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Bluffton University gives its graduates "O.R.R.s," along with the needed tools and supplies to extend them "into the waters of humanity," Dr. Robert Hewitt, a Bluffton alumnus and retired social work educator, told the university’s class of 2011 during commencement May 8.

Bob Hewitt speaks at commencement"The Opportunities, the Rights and the Responsibilities are now yours to be active, intentional, more powerful advocates for social and economic justice in your homes, churches, places of employment, communities and this world," said Hewitt, a 1969 graduate and a professor emeritus of social work at Shippensburg (Pa.) University.

"Do not allow differences—in points of view or points of hue, gender or orientation—to stop you from striving to make a positive difference in this world," he advised the roughly 270 graduating students at the 111th annual ceremony. "Remember, healthy human relationship, grounded in Christ, is a sledgehammer that obliterates every societal difference."

Hewitt, who earned his Ph.D. in social work from the University of Pittsburgh, noted this year’s civic engagement theme at Bluffton—"Living with Enough: Responding to Global Poverty." In their many theme-related discussions and activities, he reminded the graduates, "you have gained a better understanding and appreciation for the plight of those who have no education and little or no means, those who have few if any access doors and those who often have doors slammed in their faces.

"There are thousands of people in this country who cannot read or write well enough to fill out a job application; many who are impoverished to the point of not being able to make a suitable living for themselves or their families," he said.

But "remember this," Hewitt stressed, "no matter one’s social or economic station in life, within each of us lies a bone-deep longing for freedom, safety, hope, self-respect and the chance to make an important contribution to family, community and the world. To live fully, we each need ways to express this powerful, natural longing.

"Without healthy outlets, the desire for freedom turns into lawlessness and the need for safety and self-respect degenerates into violence," he continued. "Without avenues to make an important contribution, hopelessness translates into dependence, depression, substance abuse and other forms of self-abuse.

"No government program or religious group can help people become self-reliant, contributing members of their communities unless it is built on an understanding of this powerful force inside each human heart."

Each graduate’s degree serves as a vehicle to fulfill that longing "for you as it has for me and countless others," said Hewitt, also a member of the Bluffton Athletics Hall of Fame and a former university trustee. A Bluffton degree says that upon graduation, "it becomes our turn to be clear and intentional about helping the less fortunate" to fulfill that same longing, he added. "In other words, we are to live out the Bluffton University mission" of preparing students "for life as well as vocation, for responsible citizenship, for service to all peoples and ultimately for the purposes of God’s universal kingdom."

In Matthew 25, "Jesus seems to declare that social responsibility is a necessary response of God’s people," who are asked to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, take in strangers, clothe the naked, tend the sick and visit prisoners, Hewitt pointed out. "By statement of mission, Bluffton University espouses that same mindset," he reasoned. "If we are sensitive to the hurts of our fellow human beings and proceed to alleviate the pains, we are positioned to inherit the kingdom of God."

He described community at Bluffton as "a thread of relationships and connections" that neither changes nor allows its followers to become lost while they hold on to it. "If we are to have a true community," he said, "we must all seek to continue to live out the mission and be involved in creating the kind of just society envisioned by the great prophets and proclaimed by our Lord himself."

‘Hidden pearls’

Saying that much of who he is, and his world view, was nurtured at Bluffton, the Massillon, Ohio, native shared what he called four "hidden pearls for living a successful life that over the years I have found tucked inside my degree and my experience here":

  • You have to stand back in order to get close. Hewitt said "it was only when my experience on this campus was put up against my post-Bluffton ‘life journey’ that I could really start to appreciate what I had learned here, what I had been given here, the people who cared about me here and even the gains made due to the tough times that I faced here in the last half of the 1960s."

  • There is no elevator to success; you must take the stairs. "Every worthwhile accomplishment has a price tag attached to it," he explained. "The question is always whether you are willing to pay the price to attain it—in hard work, sacrifice, patience, faith and endurance."

  • Don’t forget that we all need one another. When he was a trustee in the late 1990s, he recalled, then-Dean Donald Pannabecker was being praised for his service at a board meeting when he made a comment that Hewitt said has stuck with him. "When you see a turtle at the top of the latter," he said, quoting Pannabecker, "you know he must have had lots of help to get there because, as we all know, turtles do not climb."

  • It is not what you gather, but what you scatter, that tells the kind of life you have lived. College degrees place those who earn them "in a privileged position," Hewitt noted, telling the graduates they have "tangible and intangible gifts to offer" and that "doors will be opened to you."

Other highlights

Capping Bluffton’s annual May Day weekend, commencement also included conferral of faculty emeritus status for William Lyons II, retiring assistant professor of business, and a remembrance of Alexander McClelland and Jacob Graham, members of the class of 2011 who lost their lives to cancer and in an auto accident, respectively.

Before commencement, a baccalaureate service featured speeches by graduating seniors Mary Good, originally from Millersburg, Ohio, and Matthew Weaver, also from Millersburg, and an address by Rudi Kauffman, assistant professor of restorative justice. They were selected as speakers by the senior class.

Among the May Day events on May 7 was the traditional Maypole dance, which has been part of Bluffton’s graduation weekend since 1910. The ceremony recognized all graduating seniors, two of whom—Leah Roeschley of Flanagan, Ill., and Kenneth Miller of Millersburg, Ohio—were the student-elected queen and king.

Also during the ceremony, the class of 1961, in celebration of its 50th anniversary, presented a gift of $613,000. All but $24,000 of the total is for Extending Our Reach—The Campaign for Bluffton, which encompasses the Bluffton Fund, the university’s endowment and the planned Health and Fitness Education Center. The other $24,000 is earmarked for the purchase of a new Steinway grand piano for the Gilliom Room in Mosiman Hall.


Bluffton public relations, 5/9/11