This past Friday served host to the 2018 Alumni Awards convocation during Homecoming Weekend. The event began with Harold Watson, the athletic director, introducing the history of the Champions of Character Award to a primarily alumni audience. The Dr. Roman Gingerich and Dr. Ruth Gunden Champion of Character Awards are presented each year to a male and female alumni athlete who exemplify the college’s core values in their lives, work and community service.
This year’s awardees were Byron Shenk ’63 and Penina Acayo Laker ’11.
Over the last 67 years, Shenk has spent time in the roles of professor, coach and mentor at Goshen College, Eastern Mennonite University and George Fox University. Laker, a former volleyball and track and field All-American from Kampala, Uganda, works as an assistant professor of communication design at Washington University in St. Louis. Laker and Shenk were presented their awards by President Rebecca Stoltzfus.
Angela Powell ’92, president of the alumni council, introduced the next series of awards. Jes Stoltzfus Buller ’08 received the Young Alumni Servant Leadership Award, which was created to celebrate alumni with contributions and achievements in career, public or church service and volunteer activities early in post-graduate life considered worthy of recognition.
Patricia Ebersole Zwier ’76 and David Reimer ’84 were both given the Culture for Service Award, an award which recognizes alumni whose lives embody the college’s motto through service for the college, community, church and world. In celebrating the 50th anniversary of Study-Service Term, the council added a lens of those whose lives have been especially impacted by their experience and growth through the program.
Following the award ceremony, awardees Buller and Reimer each spoke about the influence of Goshen College on their careers of service.
Buller, currently the Peace Education Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), said that her experiences living abroad on SST were a key part in getting her where she is today.
“It brought me into contact with other cultures, other ways of doing things, other ways of understanding life, which was a gift to this culturally-Mennonite girl who grew up in small-town Goshen,” she said.
After wrestling with how she fit into the world upon returning to the United States, she discovered a calling to live and practice peace and justice. She moved to Colombia after graduation, where she worked for eight years on local peacemaking initiatives.
“I found myself in a beautiful sphere of doing active peacemaking with communities that were affected by decades of violence, learning from Colombian Anabaptists who modeled peace as a way of life that was inseparable from their understanding of Christian faith,” she said.
Following Buller, Reimer spoke about his roles as Foreign Service Officer and U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Mauritius and the Republic of Seychelles.
“I’m going to use my time this morning to make a pitch for overseas service,” he said. “Globalism, whether we like it or not, is a fact of life. It’s a cliche, but it’s true, that every day the world is growing smaller and smaller, and we are drawn closer and closer to our fellow human beings all over the world. I think that opens up tremendous opportunities for Goshen students to do global service.”
Reimer went on to give three examples of the service opportunities provided during his career overseas. He spoke first about his placement as U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Belize, a position he received partly due to his SST experience in the country. He went on to speak about his roles working for debt relief in Paris and in refugee camps in Baghdad, where he helped to evaluate the effectiveness of U.S. policies.
“My purpose this morning is just to plant that seed [of service] in your mind,” said Reimer. “When I was sitting where you are now, I had no idea that any of those opportunities existed. They’re out there, and I think that a Goshen College education prepares you very well for those chances.”
Although they did not present during Friday’s convocation, Zwier spoke at Saturday morning’s breakfast, while Laker and Shenk spoke at the Champions of Character reception Saturday afternoon.
Buller captured the mood of the event, saying, “Be it participating in marches, working at advocacy, participating and allying with marginalized communities, restoring the Earth, or the thousands of ways we can participate in the peacemaking each of us is called to, I pray that we all find our way there.”