Monday, April 28, 2008
At 110th Goshen College commencement, noted human rights advocate tells graduates to persevere, to serve others and to trust in God
GOSHEN, Ind. — Goshen College’s Class of 2008 received degrees Sunday — the culmination of years of hard work and prayer — after being encouraged to be life-long learners and to reach for high goals by President James E. Brenneman and Mukarabe Makinto-Inandava, an advocate for poor people in Africa.
The Class of 2008 consisted of 230 graduates – 158 of them candidates for Bachelor of Arts degrees and 72 candidates for Bachelor of Science degrees. The class included 23 graduates with double majors — one more than in 2007.
Twenty-seven students graduated with highest honors – grade point averages of 3.9 to a perfect 4.0. In addition, 88 others were on track to achieve GPAs of 3.60 and above. Sunday was the second consecutive year, after a break of four decades, that the college has recognized such academic honors.
At a Sunday morning baccalaureate in the college’s Church-Chapel, President Brenneman encouraged graduates to nurture the ability to laugh at themselves.
“Being able to laugh at yourself, in hindsight or being able to laugh at yourself by looking inwardly may be one of the surest signs that you are ready to graduate,” Brenneman said. “As the saying goes, ‘We grow up the day we have our first real laugh — at ourselves.’”
Brenneman also told the graduates, their parents, family members and friends, as well as college faculty and staff, that there is value in asking difficult questions, even about and of God.
“In a sense, the best liberal arts education, which I might add you now have, instills in you the confidence that getting to the deep-down truth of things demands one to possess the inquisitive mind of a journalist, the probing mind of a scientist, the persistent mind of the philosopher. Where am I? Who am I? How did I come to be here? What is this thing called the world? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted?” Brenneman said. Asking who, what, when, where, how and why questions remains among the noblest of all callings in life — the call to become, in the words of one of our core values here at Goshen College, a life-long passionate learner.”
Referencing Job 38-42, the Scripture reading for the baccalaureate, Brenneman said that life’s questions often arrive as a whirlwind and can be electrifying. Such questions also can become a game for people and can prompt cynicism instead of a fulfilling and hopeful explanatory system for living.
“We have done you no service at all, if we haven’t helped you to do such hard and joyful work. When those moments come, and they inevitably do, when rightful questions turn to cynical pride, oh to have God speak to us out of the whirlwind, to rattle our mental bones, like an earthquake,” Brenneman said.
Brenneman said he hoped that the graduates would learn to strike a balance between asking tough questions and gaining knowledge and laughing at one’s own limited knowledge and taking joy in the mystery of perception.
“I pray that each of you will find that comforting place of unpretension, where laughter at yourself in the presence of the divine or others will no longer be a source of embarrassment, where the whirlwind of God’s presence will come to you as a source of deep knowledge and perception, where for a time you will find rest in the grace of the world, which is at base, the grace of God, and where the true peace of God will be yours forever. Amen.”
Starting the 3 p.m. commencement ceremony, 127 current and retired faculty members led 230 graduating seniors in a joyful procession into the gymnasium of the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center on a cool and cloudy Goshen afternoon. The Goshen College Brass Ensemble greeted the procession.
After an invocation and a congregational hymn, Makinto-Inandava urged the graduates to pursue their highest goals, no matter how difficult to achieve and regardless of the obstacles along the way.
“You are at an amazing moment in your life today. I am not here to tell you what the purpose is in your life, but I want to share some of the excitement I feel about this awesome journey that life will represent for you even amidst the whirlwinds. And I want to give you some encouragement that can help you make certain choices,” she said.
Makinto-Inandava, who lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., is an ordained minister and a co-founder of Amahoro International, a faith-based organization. She serves on the executive committee for the North American Mission Fellowship, and is a liaison between the Mennonite Church USA First Generation Immigrant Churches initiatives and immigrant churches within the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference.
A native of Burundi, East Africa, Makinto-Inandava rose from an impoverished background to go to college, learn four languages and ease suffering in Africa’s war-torn regions. She worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Peace Corps in Burundi, and then after the Rwandan genocide, she served with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Kenya and Rwanda. She became a United Nations volunteer to Madagascar in charge of an education and nutrition development project for children.
“As improbable as it seems that an African country girl bound for illiteracy stands in front of you to deliver your commencement speech, it may seem highly unlikely to you that one day you might find yourself in the position of an astronaut, a missionary in Burundi, in Rwanda or in Burkina Faso or why not the president of Goshen College or the president of the United States?” she said. God has a plan for you, so keep on climbing.
