CMU celebrates Class of 2020
Canadian Mennonite University celebrated the achievements of its Class of 2020 at an outdoor convocation ceremony on August 26. Ninety-one students completed their degrees in April, receiving their diplomas in the mail, and 58 of them gathered on CMU's grounds to mark the occasion.
Graduations all over the world looked drastically different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At CMU it was faculty decked out in full regalia and sitting in lawn chairs, crickets chirping during speeches, and friends waving to each other across the field.
Mandatory masks, physical distancing, maximum group size restrictions, and specified paths for entry and exit were implemented to ensure safe proceedings for graduates and their guests.
"Today we publicly witness to our trust in you as gifted agents of service, leadership, and reconciliation throughout church and society," said President Cheryl Pauls in her opening remarks.
For this year's graduation verse, the class selected Proverbs 16:16: "How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver." Dr. Tim Rogalsky, Associate Professor of Mathematics, delivered the graduation address based on the text. He commended the class, saying they already showed wisdom by choosing a verse that communicates that "a just world for all requires a different measure than financial renumeration."
Rogalsky shared that wisdom is listening to the other, understanding and loving the other. "Wisdom—our world needs it now more than ever. And now more than ever it seems to be in short supply," he said. "For you our students...to strive for wisdom is exactly what our world needs. We need you. We need your energy, we need your passion, we need your leadership, we need your inspiration, we need your wisdom."
Two graduates shared reflections from their years at CMU. Makoy Penner (BA, Four-Year, Arts and Science) spoke about three formative experiences from his time at CMU. Long nights writing papers and studying with friends in dorm; a fellowship group with his volleyball teammates where they encouraged each other, prayed together, and discussed faith; and his last volleyball finals game, in which they lost the first two sets but made a thrilling comeback and won the game by two points in the last set.
"The stands were full of friends and family, CMU students and staff. There were people in banana suits throwing bananas to the crowd and even fans doing backflips during the timeouts. It was an excellent example of how supportive the CMU community is." He said all these moments shared two important qualities: life is better in a community that encourages each other and the level of effort you put in matters more than the result.
Nadya Langelotz (BA, Four-Year, English) shared a poem she wrote, titled, "The Art of Distraction: A Graduation Poem." She reflected on the kindness of peers and professors, her time leading Student Council's Peace and Sustainability Committee and playing soccer, her English classes, and the love she experienced throughout her journey at CMU.
A small excerpt of the poem: "I was distracted by kindness, learned to see courage, found my passion, became fearless, learned to hope, and chose, knew, met, felt love. There is an art to distraction. I found it here and yes I'll leave with a Bachelor of Arts English major but I'll wager a bet: what mattered more was all the time I was upset, not mad or sad, but moved, changed, told to look a new way. Not to downplay the essays I wrote and books I read, but like I said there is an art to distraction, the art of distraction. And that gives me satisfaction, that I can leave this place knowing I can't trace my knowledge back to a specific class or year, the dance of this place will always reappear as shifting space, an ecotone of unexpected grace."
Pauls awarded President's Medals to Allegra Friesen Epp (BA, Four-Year, Biblical and Theological Studies), Madeleine Friesen (BMus, Four-Year, Music Education), and Daniel Lysack (BSc, Three-Year, General) in recognition of their qualities of scholarship, leadership, and service.
Friesen Epp concluded the evening with the valedictory address. She began by remembering Taylor Pryor, a dear member of the CMU community lost to mental illness in October. "We continue to remember Taylor, her bright smile and her generous heart, and today we lament her absence at this celebration."
Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and struggling to finish degrees at home and online, Friesen Epp said it was the friendships, sports victories, conversations with professors, and musical performances she and her fellow graduates will remember. They will take with them their learning in the classroom, which professors always connected to the world outside of it.
"Proverbs 16:16 reminds us that growing in our understanding of God is invaluable. And CMU has taught us that this growing can take place within our various academic disciplines. The wisdom we have gained as students is then both academic and prophetic. The insight we have received is not only theoretical but practical."
She reflected on how profound the scripture verse sounds in our current context. "We live in a world driven by consumerism...a capitalist society that is fuelled by profit. And we have come to expect that our university degrees, which cost us a great deal, will give us the means to a job and the qualifications for a bigger paycheck. It would seem that the writer of Proverbs is calling us to a radical, countercultural way of living. A way of life in which our learnings about equity and justice in the classroom infiltrate our workplaces, our neighbourhoods, and our homes...a way of life defined not by our bank accounts, but by the wisdom and insight of Christ."