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1,855-Mile ''Great Commitments Relay'' Reaches Finish Line

Through wind and rain, sunny days and overcast skies, the Great Commitments Relay team has reached their goal of bringing Berea College's hopes and ideals to communities and schools across six Appalachian states.

Scenes from the finale of the Great Commitments Relay

On Friday, May 12, one of Berea's history-making events, the Great Commitments Relay, wound to a close. The grand finale took place as a celebration of the college and the people who have ensured that Berea College continues to affect countless individuals in the Appalachian community and beyond. The copy of the Great Commitments which has been carried hundreds of miles by bikers, walkers, and other relay participants over the past few weeks was presented to President Larry Shinn; the document had been signed by hundreds of Berea supporters along the relay route, a path that stretched through six states, 1,855 miles, and many cities and communities.

“Forty-two days ago, I was one of the first people to sign this. Looks like a few more people have signed it since then!” remarked Shinn.

Relay participants traveled through big cities and small communities in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The route wound through states in the region the college has been committed to serving since its founding. The length of the relay corresponded to the year of Berea's founding, 1855. Along the way, they stopped at governors' offices in three states, the birthplace of John G. Fee in Bracken County, and many more important sites. The grand finale was a way to share the experience with members of Berea's local community, including alumni, faculty, staff, and students. Nearly one hundred Bereans participated in the final half-mile of the relay, which ended at the finish line at the corner of Jackson and Short street.

Five bikers rode in the last 100 mile leg of the relay. One of the bikers was Steele Hinton, ‘76, from Flemingsburg. He also biked for the relay on its third day, traveling from Cynthiana to Brooksville. Having majored in industrial arts at Berea, Hinton now restores and builds furniture. He has been biking seriously for the last couple of years. “I’m glad to be a part of this," he said. "It’s been fun.”

Even two members of the Berea College Board of Trustees, Mark Stitzer and William Gruver, flew out from the East Coast to participate in the last leg of the relay.

“Bill [Gruver] and I like to run and bike and I thought it was a neat thing," said Stitzer, when asked what made him want to take part in the relay. "You know, it’s easy to write a check but it’s a little harder to put on a helmet and get on a bike and ride a hundred miles for the school!" He added, "We had a great time. It was iffy when the rain felt like ice and the wind was blowing at 100 mph, but I was happy to do it.”

A crowd of people clad in blue and white Great Commitments Relay t-shirts waited in the Berea Municipal Utilities parking lot for the final five bikers to arrive. When they and the Great Commitments van arrived at 5:30 p.m., the large group of supporters walked with them to the finish line, where food, music and dancing awaited their arrival. Many people came out of their houses to see what was going on, and often waved and joined in the cheers. Occasionally they even joined the procession. Young children and pets participated in the event as well, showing their spirit with Berea College pennants and banners.

Once the finish line was reached, Amy Harmon, '99, who took part in 27 days of the 42-day trip, shared some of the highlights of the relay with the audience. (The relay team also kept a record of their travels on the Great Commitments Relay Blog.) "We have a multitude of experiences to carry us on,” said Harmon.

President Shinn then took the podium, speaking about the accomplishments of the relay participants and the importance of their work. "Berea College is such a special place because 150 years later, we still send people out into the mountains and receive people from the mountains and all over the earth,” said Shinn.

Libby Culbreth, ’64, the chair of the Berea College Board of Trustees, also thanked the participants. She said the relay "reminds folks anew of the special message and magic of Berea College.” She was followed by a prayer from Randy Osborne.

Once the speakers were done, the Berea College Bluegrass Band began playing, adding even more of a sense of celebration to the event. The Berea College Country Dancers also performed several dances for the audience. A video of different stops on the relay played throughout the evening, drawing many people to watch the travels of the relay participants. Some of the food provided by Boone Tavern even had a Berea theme: everyone had a chance to chow down on large pretzels shaped like the letter "B".

Berea's Great Commitments first found expression as a statement of the historic aims and purposes of the college by former dean Louis Smith in 1962 as part of a Ford Foundation grant. By action of Berea's faculty and Board of Trustees, a revised version of the Great Commitments was formally adopted as its mission statement in 1969. In 1992, a preamble and an eighth commitment specifically addressing Berea's commitment to coeducation and gender equality was added.

More information about the Great Commitments Relay can be found at the links below.

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