As someone who works on campus but is not a college employee, I attend convocation very, very infrequently. So I don’t know if what I experienced March 12 was par for the course or an aberration. I certainly hope it’s the latter.I sat in the last row before the roped off pews for Duane Stoltzfus’ presentation on the two World War I Hutterite martyrs, so I had a distinct vantage point of a good portion of the crowd. And what I saw of the students in attendance was appalling. Those who didn’t stand for the hymns and spent the entire time on their laptops demonstrated a disturbing and indefensible level of disrespect. This wasn’t just a few students but entire rows.
Now, I’m not naïve. I slept through a few convos myself as a student at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan. And it wasn’t uncommon to find my fellow students with their noses buried in textbooks. So I know it’s unrealistic to expect all students to be fully engaged all the time. But napping and reading pale in comparison to what I observed on March 12.
How can students believe that opening their laptops during convo is remotely acceptable? (I recently had the opportunity to attend convo at my alma mater, where students aren’t even allowed to have hoods up, since they can hide the earbuds from an MP3 player.) How can Goshen students not stand for the hymns? I realize that they may be unfamiliar or that students may not feel comfortable singing. I rarely sing in group settings because I’m a lousy and self-conscious singer. But that is not license to remain seated. I stand, follow along in the hymnal and keep my mouth shut.
What makes this even sadder for me is that these students missed an important story about maintaining faith while under worldly persecution that, nearly a century later, remains incredibly pertinent.
Rich Preheim is the director Mennonite Church USA Historical Committee