Nobel Laureate urges EMU graduates to take action

May 5, 2014 by and

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HARRISONBURG, Va. — Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee called 467 members of Eastern Mennonite University’s graduating class to take action in the present rather than be paralyzed by uncertainty about their future.

Leymah Gbowee does a dance move to celebrate the graduation from Eastern Mennonite University of her eldest child, Joshua Mensah, standing behind her. Gbowee, an EMU alumna who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, spoke at EMU’s 96th commencement April 27. — Michael Sheeler/EMU

Leymah Gbowee does a dance move to celebrate the graduation from Eastern Mennonite University of her eldest child, Joshua Mensah, standing behind her. Gbowee, an EMU alumna who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, spoke at EMU’s 96th commencement April 27. — Michael Sheeler/EMU

“Begin with what you have,” she said April 27, using “your little gift to change the world.”

Gbowee referred with pride in her commencement speech to being a graduate of EMU — she earned a master’s degree in conflict transformation in 2007 — and to being the mother of 2014 graduate Joshua Mensah.

“My home is 5,000 miles away from this campus, but this is a place that is very close to my heart,” she said.

She said she chose EMU for her eldest son because she wanted a university with “a whole lot of Jesus and lots of churches” in the vicinity, but “limited partying.”

Mensah, a digital media major, was one of 351 students receiving bachelor’s degrees. Eighty graduate degrees were conferred. Graduate certificates, associate degrees and pastoral ministry degrees were also conferred.

Among the thousands of family members and friends in the audience were 10 relatives of Andrew Thorne, well-known on campus for his basketball prowess. Less well-known is that he flunked out of EMU after his freshman year.

Thorne appealed for readmission, hoping to prove he could be the first member of his extended family to finish college. The following years were not entirely smooth, including at least one brush with the law.

But, he said, basketball coach Kirby Dean “stayed in my ear to push me along and to be honest. He never gave up, and he’s been getting on my nerves for four years! But that’s what people need.”

An EMU news article published in December showed that Thorne, in his fifth year at EMU, was still struggling to complete required coursework. Upon reading the article, Dean posted:

“You need to really focus and finish strong! You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so keep grinding! Years from now, I need to be able to tell other recruits about Andrew Thorne — where he came from, what he had to overcome, the contributions you are making to society, and the successful life you are leading now.

That’s where this story needs to go over the coming years. Get it done.”

When Thorne’s name was called and he walked across the stage to receive his diploma, his father, James, waved the commencement program in the air and yelled, “It’s about time!”

Andrew Thorne’s 27-year-old brother, also named James, got leave from his work as a petty officer in the U.S. Navy to be present.

“I knew he was going to make it,” said his brother, though “it was not an easy ride for him.”

Andrew Thorne himself was all smiles as he hugged his family, but he was a man of few words in talking about his accomplishment.

“It means the world,” he said. “It’s a fresh start. It’s a new beginning.”


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