Monday, April 27, 2009

At 111th Goshen College commencement, Union College president tells graduates to emulate the Pilgrims and first master's degrees awarded

The Class of 2009 consisted of 236 graduates – three of them candidates for master of arts degrees, 175 candidates for bachelor of arts degrees, 18 candidates for bachelor of science degrees, and 40 candidates for bachelor of science in nursing degrees.


Total number of graduates: 236

Number by category: 3 master's degrees, 175 bachelor of arts degrees, 18 bachelor of science degrees, 40 bachelor of science in nursing

Number of double majors: 15

Number of students graduating with highest honors (grade point averages of 3.9 to a perfect 4.0, as of December 2008): 27

Number of students graduating with GPAs of 3.60 and above: 90

Number of states represented in this year's graduating class: 18

Number from Indiana: 97

Number of countries outside the U.S. represented by our grads: 13

Number of graduates by top programs of study: nursing, 40; organizational management, 17; business, 17; art, 16; music, 15; social work, 14.


GOSHEN, Ind. — Goshen College's Class of 2009 received degrees Sunday, April 26 after being encouraged to take a leap of faith by President James E. Brenneman and to have courage and to persevere by Union College President Stephen Charles Ainlay, a 1973 Goshen College graduate.

A highlight of this year's commencement was the conferring of the college's first master's degrees. Three students – Mallory Kuhn of Spencerville, Ohio; Nayla Jiménez Cabezas of Cartago, Costa Rica; and Todd Weston of Lee's Summit, Mo. – graduated with Master's of Environmental Education degrees. The program is based at Goshen's Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center near Wolf Lake, Ind.

The Class of 2009 consisted of 236 graduates – three of them candidates for master of arts degrees, 175 candidates for bachelor of arts degrees, 18 candidates for bachelor of science degrees, and 40 candidates for bachelor of science in nursing degrees.

At a morning baccalaureate worship service in the college's Church-Chapel, President Brenneman encouraged graduates to take a leap of faith with the assurance of landing in the embrace of God.

"I've found it to be true that God's will for a person's life is often, though not always, only known clearly and unambiguously in hindsight. Going forward, one's life often appears, as the Apostle Paul says, 'through a glass, darkly,' like leaping into a dimly lit future," Brenneman told the graduates, their parents, family members and friends, as well as college faculty and staff.

"Even those of you who have a well-developed plan, a straight line from graduation to a dream job or graduate school or voluntary service or marriage or parenting, your logical, methodical small step forward today may in hindsight 20 or 30 years from now look a lot like the giant leap that it is destined to become."

For example, Brenneman said that two years after graduating from Goshen College, he and his wife, packed their belongings into their car and headed nearly 2,000 miles to California for what they thought were a few years of graduate school. "Never in a million years did we imagine that 26 years later, not only would we still be in California, but we would also be packing our bags for the only other time we drove across country to return to Goshen College, for me to serve as its 14th president."

Brenneman said the Bible provides many examples of people told by God to interrupt their lives and to immediately respond to God's calling, such as when Jesus told his would-be disciples to leave behind everything and to follow him.

"And the rest, as they say, is history. What started out as a small mustard-seed-of-a-group, a truly insignificant movement, blown here and there by the wind of the spirit, over time would be transformed into the largest of trees, branches spread wide, a place of rest for world-weary souls. 'Such is the kingdom of heaven,' Jesus said."

Using a contemporary example of faith, Brenneman talked about Susan Boyle, the homely 48-year-old British woman, who took a huge risk earlier this month by singing on  "Britain's Got Talent" television show.

"No one, absolutely no one, especially Simon Cowell, that acerbic judge and creator of 'American Idol,' thought Susan ready for prime time. But then, less than 15 bars into the song, 'I Dreamed a Dream' from 'Les Misérables,' the audience started clapping. A few measures more and they were on their feet cheering. By the end, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, including my own watching on YouTube," Brenneman said. "Susan Boyle had taken a giant leap of faith and landed in hope."

Similarly, Brenneman advised the graduates to set aside their fears and the human tendency to complicate decision-making processes and to act when the Spirit moves deeply inside them by putting their faith in God.

"I pray today that each of you go from this corner of God's universe into every continent of this world, that, with God's help, whatever you do, you will help in the awesome calling of healing the world peace by peace. Call it wild. Call it adventurous. Call it risky. Call it a leap of faith, but also call it, possibly, the most transforming adventure of your lives," Brenneman said. "Take the plunge. With God above and below you, and all around you, you will, I promise, land in hope."

Three hours later, at 3 p.m., 130 current and retired faculty members led 222 graduates in a joyful procession into the gymnasium of the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center for the 111th Goshen College Commencement. A brass ensemble, directed by Associate Professor of Music Gregg Thaller, greeted the procession.

President Brenneman welcomed the graduates by recalling their college journeys of hard work, late nights of study, deep learning, joyful memories, countless questions and guidance by faculty members.

"We've shared lots of fun, some pranks, loads of good will, moments of sorrow and even a few 'severe mercies.' We have, I hope, all become better individuals having encountered each other along this part of our life journey: more loving, more prepared to serve God and others, more confident in our skills, more appreciative of God's grace than when we first arrived at Goshen College."

After an invocation and a congregational hymn, Brenneman introduced Dr. Stephen Charles Ainlay, who grew up in Goshen, earned a bachelor's degree in sociology at Goshen College in 1973 and now is the president of Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. In his commencement address, "A Pilgrim's Mind," Ainlay told the graduates that he was transformed by his Goshen College education and that he wished the same for them.

