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Krehbiel to Class of 2019: What matters most is caring

May 21st, 2019

President Gering fist-bumps new graduate Heath Goertzen.

Professor of Psychology Dwight Krehbiel hopes their Bethel education has put graduates on the right career path – and he also hopes for more.

Career discernment is important enough to be in the college’s new mission statement.

But, said Krehbiel, who is retiring after 41 years at Bethel, while that’s his wish for every graduate, it's not the only one.

Krehbiel spoke May 19 to Bethel’s 126th graduating class in an address he titled “Why a Bethel Education? Careers, Professions, Vocations.”

Many alumni remember Krehbiel for teaching Computers in the Sciences and Applied Statistics, to which he gave a nod in his opening, before noting “how little many people feel drawn to statistical reasoning, preferring the compelling story instead.”

The one he chose was that of Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint, Mich., the single person most directly responsible for researching and then publicly revealing the extent of lead poisoning from the city’s water, at considerable risk to her career and professional reputation.

What did the experience of this child of Iraqi-American parents have to teach the latest crop of Bethel graduates, Krehbiel wondered?

First, he pointed out that Hanna-Attisha had encountered challenges discerning her own career path, moving from a bachelor’s degree in environmental science to a master’s degree in public health before finally pursuing pediatric medicine.

“We hope your ability to think critically and express your ideas clearly and persuasively will stand you in good stead in whatever professional path you may choose [and] give you the flexibility you will need if you change professions, as so many college graduates now do [and as was the case for Hanna-Attisha].”

Next, Krehbiel considered the movement from a career into a profession, such as medicine, and how that leads many people to professional associations with their own codes of ethics – for him, the American Psychological Association (APA).

However, he was horrified to learn in the wake of 9/11 how APA officials colluded with the Department of Defense to issue loose ethical guidelines that allowed the DoD to pursue “enhanced interrogation” – what many consider to be a euphemism for torture – of terrorism suspects.

“Codes of ethics can sometimes protect professionals more than the victims of unethical behavior.”

Krehbiel listed some of “the most pressing [current] issues: racial bias built into our institutional and governmental structures; sexual abuse and harassment, evident everywhere, including academic institutions and churches, [and] equally evident against LGBTQ people; bias against immigrants in spite of the immigrant heritage of the vast majority of us; health care that often leaves the needs of the most vulnerable unaddressed; gun violence that threatens to turn even our schools and churches into armed camps; and the overarching existential crisis of our time, the phenomenon of climate change.”

His intention was not simply to bewail the state of the world, he said, but “to show that our pursuit of success in careers and professions by itself does little to address these critical problems. My hope is certainly that your Bethel education has helped you find your career path and that you are on your way to a rewarding position in some profession, but I also believe that we should aspire to much more.”

This may be where the concept of “vocation” comes into play, he said. “A vocation takes us in a slightly different direction, emphasizing the particular fit of a career or profession to our own goals, interests and passions. Some may use the term ‘calling’ – hearing a kind of voice within us. It is what we feel we have been born to do.”

Yet even vocational discernment won’t solve the world’s ills, Krehbiel said, unless we also care.

Like Hanna-Attisha in her recently published book on the Flint water crisis, Krehbiel quoted probably the best-known line from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot / nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

“Unless someone like you cares” – about harassment and abuse on the basis of sex, gender identity, sexual identity, race or national origin; about safety from gun violence; about equitable access to health care, clean water, housing and education; about the fate of the planet itself – “nothing is going to get better. It’s not,” Krehbiel said.

“Let me conclude by reiterating my hopes for the success of all in the class of 2019 in finding a rewarding career and profession, a path that inspires you and makes you feel that this is what you were born to do. But I also hope for much more – that you will care a whole awful lot.”

Robert Milliman, vice president for academic affairs, presented the 2019 Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award to Siobhán Scarry, associate professor of English.

Scarry has taught at Bethel since 2014. She has a B.A. from the University of Arizona, an M.A. in English literature and MFA in creative writing from the University of Montana, and a Ph.D. in English literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Earlier in the day, Dawn Yoder Harms, pastor of Bethel College Mennonite Church, began Baccalaureate by lighting two candles: the Christ candle, always lit to open a Bethel worship service, and a candle for Qadrey Tolliver, who died in an automobile accident in October 2015 and would have been a member of the Class of 2019.

Music for the service came not only from several senior instrumentalists and the Bethel College Concert Choir, but also the Bethel College Gospel Choir, resurrected this school year after a hiatus of several years.

The baccalaureate theme, “Just keep rollin’ on,” was based on a song by graduating senior Tawon Green, San Bernardino, Calif.

Green performed the verses rap-style and then invited the congregation, helped by the Concert Choir, to join the chorus.

There were also brief reflections by graduating seniors Jade Brown, Sanford, Fla., Nathan Kroeker, Augusta, and Kiera Broehl, Wichita.

Brown talked about how she reversed course 180 degrees from when she started at Bethel as a junior college transfer student.

When she first came, she said, she wasn’t “putting in the time [in class]. I was not talking to anyone. I was not making friends outside the women’s basketball team.”

But, she said, the support of faculty, staff, administrators and her host parents, Brad and Megan Kohlman, helped make the difference.

“No disrespect to others, but my host family is the best. And I can say that the president [of Bethel] is my friend. I was able to turn it around. Coming to Bethel was the best decision I’ve made in my life thus far.”

Musician Kanye West has a description for her background, she said: “‘Where I’m from the dopeboys [are] the rockstars.’ The Bethel College community is now what I see when I think of rock stars.”

Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, both for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu   Melanie Zuercher

 

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.