BETHANY, W.Va. – Bethany College on Thursday hosted its annual Fall Convocation and welcomed back alumnus and longtime history professor Dr. Gary Kappel as the keynote speaker.

Gary Kappel Fall Convocation 2021Kappel ’74 serves as the college’s historian and holds the title of Professor of History in the Perry and Aleece Gresham Chair in the Humanities Emeritus. His address was titled “I Think I’ve Been Here Before.”

He noted that he’d attended 36 previous Fall Convocations and hundreds of other events on campus over the years.

“Of course, it’s not just the venue or the occasion that invokes my sense of déjà vu,” Kappel said. “When I look around at the events happening here on campus, in the United States, and in the world, I get an eerie feeling that we’ve been here before.”

He noted the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, voter suppression efforts, and the latest images from the withdrawal of Afghanistan that are reminiscent of the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Though Kappel said historians like to believe they have seen everything before, he questioned whether there is any hope of ending the repetition.

Hailee Vizyak Kenney AwardVideo of Fall Convocation 

More photos

“Allow me to suggest that there is indeed a way, and that you being here in this place, at this time, is perhaps the greatest expression of that hope – the hope that comes from understanding that knowledge is the true source of all change in life,” Kappel said.

Alexander Campbell founded Bethany on the idea that learning is a lifelong process and, upon graduation, its students would become their own pupils.

However, Kappel said he took issue with Campbell’s idea that there are limits to human existence; instead, Kappel said, as a humanist, he believes in the infinite capacity of the human mind to strive for understanding and the infinite capacity of the human heart for empathy and compassion.

“It’s up to us,” Kappel said, referencing Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s “900 Theses.” “If we insist on making the same mistakes over and over again, of being brutes to one another – not to mention ourselves, by the way – we have no one to blame but ourselves. … It is the tool of Mr. Campbell’s vision that gives us the power through our soul’s reason to escape that brutish fate, both as an individual and as a society.”

Bethany College President Rev. Dr. Tamara Nichols Rodenberg, who recently announced her retirement at the end of the calendar year, opened Fall Convocation. In her address, she introduced a final hashtag of her career –  #BethanyNow – and encouraged students, faculty, and staff to build on previous achievements.

“Serving as your president these last six years has been a true honor,” Rodenberg said. “Together, we have built bridges that point Bethany in the right direction with the mantra ‘for our students’ at the center core. … Like all roads in higher education, the bumps are there. Some will be larger than others, but through continued strategic planning, nimble response to the market, and collaborative vision, the Bethany spirit, as I know it to be, will persist and thrive for the next 100 years.”

The college also recognized outstanding achievements and service by students, faculty, and staff.

Provost and Dean of Faculty Dr. Joe Lane presented Heather Ricciuti, the Mary Cutlip director of libraries and learning resources, with the John R. Taylor Memorial Award in Liberal Arts. The award is named in memory of John R. Taylor, ’44, an emeritus professor of English at Bethany.

Dr. John Hull, professor of psychology, and Cathy Gordon, executive secretary to the provost and dean of faculty, received Presidential Awards of Excellence.

Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Gerald Stebbins announced the recipients of the Anna Ruth Bourne Award, the W. Kirk Woolery Award, and the Richard B. Kenney Freshman Leadership Award.

Hailee Vizyak, of Wellsburg, W.Va., received the annual Richard B. Kenney Freshman Leadership Award, which recognizes a sophomore who has demonstrated outstanding scholarship, leadership, and character at Bethany during his or her freshman year.

Phi Mu received the Bourne Award, which is given each semester to the women’s social group maintaining the highest scholastic standing. Beta Theta Pi received the Woolery Award, which honors the men’s social group with the same achievement.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.