my phone onto this huge slide.

Chill Becky.

It is an enigma. Was the artist saying: Chill Becky, as in this is a drawing of relaxed Becky,

Or was the intent: Chill, Becky. In which case, the artist had not yet learned the correct use of a comma?

I leave it open to your interpretation.

Personally, I am guessing the intent was: Chill, Becky!

And I appreciate this word from an unknown student artist. It’s generally good advice. Jesus probably would have agreed. But it was hard to be chill at that time.

Fall 2020 was also when we handed out GC branded masks. Remember this?

A few months later we learned that thin, loosely fitted cloth masks were not very effective – even if they did say GC!

Although they were better than this.

Finally, we transitioned to much better KN95 masks.

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

The pandemic shut down our SST program and immersive global learning for about 8 months,

But as we emerged from that period and over the years you have been here, we have had SST programs in more than 20 locations from Ecuador to Indonesia, the Apache Stronghold, Puerto Rico and London – just to name a few.

And we reopened our marine biology facility in the Florida Keys – which a few of you have discovered and more of you will experience in May.

In the fall of 2020 we opened our new Center for Communication Studies. In addition to other benefits, it provides a much upgraded space for the ridiculous number of trophies and awards won by The Record, The Globe and Globe Media.

You also entered GC as we launched two new majors: public health, and criminal and restorative justice.

Our first-year faculty that year included two Brennemans, Brianne and Rob, who are actually unrelated. In the four years your class has been at GC we have enjoyed 72 issues of The Record, including the Funnies!

The class of 2024 also gave birth to Dan the Squirrel Man, full of Maple Leaf passion, nuts, eventually duck tape, and finally,

Grace, when Dash came along.

In Maple Leaf Athletics, Over the past four years we have celebrated 306 wins in competition. 56 graduating seniors are current Maple Leaf student-athletes. This year, Maples Leafs have been national qualifiers 51 times, conference players of the week 18 times, and NAIA All-Americans eight times.

This year both the women’s and men’s cross country teams had their strongest finishes in college history, finishing 15th and 16th nationally.


It is good to celebrate together this evening, because the past four years have also held a lot of pain.

Alongside your formal studies the world dished up a huge course of study that none of us signed up for. An interdisciplinary course in public health, structural racism, climate change and the limits to our mental health. Terrible and heartbreaking wars that are still ongoing.

Let your experiences teach you empathy and your suffering teach you love.

You commence from this place as learners, leaders, peacemakers and citizens of a luminous and tender world. It has been our privilege to bear witness to your success – your questions, your achievements, your bravery as you tried new things.

Thank you for being courageous, creative and compassionate leaders through the beauty and the ordeal of these years that we have shared together. There are many days when I have taken a walk around campus just to see you, exchange a smile or greeting and to feel your energy. I am truly fortunate amongst presidents to have had you as students and families during this time.

Keep being you. Keep making history. Keep imagining peace, nurturing peace and advocating for it, knowing that the foundation of peace is the love that flows from God and between each one of us and of this precious and singular planet earth.

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.

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

And I hope that Goshen, 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 2074, 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 quarantine in Miller and isolation in Kenwood, zooming into classes in your pajamas, and getting your food in green boxes. But most of all, you will talk about what you learned, your favorite faculty, your Goshen friends and the reunions you have had over the years.

And that president will be amazed by your stories and inspired by who you have become.

It has been our immense privilege 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!

And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded 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.