Presidential Speeches

Baccalaureate Reflections, President Jo Young Switzer

The Welcome, Farewell, and the Time Between
May 20, 2012

"When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality." (Romans 12: 13, New Living Translation)

"He has shown you ... what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8, New International Version)

When you arrived at Manchester, it was hot – a lot like today. You swarmed the campus – nervous and antsy. You were surprised when older students helped carry your boxes to your rooms, and since then, you've helped first-years carry their boxes. Later, your parents were stunned to learn how much inventory was stuffed into the Dollar General Store. It was an exhausting day.

Yet, we wanted to welcome you. So as though you weren’t tired enough already, we started orientation. Three days packed with safety training, get-acquainted games, exploring the downtown, tours of campus, square dance, meetings with academic advisers, and meals with your SOL groups. You signed your name and graduation year on the wall of Tall Oaks. How many of you got the year right?

Some of you were very sure of your majors, but many weren't. Lots of you who were positive what you wanted to major in changed them by the end of your first year. You quickly had to learn to use an alarm clock because no one made sure you got out of bed in the morning. Some of you handled that adjustment more effectively than others did. Some of you were painfully homesick. Now you can’t even remember why.

You may have made some mistakes during those early months. One student was in Petersime Chapel for a chapel service. He looked at the printed program and groaned aloud. The person next to him asked if he was OK and the student whispered, "It’s the guy preaching today. He’s my academic adviser. He is the dullest man alive, totally boring." The woman beside him said, “I’m glad you’re OK, but do you know who I am?" The student looked at her and said he didn’t. "I’m your adviser’s wife!" The student took a quick breath and said faintly, "Do you know who I am?" "No," said the adviser’s wife. "Thank heavens," said the student.

Those first months you were here were tough, but your professors and RAs and conductors and coaches showed you hospitality in hundreds of ways. After a while, you walked across the mall and it felt completely natural. You realized that you had turned a corner when you were visiting with your family in the fall of your first year and told them, “I’ve got to head home now” and “home” was Manchester.

Your professors and all the support staff shared a guiding hope for you – that you would open your minds and hearts while you studied here.

First, we wanted you to learn to respect ideas different from your own. No one expected you to change your own beliefs, but we did expect you to listen to others’ views. We want you to understand that good, honest, ethical, informed people don’t always agree on important ideas. Did this mean we wanted you to be wishy-washy? Absolutely not! They wanted you to realize that there may be more than one good solution to a problem and that healthy compromise can be useful. They wanted you to realize that listening is as important as speaking.

Second, we wanted you to develop a solid foundation in the liberal arts, so you learned history, art, biology, math, literature and music. Many of you studied languages. In your research, we wanted you to learn how to find credible information and base your analysis on it. We wanted you to know clearly that "looking on the web" is no guarantee of accuracy. We wanted you to know that some information in books and in Wikipedia and on television is simply wrong.

We also wanted you to leave here knowing what you don’t know. When our grandson Elijah was just 3 and people would ask him questions, he would respond “I can’t know” rather than “I don’t know.” “Elijah, what do you think is in that gift by the birthday cake?” “I can’t know.”

Sometimes, we can’t know. We don’t have enough information. Or the issue has complicated dimensions that make it difficult to untangle. Knowing that we can’t know – and knowing what we don’t know – is very important.

Third, we wanted you to learn to do the hard work first. On this, I see significant improvements from when you arrived, and still more room to grow. Sometimes you didn’t read your assignments until the night before the test. Or not at all. Sometimes you played video games so late that you slept through class the next morning. Those habits concern me because the skills you needed to apply to your learning here also apply to your lives after college.

In his classic book The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck stresses how important it is to delay gratification because doing so is a central ingredient for strong relationships. Many problems stem from putting pleasure above our more important priorities. Some marriages struggle when one partner sleeps in rather than help out – choosing the pleasure of sleep over the importance of being a fully-participating family member. Jobs are lost when employees do the parts of the job they like and put off the other parts. Financial problems occur when we use our credit cards to buy new clothes or new sports equipment just because we want it now, even when we don’t need it or have the money to buy it. We just like the pleasure of having it. We got a musical lesson about this on this very stage three weeks ago.