"Thanks to the remarkable care that I received here, I developed a love of learning that has thus far lasted a lifetime. Thanks to the inspiration-by-example of faculty, across many fields of study, my own career aspirations were dramatically altered. And thanks to the formative process that resulted from Goshen's curriculum and co-curriculum, my faith was nurtured and deepened," Ainlay said. "I hope to all of you who are graduating that your time here will prove to have been transformative as well."

Ainlay based much of his address on "Mayflower," a 2006 book by Nathaniel Philbrick about the Pilgrims, their voyage across the Atlantic in 1620, their settlement of Plymouth Colony and their changing relationship with native peoples. The Pilgrims' 65-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean was filled with hardships, including a rough passage, cramped and unhealthy quarters, seasickness, poor food and water and verbal abuse by the Mayflower's crew.

Still, they continued despite their many obstacles and eventually established a successful settlement in Plymouth. As such, they continue to offer important lessons on living, such as the importance of courage, perseverance and discernment.

"My wish for all of you is that you will be able to summon these qualities in your own lives," Ainlay said. "If you take seriously Goshen College's motto 'Culture for Service,' you will inevitably confront challenges, perhaps not as dramatic as those faced by the Pilgrims but challenges none the less. The lesson we can all find in the Pilgrim experience is that those challenges – the 'headwinds' and 'shoals' of life – should be confronted with courage, perseverance and discernment.

"The Pilgrim experience also gives us clues about the sources of these qualities. Their courage, their willingness to persevere, and their ability to discern stemmed from deeply held convictions, enduring bonds to one another and an abiding belief in God's active presence in their lives," Ainlay said. "Convictions helped the Pilgrims on the Mayflower stay on course and you – like the Pilgrims – will need to sharpen, continually reaffirm and rely on your convictions in order to avoid going astray."

Ainlay concluded his address by calling on the graduates to make a place for God in their lives, to keep their deepest held convictions and to nurture a sense of community to sustain their faith in good and bad times.

"The Pilgrims survived, they dared to dream and they were sustained by these things. You will be, too," Ainlay said. "Do not fear or flee from the challenges ahead of you. The world needs you. Have courage. Persevere. Discern what is right and good. To me, this is what it means to have a 'Pilgrim's mind.' Godspeed, fellow pilgrims."

After Ainlay's address, there was recognition of retiring faculty members: Fern Brunner, associate professor of nursing; Carl Helrich, professor of physics; Victor R. Koop, professor of psychology; Sally Jo Milne, associate librarian; Ronald J. Milne, professor of mathematics; and Judy Wenig-Horswell, associate professor of art. Together, they have provided 163 years of service to Goshen College.

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

Presiding over the 111th commencement was President Brenneman, who congratulated each graduate after Academic Dean Anita K. Stalter announced their names.

Special mention was made of Deanne Elizabeth Binde of Lake Park. Minn., who died in a traffic crash on May 22, 2008. She had been scheduled to graduate with this class.

Taking part in commencement were two parents of graduating seniors: Dagne Assefa, the father of Lydie Assefa of Indianapolis, who offered the invocation, and Rachel Miller Jacobs, the mother of Ben Miller Jacobs of Goshen, who said the benediction.

After the benediction, faculty and administrators lined the main corridor of the Recreation-Fitness Center and applauded the departing seniors. 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 18 states, including 97 from Indiana, and from 13 countries.

The class included 15 graduates with double majors. Thirty-six students graduated with highest honors – grade point averages of 3.9 to a perfect 4.0. In addition, 90 others were on track to achieve GPAs of 3.60 and above. This commencement was the third consecutive year, after a break of four decades, that the college has recognized such academic honors.

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 40 individuals who completed degrees – 22 through the traditional, four-year program and 18 through the bachelor of science in nursing degree completion program. Other top majors in the class were organizational management (17), business (17) art (16), music (15) and social work (14).

Of the graduates, 92 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 Elizabeth Beachy, an English major from Wellman, Iowa, Peter Miller, an English and music major from Evanston, Ill., Leah Roth, a nursing major from Goshen, and Leslee Smucker, a music major from Goshen.

The service formally began with the lighting of lamps, and a welcome by Morgan Kraybill, a social work major from Harrisonburg, Va. After two congregational hymns, senior reflections were delivered by Brooke Blough, a Bible and religion major from Denver, Colo., and Brent Handfield, a business and education major from the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Tyler Yoder, a Bible and religion major from Goshen, and Ben Miller Jacobs, an English major from Goshen, performed a humorous drama with sock puppets in which they acted out their apprehensions about graduating from college and going out into the world. Emily Iehle, an American Sign Language interpreting major from Sandusky, Ohio, read the baccalaureate Scripture from Genesis 12.

After President Brenneman's sermon, an 18-member choir and seven instrumentalists performed a song, "Seeds: The Kingdom of Heaven," composed by graduate Jesse Landis-Eigsti, a music major from Lakewood, Colo.

Next, graduates, their parents, faculty and the entire congregation recited a baccalaureate litany, led by Lydie Assefa, a English/history major from Indianapolis, and Phil Schmidt, a Bible and religion major from Goshen. The litany, which was written by Hillary Watson, a Bible and religion major from Seattle, Wash., concluded with the sentiment: "I am a flame, too dim to change the whole world, small enough to know I don't have to because I am a fire, I am sending someone else's dream and when I'm gone, my dreams will belong to other seeds, becoming other trees."

The baccalaureate ended with two congregational hymns: "The Lord bless you and keep you" and "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."

Other events during the busy weekend at the college included a senior program, which showcased the wide array of performing arts talent by the Class of 2009, 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

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

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Goshen College
1700 S Main St
Goshen, Indiana 46526
phone: +1 (574) 535-7569
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