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President Provides Points for Peace

"Peace is not a distant challenge," said Berea College's president, Dr. Larry D. Shinn, in the opening convocation of the school year. He spoke to an audience of incoming freshmen and returning upperclassmen to welcome them back to the college and share advice for peace-building that will apply not only to this fall semester, but to the rest of their lives.

Scenes from Berea's opening fall convocation.

Shinn explained that he had decided to present his speech, "What Makes for Peace?", after traveling over the summer with the planning group for the new general studies course, ”Understandings of Christianity.” The group traveled to Israel, Egypt and Jordan, visiting landmarks and ruins. While Shinn was at the Mount of Olives, a mountain ridge to the east of Jerusalem, he found himself contemplating war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and comparing these current issues to “Jesus’ own lament.” In the midst of his reflection, Shinn asked himself, “What are the elements that make for peace?”

Upon returning to Berea, Shinn decided to set aside his original topic, including the seven-page speech he had already prepared, because “there is nothing more important today than peace-making.” Instead, Shinn wanted to speak about the thoughts and realizations he had on his journey, and share his peace-building advice with Berea students as guidance for the upcoming year.

"We must learn the capacity to forgive the past," Shinn explained, while sharing three steps that people could take to "make for peace". Shinn used Nelson Mandela’s public forgiveness of his jailers as an example. Secondly, Shinn stated that “We must learn how to empathize with our opponents, even our enemies." And finally, he advised students to simply "stay at the table. What happens too often… is that we draw back into the groups that are like us.” Instead, in the hope of achieving understanding, people must stay at the table and have conversations they may find difficult.

Most importantly, Shinn stressed the need for addressing peace in our everyday lives.

"It's easy for us to think… that we have very little power ourselves for peace-making,” said Shinn. “[But peace] happens here at Berea.”

Also speaking at the opening convocation was the president of the Student Government Association, Jonathon Thomas, who welcomed new students on behalf of the SGA. Thomas spoke about the efforts of the SGA and student body to make changes on campus, and introduced SGA vice-president Genesis Song.

As another highlight of the convocation, Dr. Shinn also presented surprise musical guests Al White and the Bluegrass Ensemble as a "special treat." The six members of the ensemble performed a lively bluegrass version of the Beatles song "Blackbird", which was greeted with applause and much appreciation by the audience.

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