EMU celebrates commencement

Story by Jim Bishop

Partly-cloudy skies and pleasant temperatures provided a near-ideal backdrop Sunday for Eastern Mennonite University’s annual commencement exercises.

More than 3,500 family members and friends filled the front lawn of campus to celebrate the achievements of the 411 members of the EMU class of 2008.

President Loren Swartzendruber awarded 291 undergraduate, 89 graduate, 17 associate degrees and 14 study certificates during the ceremonies to cap the university’s 90th anniversary year. Cheers and applause erupted repeatedly and helium-filled balloons lofted skyward during the awarding of degrees.

EMU provost Beryl H. Brubaker, who is retiring after 37 years on the faculty, gave the commencement address on the theme, “A Metaphor for Remembering.” She called the graduates to go out into the world as “bridge builders,” whatever their pursuits.

Brubaker, who joined the EMU faculty in 1970 and has served 37 years in teaching and administrative roles, including seven months in 2003 as interim president, noted that “EMU graduates have been building bridges in this contentious and competitive world since the school’s founding in 1917.”

“Bridges are beautiful, utilitarian connections made by human minds, hands and hearts,” Brubaker said. “As you graduate today, take this EMU memory with you. If you would offer healing and hope in our diverse world, you must be about bridge building.”

She went on to describe the work of several alumnae who are working at reconciling people in difficult settings – Jessica King, who became executive director of Union Project in Pittsburgh, Pa., whose aim is to foster constructive relationships among neighbors; Sharon Kniss, who works for an organization called Bridge Builders in London, England; and Carolyn Schrock Shenk, a professor of peace and justice at Goshen (Ind.) College who built a relationship with a local woman whose son is a soldier in Afghanistan.

An example of bridge building on campus is EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, which has started a program to help soldiers with trauma healing in the aftermath of warfare.

“At EMU, we believe our call is not to lay aside differences, but rather to build bridges that span differences and to make connections that foster relationships in which people learn to value the other,” she said.

“This vocation of bridge building, both art and science, surely requires all the gifts God’s Spirit enables in us – kindness when we feel exasperated, gentleness with others and ourselves when we fail to be all that we wish, careful discernment to know when to give up cherished ideas and endurance so the effort doesn’t collapse.

“Picture thousands of EMU graduates reaching out in the workplace, in communities across this nation, reaching south of of our border and across the ocean, in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia, working at building bridges to accomplish our EMU vision – doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God,” Dr. Brubaker said.

Chester L. Wenger, 90, of Lancaster, Pa., gave a powerful prayer of blessing on the graduates. He is the only surviving family member of A.D. Wenger, the second president of what was then Eastern Mennonite School, 1923-1935.

Ten undergraduate students wore blue and gold “Cords of Distinction” with their academic regalia. They were selected by faculty, staff and fellow students their peers for “consistently demonstrating a positive effect on the campus and broader community” and exemplifying the highest ideals of EMU.

Some students wore green ribbons to signify their commitment to a graduation pledge which states, “I commit myself to a lifestyle of social and environmental integrity and will seek to improve these aspects of the community in which I work.”

The class of 2008 had 90 honors graduates, including three students who finished with perfect 4.0 grade point averages.

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