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Pioneer judge will urge Bethel grads to ‘make all the difference’

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s 2011 commencement speaker is a former “campus kid” and, as the first female federal judge to preside over California’s Eastern District, is also responsible for there being one fewer glass ceiling in the world of U.S. justice.

The Honorable Kimberly J. Mueller will address Bethel’s 92 graduates, families and friends during the 118th commencement ceremonies Sunday, May 22, in Thresher Stadium.

Mueller was born in Newton at the Bethel Deaconess Hospital and spent her early years in North Newton, including time on campus while her parents, Berneil Rupp Mueller and Ted Mueller, were finishing their studies at Bethel. The rest of Kim Mueller’s growing up years happened in Grinnell, Iowa. After she graduated from high school, Mueller spent a year in South Africa on a Rotary scholarship before completing her undergraduate degree at Pomona (Calif.) College in 1981 and later earning her juris doctor degree at Stanford University in 1995.

In between, Mueller spent 11 years in public service in California, including as health and safety director for the California Firefighter Foundation, based in Sacramento, and a five-year term on the Sacramento City Council, at the conclusion of which she entered law school.

After completing her J.D. degree, Mueller was engaged in private practice in Sacramento, first as an associate at the law firm of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe (1995-2000), then as a sole practitioner specializing in intellectual property, internet and art law (2000-03). She was the Public Member of the Cal/OSHA Standards Board from August 2001 to March 2003, when she became federal magistrate judge for the Eastern District of California.

President Barack Obama nominated Mueller for the district judgeship in the Eastern District in March 2010, but Washington politics kept the nomination bottled up until Dec. 21, 2010, when the U.S. Senate confirmed it. She was sworn in the same day as the first female judge to preside over California’s Eastern District. With her ascendancy to the position, there remain 18 of the nation’s 94 federal judiciary districts that have never had a female judge.

Mueller lives in Sacramento with her husband, Robert Slobe. In 2010, Mueller joined Bethel College Mennonite Church, which her parents, who now live in North Newton, attend. In sponsoring her for membership, Bethel College Professor Emeritus of Biology Dwight Platt noted: “Whether it is her work with public advocacy agencies, her work on the city council or her voluntary work with Rotary in mentoring disadvantaged youth, [Kim] focuses on serving the public.” Judge Mueller will address Bethel’s graduating seniors on “Making all the difference.”

The 2011 graduation ceremonies will begin with the baccalaureate service at 10:30 a.m. in Bethel College Mennonite Church. The formal commencement ceremony starts at 4 p.m. (Memorial Hall in case of inclement weather) with the traditional Walk around the Green. Both baccalaureate and commencement are open to the public.

Baccalaureate service prelude music, featuring members of the class of 2011, begins at 10 a.m. This year’s baccalaureate has the theme is based around a quote by William Jennings Bryan: “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.”

Three graduating seniors will offer meditations: Caleb Stephens, Lawrence, Greg Shelly, Lenexa, and Meredith Lehman, Bluffton, Ohio. Special music is by the Bethel College Concert Choir under the direction of William Eash, professor of music. The organist will be Rosi Penner Kaufman, adjunct instructor of organ.

The service will conclude with the traditional blessing for and candlelighting by seniors. The baccalaureate planning committee includes graduating seniors Justine Erb, Ben Harder, Rhonda Butler, Matt Regier and Alex Stucky.

The commencement program will include music by the Epic Brass Quintet, organized by Timothy Shade, instructor of music. Anita Yoder Kehr, pastor of First Mennonite Church in Newton and mother of senior Mayeken Kehr (who grew up and graduated from high school in Goshen, Ind.) will give the invocation and senior Caleb Regehr, Whitewater, will offer the benediction.

Other Alumni and Commencement Weekend events open to the public are the senior art exhibit, including a reception in the gallery area from 6-8 p.m. Friday and, on Saturday, the nurses’ pinning ceremony at 2 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium and groundbreaking for the new academic center at 4 p.m. near Old Science Hall. Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center will have special hours Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and Sunday, noon-4 p.m. Kauffman Museum invites everyone to the current special exhibit, “K is for Kansas: Exploring Kansas History from A to Z,” both Saturday and Sunday, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

Bethel College classes of ’36, ’41, ’46, ’51, ’56, ’61, ’66 and ’71 will hold reunions May 20-21. The first event is a Friday evening dinner in the Schultz Student Center cafeteria, followed by a walking tour of campus. The evening concludes with an ice cream social.

On Saturday, retired faculty and staff will join reunion class members at a breakfast buffet. Classes observing reunions of 50 years or more will be guests of Bethel College president Perry D. White and his wife, Dalene, for coffee on Saturday morning at Goerz House. All classes will meet for reunion luncheons at various locations on or near campus.

The annual Alumni Banquet for graduating seniors, alumni and friends will be held Saturday evening in Memorial Hall. The Alumni Association will honor four alumni at the banquet: John M. and Reinhild (Kauenhoven) Janzen, Newton, will receive the Outstanding Alumnus Award; Laurel Preheim, Omaha, the Distinguished Achievement Award; and Verda Deckert, Newton, the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Bethel Deaconess Hospital/Bethel College Nursing Alumni Association.

To make a banquet reservation, visit or phone Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center at (316) 284-5205, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. The price is $20 per person, with a cutoff date of May 11.

For alumni activities, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 316-284-5251, alumni@bethelks.edu. A complete schedule for Alumni Weekend is online at www.bethelks.edu/alumni/events/weekend.php.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the “U.S. News & World Report” annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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