by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s Class of 2014 may be among the rare few who actually remember the commencement address.
That’s for at least two reasons – it may have been the shortest ever and it was all in rhyme.
Commencement speaker Dale Schrag, who retires at the end of June after 30 years at Bethel, most recently as campus pastor and director of church relations, is known to the campus community for many things.
One that the Concert Choir looks forward to almost every year is a recap of the spring break choir tour done completely in rhyme. Schrag decided to do the same with his commencement address, “Always be a Thresher.”
After starting in the usual way, by greeting “President White, faculty and staff, family and friends, and – most importantly – members of the Bethel College Class of 2014” and noting that he was “deeply honored to have been invited to address you on this auspicious occasion,” Schrag then proceeded:
“Commencement, we would all agree,/Is a very special time./But commencement addresses can sometimes be deadly,/So I’ll try to make this one rhyme.
“I’ll admit it’s a different way to proceed –/Perhaps a rhetorical trick./But I’m simply trying to do my best/To make these brief comments stick.”
Schrag went on to consider the Bethel College mascot, the Thresher, noting that “the special thing about threshers is they separate wheat from chaff” and then expanding on the wheat metaphor.
Among the “grain[s] of wheat you should always treasure,” Schrag included the saying attributed to Thomas Aquinas that cautions against thoughtlessly affirming or denying, rather always being ready to distinguish or discern; encouragement to carry one’s convictions in “an open palm rather than a closed fist”; the command to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself; and the Rule of St. Benedict to welcome every person as Christ.
Other valuable wheat, Schrag said, can be found within Bethel’s four core values of discipleship, scholarship, service and integrity.
The latter, he said, is not only a matter of “character and conscience,” but also of integration. “Life is not fragmented, … so integrate your faith and learning into a consistent whole.
“There’s a ton of cultural chaff out there,” Schrag said. “Constantly search for life-giving grain: Always be a Thresher.”
“I know this speech was very short,/But I’ve said what I intended,” Schrag concluded (the address clocked in at about 7½ minutes). “We’re kind of sad to see you go./As a class you’ve been just splendid.
“Know that in your time with us/You were a special gift./And now as you are graduates/Our relationship will shift.
“But connected we will all remain –/A community somehow./Because, you see, through thick and thin,/We’re all true Threshers now!”
Schrag’s commencement poem will be printed in the summer issue of Bethel’s alumni magazine, Context.
Brad Born, vice president for academic affairs, introduced the Class of 2014 by citing a number of its characteristics, including the fact that 83 of the 105 graduates are from Kansas – along with one from Mexico, one from Peru by way of Colorado, and one from Brazil by way of Kansas. At least seven are following a long-standing Bethel tradition of taking voluntary service assignments starting within the next several months.
Born also presented the 2014 Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award to Allen Jantz, professor of education.
Jantz has an undergraduate degree in mathematical sciences from Bethel College. He earned a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Wichita State University. Jantz joined the Bethel faculty in 1996 and has led the Bethel teacher education program for 18 years.
At the baccalaureate service earlier in the day, three graduating seniors and one parent reflected on the impact Bethel College had had on them.
Martin Olson, Denver, Colorado, recalled that he had come to Bethel College knowing almost no one and found, to his surprise, that people who knew his older brother Isaac, a Bethel graduate, greeted him warmly out of their affection for Isaac.
“I had been welcomed and made a part of Bethel,” Olson said, “and I decided to make just as strong an effort to welcome new students as those before had done with me.
“The faith my time here has given me is love,” he concluded. “Always love.”
Katie Regier, Whitewater, echoed Olson in several ways.
“Bethel has impacted my faith [through] this community and this kind of love [which] is not ordinary,” she said. “I pray that we [the Class of 2014] can set examples of faith like those we’ve been given and pay it forward into the future.”
Rosa Barrera, administrative assistant to the Bethel president, has worked at the college all four years her son Danny was a student. They each gave their perspectives on being at Bethel with the other, on Danny’s move to the residence halls after his freshman year, on the opportunities he had because of the move, and on the future.
“I am excited to see what God has in store for me and all of us for the years to come,” Danny said. “I want to thank my family for always being there when I needed them, and all of you. All of you have made an impact on me in some way, and I can never repay you for that.”
“Parents,” Rosa said, “it is time for us to turn the wheel over to our fine, educated young daughters and sons, because the world awaits them.
“Graduates, when in doubt and confusion about your purpose, may God light your way and give you peace in his plan for you. May … the gifts you have received in your studies … become a source of inspiration and blessing for the world.”