NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The 100 members of Bethel College’s Class of 2012 enter an unknown future with hope and faith in a God who loves them and the strong backing of a community that has nurtured them.
Bethel’s 119th commencement took place Sunday, May 20, beginning with baccalaureate in the morning at Bethel College Mennonite Church.
“At the end of the day, we’re family,” said Ryan Goertzen, Goessel, one of four students giving reflections at the service. “We can count on each other.”
Ritual and music, poetry, prayers and Scripture readings reinforced the baccalaureate theme expressed in a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Make the most of yourself for that is all there is of you.”
Recalling the class’s past – still-raw grief over the death of class member Seth Dunn in August 2011 as well as the joys of friendships formed, the challenges of lessons learned and the humor of pranks pulled – the student speakers expressed gratitude to each other and their mentors.
Naomi Graber, Elkhart, Ind., admitted that “at the end of my college career, I have more questions than answers,” but said her experiences at Bethel cause her to look forward and simply live, “creating an imperfect but vibrant life.”
Laura Prahm, Wichita, noted that I Corinthians 13:11 is important to her. Her maturation at Bethel has helped her accept “the responsibility to bless the world around us,” as students did when they met the hatred of Westboro Baptist Church (who picketed near campus last fall) with “a graceful response” instead of an argument.
Carrie Schulz, Newton, concluded her reflection by asking fellow graduates “to trust God recklessly. . . . Because what better way is there to make the most of yourself than by giving yourself to the one that loves you most?”
Graduate Taylor McCabe-Juhnke, North Newton, and her father, John McCabe-Juhnke, chair of the communication arts department, led a responsive reading they had written that included excerpts from Scripture and English literature.
“We will live, not merely exist. We will use our time,” the graduates read.
During commencement in Thresher Stadium that afternoon, administrators and faculty formed two columns for the graduates to pass between for both the processional and recessional, to symbolize the care college leaders provided the graduates during their time as students and the blessing wished for them as they enter the world as Bethel alumni.
Rick McNary, Potwin, father of graduate Andrew McNary and founder and CEO of Numana, Inc., recalled a time when his young son was sick and begged him to “Hold me closer, Dad.” As he gave the invocation, McNary asked God to “Hold [the graduates] close, Father. Please hold them close.”
Commencement speaker Susan Schultz Huxman, president of the youngest Mennonite college in North America, Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario, brought greetings and congratulations to Bethel, the oldest Mennonite college in the continent.
She noted that, despite their age differences, the two institutions are “connected by heritage, mission, shared values – and even shared alumni.”
Huxman, a 1982 Bethel graduate, is also the mother of 2012 graduate Julia Huxman, as well as the daughter of Carolyn and former Bethel College President Harold Schultz. She urged students to savor special memories of the past and to keep their stories alive.
Hindsight, Huxman said, is “the ability to see what has come before you” and is one of three ways of seeing that graduates should pack in their “pro-visions” for life. Like water is to the fish that swim in it, these three ways are “hidden in plain sight.”
“Hindsight fortifies us and grounds us,” Huxman said. But to keep from being consumed by indoctrination and “preserving the past at all cost,” graduates need a second “pro-vision” – foresight – to help them become visionary leaders who “know how to turn challenges into opportunities.”
Using foresight, graduates can go forward boldly and “never miss an opportunity to be fabulous,” Huxman said.
“The excesses of foresight [an over-emphasis on self-promotion, for example] give us familiar warnings,” Huxman added. “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”
Finally, foresight and hindsight need to be complemented by insight – looking inward, discerning and sometimes experiencing an epiphany. “Insight is all about connecting received wisdom with visionary leadership in the context of relational and radical discipleship.
“Insight is built upon a distinctive peace witness practiced in community,” Huxman concluded. “It awakens and transforms you.”
Exemplifying all three of Huxman’s “pro-visions,” Keith Sprunger, professor of history emeritus, was honored for serving nearly 50 years as a historian, the past five of which he has dedicated to creating a new history book narrating Bethel’s 125 years.
In presenting Sprunger with the Julius and Agatha Dyck Franz Community Service Award, President Perry White quoted Sondra Bandy Koontz, co-chair of Bethel’s 125th Anniversary Committee. In Koontz’s words, Sprunger’s book – scheduled to be available at Bethel’s 2012 Fall Festival – “will help us understand our past and shape our hopes for Bethel’s future.”
The Franz Award of $1,000 plus public recognition “is given to a faculty member judged to have made an especially important contribution to the college community beyond the normal expectations,” White said.
Also recognized for going above and beyond the normal call of duty was Francisca Méndez-Harclerode, assistant professor of biology. Brad Born, vice president for academic affairs, presented Méndez-Harclerode with the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award. Méndez-Harclerode has been teaching at Bethel since 2008.
Méndez-Harclerode is known for being passionate about her subject matter and, at the same time, caring for her students, who praised her for her commitment to hands-on teaching and her accessibility and willingness to assist students outside of class. Her “big heart” and distribution of “yum-yums” (chocolate treats) were also prized.
Born quoted Méndez-Harclerode as saying, “Teaching, like Christianity, is something we are, not just something we do.” Born added that she “models congruence in her life and work with both students and faculty.”
Many of the 2012 graduates wore stoles whose colors symbolized their entrance into certain professions – nursing, social work, teacher education and athletic training – or that showed the colors of their country’s flag or represented their status as African-American alumni.
Many also pinned green ribbons to their gowns to show that they were taking the Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility (“I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.”) The Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution gives Bethel graduates the opportunity to sign the pledge each year.
Also recognized for his achievements during his abbreviated time at Bethel was Seth Dunn from Fresno, Calif., who was killed in a summer 2011 skateboarding accident.
In presenting a posthumous Award of Achievement, President White quoted some of the same phrases from Jack London’s “Credo” that had been part of the responsive reading during baccalaureate: “I would rather be ashes than dust!/I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot/ . . . I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
“Seth did use his time – all of it,” White said.
Larry Dunn, Seth’s father, accepted the award and a sculpture, “Tongues of Fire,” by local artist and Bethel alumnus John Gaeddert. The sculpture, White said, “represents the spirit of Seth Dunn” and was given “as a symbol of our appreciation for the opportunity to know and work with Seth at Bethel College.”
Born presented the graduating class of 60 women and 40 men for the conferral of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. He noted that 81 graduates are from Kansas and 14 others come from nine other states. The five international students came from Bangladesh, Kenya, Mexico, Moldova and the United Kingdom.
At least eight graduates “will continue a long-standing Bethel tradition by taking voluntary service assignments after graduation,” Born said.
After the graduates had received their degrees, President White welcomed them into Bethel’s institutional family, saying, “A Bethel education . . . is a part of your lineage and you will always be linked to Bethel College.
“We are proud of you and have great expectations for you. We know that you will represent us well.”