Bethel rhyme celebrates commencement time

Retiring campus pastor reminds graduates they have gleaned valuable grain

May 26, 2014 by and

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NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — Bethel College’s class of 2014 may be among the rare few who actually remember the commencement address.

President Perry White, left, joins applause thanking retiring campus pastor Dale Schrag. — Vada Snider/Bethel College

President Perry White, left, joins applause thanking retiring campus pastor Dale Schrag. — Vada Snider/Bethel College

That’s for at least two reasons. It may have been the shortest ever, and it rhymed.

Commencement speaker Dale Schrag, who retires at the end of June after 30 years at Bethel, most recently as campus pastor and director of church relations, is known to the campus community for many things.

One that the Concert Choir looks forward to almost every year is a recap of the spring break choir tour done completely in rhyme. Schrag decided to do the same with his commencement address, “Always Be a Thresher.”

After starting with the usual pleasantries, Schrag proceeded:

“Commencement, we would all agree,/Is a very special time./But commencement addresses can sometimes be deadly,/So I’ll try to make this one rhyme.

“I’ll admit it’s a different way to proceed — /Perhaps a rhetorical trick./But I’m simply trying to do my best/To make these brief comments stick.”

Schrag went on to consider the Bethel College mascot, the Thresher, noting that “the special thing about threshers is they separate wheat from chaff” and then expanding on the wheat metaphor.

Among the “grain[s] of wheat you should always treasure,” Schrag included the saying attributed to Thomas Aquinas that cautions against thoughtlessly affirming or denying, rather always being ready to distinguish or discern; encouragement to carry one’s convictions in “an open palm rather than a closed fist”; the command to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself; and the Rule of St. Benedict to welcome every person as Christ.

Other valuable wheat, Schrag said, can be found within Bethel’s four core values of discipleship, scholarship, service and integrity.

The latter, he said, is not only a matter of “character and conscience,” but also of integration. “Life is not fragmented, . . . so integrate your faith and learning into a consistent whole.

“There’s a ton of cultural chaff out there,” Schrag said. “Constantly search for life-giving grain: Always be a Thresher.

“I know this speech was very short,/But I’ve said what I intended,” Schrag concluded (the address clocked in at about seven and a half minutes). “We’re kind of sad to see you go./As a class you’ve been just splendid.

“Know that in your time with us/You were a special gift./And now as you are graduates/Our relationship will shift.

“But connected we will all remain — /A community somehow./Because, you see, through thick and thin,/We’re all true Threshers now!”

Schrag’s commencement poem will be printed in the summer issue of Bethel’s alumni magazine, Context.
Brad Born, vice president for academic affairs, presented the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award to Allen Jantz, professor of education. Jantz has led the Bethel teacher education program for 18 years.

At the baccalaureate service earlier in the day, speakers included students Martin Olson of Denver, Katie Regier of Whitewater and Danny Barrera; along with his mother, Rosa, administrative assistant to the Bethel president.

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