“What’s next?” During college commencement season, it’s the question on everyone’s lips. A graduate who doesn’t know the answer might tire of hearing it. A day of celebration offers little respite. Today we savor past accomplishment. Tomorrow the future begins.
Graduates anxious about life’s next steps aren’t alone. College presidents know how they feel.
The Mennonite is publishing a series of articles in which the presidents of Mennonite Church USA colleges and seminaries describe their vision for Mennonite higher education. Two have mentioned the anxiety they felt when called to serve.
Rebecca Stoltzfus says accepting the presidency of Goshen College was “one of the scariest decisions I have ever made.” Sara Wenger Shenk, president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, describes “holding on for dear life, because the ground was shifting beneath me.” She “resisted with every fiber of my being” yet felt “inexorably led step by step.”
Overcoming fear and reluctance, both trusted God’s love to carry them through. Stoltzfus was drawn to “the possibility of education that integrates reason and love.” Now, she says, “there is no place I would rather be.” For Wenger Shenk, a solid footing in the love of God gave clarity of vision. “When we comprehend that we are called to serve God’s mission to reconcile all things, we will be ready to put everything at risk for the love of God,” she says.
There’s no risk without worry. Wenger Shenk could well be talking about some of the Mennonites colleges when she says, “Institutions that have been vital to our well-being are increasingly fragile and financially strapped.” Tabor College made budget and faculty cuts this year. Rosedale Bible College “has burned through significant reserves over the past year,” says President Jeremy Miller in Beacon, the CMC (Conservative Mennonite Conference) magazine. Compared with his former job as a pastor, leading a college feels “a lot less secure.”
President or new graduate, no one knows what’s next, but each of us needs a vision of the future we hope for. To chart the future for colleges and seminaries in MC USA, Stoltzfus cites the vision statement of the Mennonite Higher Education Association, which envisions “education oriented toward the biblical vision of shalom.” She sees Goshen College as a place where “students will experience Christ and Christian faith lived out and be personally transformed by it.”
Joseph A. Manickam, president of Hesston College, offers a dramatic testimony of transformation. A child of Indian missionaries, he enrolled at Hesston in 1985, knowing little of the college and nothing of Mennonites. He had considered military service but was drawn to the automotive technology program that Hesston had at that time. At Hesston, the unexpected happened: He relearned how to read the Bible, putting Jesus at the center. Today he leads the college that changed his life.
What’s next? We’ll make a bold forecast: Years from now, the 2019 graduates of Mennonite colleges will tell life stories as impactful, maybe even as improbable, as Manickam’s. A vision of education that integrates reason and love will lead to good places no one can predict.