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Rockingham: EMU students learn more about why they’re there

Story by Jim Bishop

So, why are you here?

A rather strange question, perhaps, for the president of Eastern Mennonite University to ask those who filled Lehman Auditorium Wednesday for the opening convocation of fall semester, but he had good reason.

“Most of us think about education in terms of what it will do for us, Loren Swartzendruber said. “What we will learn that will be useful for our future. what we can achieve, a particular goal that becomes more concrete.

“At EMU, we frequently talk about the educational enterprise as grounded in the liberal arts – the idea that an educated person is liberated’ from the confines of ignorance, free to explore beauty and pursue intellectual challenges. It’s our conviction that an education in the liberal arts is the best foundation for a lifetime of learning. All of these are valid reasons for being at EMU,” the president stated.

“This morning, I offer yet another ‘reason’ for being at EMU,” Dr. Swartzendruber said. “[Noted theologian] Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff calls it ‘educating for shalom.’ It’s a biblical concept that is often translated ‘peace,’ but it’s more comprehensive than one English word can embody.

“Wolterstorff suggests at least four dimensions to ‘shalom’ – right relationship to God, to fellow human beings, to nature and to oneself,” relationships to oneself,” he noted. “To these, he adds yet another facet – shalom is best experienced in community and it is characterized by ‘delight.’

Quoting Wolterstorff, “To live in shalom is to find delight in living rightly before God… in one’s physical surroundings . . . with one’s fellow human beings, to find delight even in living rightly with oneself.”

The president recalled the untimely death just two months earlier of 2008 EMU graduate Matthew Garber,22, of Elizabethtown, Pa., a nursing major, gifted musician and ‘Cords of Distinction’ recipient.

Before starting a job in the emergency room at Lancaster (Pa.) General Hospital, Garber traveled to Costa Rica for a summer of ministry. On July 1, while swimming with a group, he was caught in an undertow and drowned. More than 700 people, many of them from EMU, gathered in Garber’s home community to mourn his death and to celebrate his life.

“Matt embodied each of Wolterstorff’s definition of shalom – he was comfortable with himself as a person, with his gifts and his place in his family and congregation,” Swartzendruber said. “He was a confident young man, knowing that he had a variety of gifts, but seemingly without arrogance. He was clear about the importance of faith in his life and about his relationship to God.

“Matt wanted to serve in a physical way – to serve as a nurse-to bring healing and hope to the world through his work. And, Matt had a unique capacity to make others feel they were his best friend; he was other-oriented. ‘Delight’ is a good word to describe Matt’s approach to all of life,” the president said.

Each person had been given a pebble upon entering Lehman Auditorium. The president noted the “ripple effect” created when that pebble is dropped into a pond of water: “The initial splash is small; we may feel insignificant. But, the impact of our lives grows in concentric circles, changing the world around us even beyond what we can eventually see.”

Lee F. Snyder, interim provost, offered a prayer of blessing as the new school year unfolds.

The convocation closed with a “Shenandoah Welcome,” as first-year and transfer students walked through a gauntlet formed by returning students and EMU faculty and staff while bluegrass music played. Ice cream and lemonade was served in the Campus Center Greeting Hall.

EMU’s fall semester runs through Dec. 12.