Photo: Student Government Association co-presidents Rachel Schrock (left) and Hanna Heishman introduce President Loren Swartzendruber, who gave his final convocation speech before his retirement in June. (Photo by Andrew Strack)
“Life is difficult,” Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, Va., President Loren Swartzendruber said as he began his final convocation address on Jan. 13. Swartzendruber acknowledged the deep challenges facing the world, the nation, and the EMU community over the past year and in recent days.
“The threads that hold our community together are stretched,” he said.
Quoting author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck , Swartzendruber said that once we accept that life is difficult, then we can transcend that fact and move forward.
Swartzendruber—who is retiring June 30—drew from the biblical story of Esther, a young Jewish woman who became queen of Persia and was called upon to save her people. Her cousin Mordecai addressed her hesitation by saying perhaps she had been called to her royal position “for just such a time as this.”
“We also live in difficult times,” Swartzendruber said, “more for some than others.” While it is tempting to “hunker down” and “shield ourselves” from challenges, he said, we are called to something more.
He continued: “In place of fear and anxiety, I invite us to proclaim a message of hope, to push back against the dark forces of negativity and divisiveness. I invite each of us to step up for such a time as this. This is our opportunity, in this time and place, on this campus and beyond, to reach out to each other with love, compassion and empathy.”
Earlier, provost Fred Kniss welcomed more than 50 new students, faculty and staff to EMU’s “very special learning community.” While this might not quite be “heaven on earth,” Kniss said, “what makes us different is what holds us together. We are a community bound by love.”
Some members of that community received a special sendoff later, as cross-cultural study groups headed to Guatemala/Cuba and the Middle East were blessed and surrounded in prayer. Andrew Miller, director of cross-cultural programs, said students were embarking on a “journey of transformation.”
In a broader sense, all of EMU may be embarking on such a journey. Kniss observed that 2016 would be a “time of significant change for EMU,” headlined by the upcoming presidential transition.
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