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Families and graduates celebrate 114th Commencement

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Commencement at Bethel College traditionally places high emphasis on family.

As in the past several years, members of each graduate’s family were invited to stand and be recognized when he or she walked across the Memorial Hall stage to receive the diploma. On May 20, at Bethel’s 114th Commencement, the auditorium was packed with everyone from graduates’ own small children to younger siblings to proud, camera-carrying parents to uncles, aunts and grandparents.

Another long-standing tradition is that of having parents of graduating seniors offer the opening and closing prayers for the Commencement ceremony. Vern Rempel, pastor of First Mennonite Church in Denver, gave the invocation. His son, Jess, graduated with a degree in art. Jelena Maksimovic came all the way from Belgrade, Serbia, to offer the benediction and watch her son, Djordje Maricic, earn degrees in communication studies and German.

This year, the “family affair” extended into the class of 2007 in the form of four faculty/staff-child pairs: Paul Lewis, professor of psychology, and his daughter, Emma; Jon Piper, professor of biology, and his son, Josh; Chuck Regier, curator of exhibits at Kauffman Museum, and his son, Abe; and Ada Schmidt-Tieszen, professor of social work, and her daughter, Tina. Emma and Tina are following in parental footsteps so far, earning degrees in psychology and social work, respectively. Josh’s degree is in music and Abe’s in chemistry.

Commencement speaker E. LaVerne Epp, Lawrence, Bethel’s president from 2002-05, gave a warm, intimate address in which he recalled some of his favorite moments with the class of 2007, including a “trick-or-treat in reverse” Halloween prank and regular pizza nights in one of the mods.

He also spoke on what was a favorite theme during his presidency, the importance of curiosity and the power of imagination.

The title of Epp’s address, “Singing any song,” came from a story he told about his own college years at Bethel. He finished with a degree in history but began as a voice major. He recalled preparing for his sophomore recital and having in his repertoire a very difficult piece by 20th-century composer Ned Rorem.

He tried to convince his professor, David Suderman, that the piece should be dropped, but Suderman – wisely, Epp says now – said No. Suderman told his young student that if he had the imagination to succeed with this song, then he could sing any song.

“The lesson wasn’t about mastering a difficult musical score or preparing a voice recital,” Epp said.

“Imagination can instill confidence, awaken a certain entrepreneurial spirit, fuel an insatiable love for learning and [assure] discovery of joy in nearly every new experience.” Future success, he told the graduates, will be dominated by those who “see possibilities others don’t see.”

As vice president for academic affairs Brad Born introduced the class of 2007 in preparation for the march across the Mem Hall stage, he noted that 66 were women and 55 men. The oldest was 54 and the two youngest 20. They came from 15 states and, officially, four countries besides the United States – Ethiopia, Jamaica, Kenya and Serbia. Eighty-five were from Kansas; other states with three or more graduates were Colorado, Nebraska and Texas. At least four graduates will be doing terms of voluntary service beginning in the next 3-4 months, including in Indonesia and Zambia.

Born also presented the Julius A. and Agatha Dyck Franz Community Service Award, given to a member of the teaching faculty. This year’s award went to Dwight Krehbiel, professor of psychology, citing his “tenacious commitment to serving the educational mission of Bethel College.” Krehbiel has been particularly successful in recent years in expanding Bethel’s access to digital resources in the natural and physical sciences.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

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