Bluffton graduates encouraged to expand their circles of influence
More than 200 diplomas were awarded during Bluffton University’s 118th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 6, 2018, including an honorary degree to President James Harder, who also served as Commencement speaker.
“To the 2018 graduates, it looks like we’ll be celebrating together, doesn’t it,” joked Dr. Harder in his reflections to students. “Although, I have definitely taken more time to get here than you have.”
Dr. Harder was recognized for his 12 years of service as Bluffton’s ninth president with a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. Before taking over the lead role at Bluffton in 2006, he served as vice president for institutional planning and also served as faculty member in economics for five years. Dr. Harder will retire at the end of June.
“As I look out over you one last time, I’m so proud of each of you,” Dr. Harder said. “I celebrate with you the journey of growth and discovery you’ve been on during your time at Bluffton.”
In his address, “An Ever-Widening Circle,” Dr. Harder pointed out the scale of the achievement for students. About one in four adults in Ohio have a bachelor’s degree of any type, and for those graduating with a master’s degree, they are among the only 10 percent of adults with an advanced degree.
“As you leave campus today, for the final time as a student, I want you to remember that you are not alone in the world. You are part of something much bigger than yourself,” said Dr. Harder. “My hope is that you will continue to build on your Bluffton experience.”
Dr. Harder challenged the students to continue widening their circles of influence in life, just as they started doing when they came to Bluffton. He placed a significant focus on three circles to embrace: alumni, truth-tellers and peacemakers.
Pointing to the four-sided symbol that was introduced on campus in 2004, Dr. Harder reflected on the larger meaning of the simple illustration. He explained that a majority of people surveyed saw four people standing in a circle, hands connected in friendship and support. However, respondents were split as to whether the people were facing each other and looking inside as part of the Bluffton campus community, or whether they were standing together, supporting each other, looking outside and engaging the world beyond campus.
“Today, graduates, you will face out, and those around you will begin their new roles in supporting you as you begin new things. That’s what Bluffton nearly 15,000 living alumni do,” explained Dr. Hader. “You are joining a group that holds in common a core education experience with Bluffton’s enduring values over the years–discovery, community, respect and service– all informed by a rich faith-based tradition.”
As for truth-tellers, Dr. Harder reminded the students that Bluffton’s official motto is, “The Truth Makes Free.”
“You’ve had access to an education that pushed you to develop skills of critical thinking, to be naturally curious, to be willing to listen respectfully and engage in honest conversation with people who disagree with you,” Harder said.
Referring to each student’s cross-cultural experience, Dr. Harder spoke of students learning by spending time with people who lead very different lives, in very different parts of the world.
“You’ve learned that no matter where people live, we are all equal human beings created in the image of God.”
In expanding their circle to include peacemakers, Dr. Harder challenged each student to care “just a bit more” about the welfare of others.
“I’m convinced that this one practice of caring for others, if more people followed it, would go a long way toward achieving the goal people in every town, every state and every country aspire to–freedom from physical danger,” said Dr. Harder.
In conclusion, Dr. Harder shared the worlds of long-serving Bluffton president Lloyd Ramseyer, who similarly spoke to the graduating class of 1944.
“If your education has not made you more discerning of human needs, more concerned about them, and better prepared to meet them, then your education has failed its purpose.”