Makinto-Inandava also told the graduates to heed three life lessons:
- When you
start climbing the Mount Whitney of your life, you will encounter
many obstacles. Maybe you’ve got the wrong family name. Maybe
your dream job is already taken. Maybe the girl or boy you want to
marry is in love with somebody else. But if you take these
obstacles as opportunities and refuse to be discouraged by them,
they will actually make you stronger … Know your source of
disconnect yourself from you community. Your community will do as
much for you as you should do for your community. You are nothing
without your community. It may be your local village or it may be
your global village. You need your community and your community
needs you … Love your community and serve your
- You’ve got talent. You’ve got a vision. You’ve got a dream. And you’ve got passion. But suddenly everything around you crumbles, everything goes wrong. Let me tell you: If you know your God and trust him completely with your life, relax. Keep on your journey.”
Makinto-Inandava concluded her address by quoting Dale Carnegie, the writer and lecturer on self-improvement, who once said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no help at all.” She then added: “So wherever you go from here, I encourage you to press on and keep on climbing.”
After the address, there was brief recognition of retiring faculty members: John D. Yordy, professor of chemistry, provost and executive vice president, Evelyn J. Driver, professor of nursing, and Stanley N. Grove, professor of biology.
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 110th commencement was President Brenneman, who congratulated the graduating seniors after Academic Dean Anita K. Stalter announced their names.
Stalter said that 89 of the graduates, or 39 percent, agreed to be take 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.”
Taking part in commencement were two parents of graduating seniors: Michelle Hershberger, the mother of Tara Lynn Hershberger of Hesston, Kansas, who offered the invocation, and Ron Byler, the father of Jesse Shirk-Byler of Goshen, who said the benediction.
After the benediction, faculty and administrators lined the main corridor and loudly 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 24 states, including 89 from Indiana, and from 15 countries, ranging from Bangladesh to France and Kenya to Uruguay. The graduates earned degrees in 35 programs of study.
The academic program with the largest number of graduating students was nursing, which held its pinning ceremony on Saturday to recognize the 55 individuals who completed degrees – 28 through the bachelor of science in nursing degree completion program and 27 through the traditional, four-year program. Part of the nursing department’s traditional pinning ceremony on Saturday was a special anointing of hands of the graduates.
Other top majors in the class were organizational leadership (16), Bible and religion (14), psychology (14), social work (13) and elementary education (12). One student, Ondrej Polisensky, was recognized for earning a one-year certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages.
Students and faculty planned the 11 a.m. Sunday morning baccalaureate. It featured a flute prelude, reflection and postlude by George “Brother” Makinto, an international recording artist and husband of Makinto-Inandava.
The service began with the lighting lamps, and greetings in 10 languages, by: Nicole Bauman, Canada, Israel David Martinez, Mexico; Laura Lintz, United States (American Sign Language); Hananiel Nathan” Gunawan, Indonesia; Joice Christine Purnomo, Indonesia; Beakal Girma Bisrat, Ethiopia; Subhekchya Sharma, Nepal; Marc Kenson Theus, Haiti; Doreen Kiconco, Rwanda; and Andy Yoder, United States (Pennsylvania Dutch).
Bauman also read Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of the Wild Things.” Kelly Shenk led hymns with accompaniment by Jessica Stoltzfus Buller. Tara Hershberger and Mike Honderich read the baccalaureate Scripture — selections from Job 38-42.
After President Brenneman’s sermon, a women’s ensemble consisting of Elizabeth Buschert, Krista Ehst, Karen Graber, Kim Glick, Anna Hade, Fjaere Harder, Tara Hershberger, Mikki Saltzman and Sara Thögersen performed the song On Children.” Among its thought-provoking lyrics: “You can give them your love, but not your thoughts; they have their own thoughts, they have their own thoughts. You can house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
Next, graduates, their parents, faculty and the entire congregation recited a baccalaureate litany, led by Tim Showalter and Laura Leischer. The litany concluded with the wish: “Now, in fluid forms of student, teacher and mentor, may we engage our whirlwinds in a spirit of imbibed and embodied peace.”
The baccalaureate ended with another congregational hymn, “Thuma Mina,” a benediction by Bauman and then two verses of “Amazing Grace” led by Brother Makinto, who played flute.
Other events during the weekend included a senior program, which showcased the wide array of performing arts talent by the Class of 2008, 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
Editors: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or Richard R. Aguirre, director of public relations, at (574) 535-7571 or email@example.com.
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 www.goshen.edu.