“You can't always get what you want.
 You can't always get what you want.
 You can't always get what you want.
 But if you TRY sometimes well YOU might find
 You get what you need.”

Choose to do the hard work first because it is an essential ingredient in life happiness.

Those were our hopes for your minds.

  • Respecting differences of opinion
  • Building a good foundation of knowledge in the liberal arts
  • Doing the hard work first

We also had hopes for your hearts.

First, we wanted you to learn to respect and enjoy persons who are different from you – whether those differences are political, racial, gender, religious or economic. We tried to prepare you for life in a complex and diverse world. And, even more, not just being prepared; we wanted you to celebrate that diversity because God is big enough to love us all. God respects the infinite worth of every individual.

When I see you on campus, eating together or walking together – a variety of colors and religions and beliefs – I see a naturalness and comfort that wasn’t visible 50 years ago. You are more comfortable with diversity than your parents and grandparents because it’s a healthy, wonderful part of your lives. Good for you.

We wanted you to learn about service. Most of you have done significant community service during your time here.

  • Hanging dry wall on Habitat for Humanity houses.

  • Stuffing backpacks with food for local kids who don't have enough to eatover the weekends, and

  • Floating in the supply boat down the river on the Medical Practicum in Nicaragua

Each year since you arrived, Manchester students volunteered over 25,000 hours of service to local groups. This year, that number has almost doubled.

We also wanted you to increase your respect for the environment. You kept the campus almost litter-free, and I am so proud of you for that! When we went tray-less in the Union, you adjusted your habits and reduced food waste significantly. You turn off the lights when you leave the classrooms – and that is totally unheard of on most campuses. Good for you.

In your time here, your minds have sharpened and your hearts have grown. Those faculty and staff who helped stretch your minds and hearts might be called optimists. I think Bishop Desmond Tutu’s words describe them better: They are “not optimists, but prisoners of hope.” Their hope was that you learn and mature and grow as persons. They cared about your learning. They pushed you. They applauded you. They talked straight with you. They were patient with you.

But today’s it. What happens now is largely up to you. You are in the drivers’ seats now. You take hold of the journey. And you might be surprised where your path goes. Frederick Buechner said that “Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need.” I hope each of you find where your vocation and your gladness meets the world’s need. It might be in Arizona or Japan, Indianapolis, Hammond, Columbia City, Denver, Rochester. Who knows?

A man named David was a very ambitious and proud man who wanted desperately to be rich. He travelled the globe for years, searching for a diamond mine. He believed that if he could acquire a diamond mine, his dreams would come true and his life would be fulfilled. In the end, he died without reaching his dream. Years later, when developers were excavating his former home to start new construction, they discovered a rich diamond mine in what had been David’s back yard. It had been there all the time.

The Manchester campus has been your own backyard for several years. You’ve found some diamonds here – Ashleigh Maxcey, Tim Ogden, Brian Cashdollar, Danette Norman Till, Glenn Sharfman, Patty from Chartwell's, Dave Good, Debra Lynn, Stacy Erickson, Sree Majumder, Heather Schilling, John Deal, and scores of others. Your diamonds were in the form of teachers and friends at your sides. One of the unnoticed diamonds here is Robin Gratz, who is playing the organ at this last baccalaureate before his retirement this summer. Robin is the perfect example of a Manchester graduate. He is a man of quiet excellence – a librarian and historian by academic preparation and an organist in his heart. We thank you, Robin, for your music and generous spirit. You have enriched Manchester by your presence here. Thank you.

To the graduates ... Take with you the goodness that you’ve experienced here – and combine it with the learning you’ve accomplished. Take all these things and make the world better. As you do, the world will be transformed. I really believe it will.

You are not just our graduates: You are persons with ability and conviction. You have a weighty and wonderful responsibility on your shoulders to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

The world needs your gifts.

And together, the people said “Amen.”

For information about speeches by President Jo Young Switzer, please contact the Office of Public Relations, 260-982-5285.

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