Bethany College Founder’s Day Celebration Features Former Hague Judge and Auschwitz Survivor Thomas Buergenthal
BETHANY, W.Va. — Bethany College celebrated 171 years as a small college of national distinction with its annual Founder’s Day on March 3. Festivities included the College’s traditional Founder’s Day Convocation in Commencement Hall. This year’s Convocation featured guest speaker Thomas Buergenthal, a 1957 Bethany graduate, Auschwitz survivor, and former judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Bethany President Scott D. Miller presided over the Convocation and presented remarks. The program included special music from the Bethany College Choir, student speakers, and recognition of those students “distinguished in scholarship” for the fall semester of the 2010-2011 academic year.
Catherine Papp, a junior German and International Relations major from Wooster, Ohio, was installed as the new student body president. Meghan Philp, a junior Spanish and Cultural Studies major from New Martinsville, W.Va., was installed as vice president. Emily Bigley, a senior Education major from McMurray, Pa., who serves as chief justice of the Student Government Association, performed the installation of officers. Papp followed the installation by presenting the dedication of the day.
“Of the more than 660 small liberal arts colleges founded in the ‘golden age’ for American higher education from 1830-1860, fewer than 20 percent, including Bethany, have survived the tumult of wars, economic depression and changing demographics,” Miller stated in his welcome address. “Although the look and the life of our campus have changed dramatically over the years, the College’s essential character — emphasizing intellectual freedom, diversity, personal growth, leadership and a close academic community — has continued to flourish.”
He continued, “With our spectacular five-mile vistas remaining much as they did in 1840, they serve as a symbol of the vision that led to the founding of this college of national distinction that continues, 171 years later, to inspire and nurture world-class leaders. So, on this 171st Founder’s Day, let us renew the vision of our founder and continue to ‘win the future.’ As President Campbell recognized, and as all of us in this room must understand, the bigger the challenges, the bolder the risks we must take to surmount them.”
Buergenthal’s address was titled “An Immigrant at Bethany.” He remarked, “While I not only received a very fine liberal arts education in Bethany, which has stood me in very good stead throughout my life, Bethany also served as my gateway to America, the America I wanted to be part of and came to love the way only an immigrant can love this country.”
He continued, “By the time I became a U.S. citizen — I took my citizenship oath in Wheeling in my senior year at Bethany — my naturalization papers merely legalized what Bethany had already helped me become — an American.”
Buergenthal urged students to understand that to be successful professionally, they need to remember that “no successful person has ever made it on his or her own. If you look at the careers of successful people, you will invariably find that they had one or more generous mentors who helped them along the way. That means, of course, that each of us who has made it has a moral obligation to assist others who come behind us.”
He also warned listeners “not to choose one job over another just because it pays more . . . You should ask yourself,” he said, “for whether the work you would have to do or the career you might embark upon would be important to you given your values, your interests and your long-term goals.”
Buergenthal encouraged attendees to cultivate their knowledge of the world beyond their home country. “Weapons alone and grandiose statements by our politicians full of ignorance about other countries and peoples do not make for wise foreign or economic policy decisions which increasingly have negative consequences for the United States.”
He concluded, “The more you know about the world and its people, the more tolerant and appreciative of other races and other religions you are likely to become. That will make you more interesting human beings, better parents, and enable you to appreciate the beauty of the human family in all its fascinating diversity.”
Buergenthal arrived in the United States when he was 17 years old after spending a portion of his childhood in German camps, including Auschwitz. After graduating from Bethany, he went on to earn his J.D. from New York University Law School and an LL.M. and S.J.D. in international law from Harvard University.
He has authored or co-authored numerous articles and more than a dozen books, including the first international human rights law textbook in the United States. He recently published “A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy,” which has been translated into more than 10 languages.
Buergenthal has served as dean of Washington College of Law at American University and in endowed professorships at the University of Texas and Emory University. He was appointed director of the Human Rights Program of the Carter Center.
He served as a judge and president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and president of the Administrative Tribunal of the Inter-American Development Bank. Buergenthal was also a member of the UN Human Rights Committee.
One of the world’s leading authorities on international law and human rights, he served as the American judge for the International Court of Justice in The Hague, The Netherlands, for more than a decade. He retired in the fall of 2010 and continues his work in the United States as Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at The George Washington University Law School.
He is the recipient of awards such as the Manley O. Hudson Medal of the American Society of International Law, the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize and the Goler Butcher Human Rights Prize.
He has received honorary doctorates from institutions such as the University of Heidelberg in Germany, the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, the University of Minnesota and the State University of New York.
An afternoon wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Campbell Cemetery. The wreath was placed at the gravesite of Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), Bethany College’s founder and first president.
Founder’s Day at Bethany College is observed on the first Thursday of March. The College received its official charter from the Legislature of Virginia on March 2, 1840. The charter was affirmed on June 20, 1863 by the Legislature of the newly formed state of West Virginia.
Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest