BETHANY, W.Va. – Former majority leader of the United States Senate and U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, Senator George J. Mitchell, addressed Bethany College’s 2017 graduating class as part of the institution’s 177th Anniversary Commencement Weekend on Saturday, May 20, in the Dr. Fred H. Tilock Amphitheatre at the Pennington Quadrangle.
Dr. Tamara Nichols Rodenberg, President of the College, gave the welcome to the graduates. “This is a day where tradition collides with the future. A rite of passage – a well-deserved and much-deserved recognition. What is in a degree? It is, if you will, your passport. A document that allows you to enter into conversations, positions and research that takes you from one place to another. A degree is a testament to the world that you have changed. You have learned. You have grown, and you are prepared.”
“It is my distinct honor to say that all of those gathered here today have fought the good fight and have prevailed. They have earned their degrees with honor and distinction. They are deserving of this recognition and this moment of praise,” said Dr. Rodenberg.
Dr. Robert J. McCann, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees and the CEO of UBS Group Americas, UBS Financial Services, Inc, introduced Senator Mitchell. McCann described the senator as one with “intelligence, fairness, integrity and decency.”
“In short, he is a patron and role model for all Americans, and we are honored to have my friend George Mitchell as our guest,” said McCann.
Senator Mitchell then gave his address titled, “Challenges of the Twenty-First Century,” to the class of 2017.
“The collapse of communism and the triumph of democracy were major events in the 20th century, and as a result, in this the century in your lives, American power is ascendant in the world. Power is clearly important, and we must be prepared to use it, including military force when necessary and appropriate. But the real strength of America is and always has been in our ideals. They are not easily summarized, but surely they include the sovereignty of the people, the primacy of individual liberty, an independent judicial system -- the rule of law applied to all systems equally and crucially to the government itself – and an opportunity for every member of our society. We must never forget that the United States was a great nation long before it was a great economic or military power. We recognize that all human beings and all human societies are imperfect. We are not always right, and we can never be perfectly consistent; yet, we can and we must work harder and better to live up to our principles as individuals and as a nation.”
“If you believe that every American child regardless of background or family status is entitled to a good education, you must oppose any action that would prevent them from having that opportunity. And if you believe that every American citizen is entitled to equal opportunity and equal justice, you must stand up and speak out against all forms of discrimination and injustice. Never forget that in the presence of evil, silence makes you an accomplice. The education that you have received is important, even necessary, but it is not a guarantee of self-worth. It is not a substitute for a life of effort. What you do is important, but how you do it is just as important. If you take pride in what you do, you will excel. If you do not take pride in what you do, you cannot excel.”
“The more things that you acquire in life, the more evident that it will become to you that real fulfillment in your life will come not from acquiring things, not from leisure or self-indulgence. It will come from striving with all the physical and all the spiritual might for the worthwhile objective led to help others and larger than your self-interest. I hope each of you graduates is fortunate enough to find such an objective in your life,” declared Mitchell.
Senator Mitchell was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Dr. Tamara Nichols Rodenberg, President of the College, and Dr. Robert J. McCann, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees.
Dr. Rodenberg also presented an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree to Dr. Larry Grimes, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, and long-time Bethany employee. During Dr. Grimes’ distinguished 51-year career at the College, he served as Director of Church Relations, Perry E. and Aleece Gresham Chair in Humanities, Professor of English and Chair of the Department of Literature and Language.
In 1964, he graduated magna cum laude from Bethany with a major in English and a minor in Religion. He earned his B.D. from Yale Divinity School in 1967. Prior to joining the Bethany faculty in 1970, he spent three years as associate minister of the Sandy Springs (Ga.) Christian Church while he began working toward his doctorate at Emory University in Atlanta. Emory presented Dr. Grimes with his Ph.D. in Literature and Religion in 1974.
Senator Mitchell has led a long and distinguished career. He served for several years as Chairman of DLA Piper, now Chairman Emeritus. Before that, he served as a federal judge; as Majority Leader of the United States Senate; as Chairman of Peace Negotiations in Northern Ireland which resulted in an agreement that ended an historic conflict; and most recently as U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace. In 2008, Time Magazine described him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Senator Mitchell is also the author of five books. His most recent books are a memoir entitled, “The Negotiator: Reflections on an American Life,” published in May 2015, and “A Path to Peace,” published in November 2016.
Bethany College is located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.