VALPARAISO | The president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief called on nearly 700 Valparaiso University graduates to help unite a diverse and deeply divided world.
“While you were in college, more non-whites were born in the United States than whites. Some see this as a crisis. You see this as an opportunity,” the Rev. John Arthur Nunes said Sunday at a commencement ceremony in the university's Athletics-Recreation Center.
Nunes, who was keynote speaker, will join VU's faculty this summer as the Emil and Elfriede Jochum Chair, a professorship that supports the study of Christian values in public and professional life. Since 2007, he has led Lutheran World Relief, with staff in 17 countries working to end poverty, injustice and human suffering.
Nunes said Christianity “places value on every single human life from womb to tomb,” and people from all walks of life should be valued. Yet many in America still suffer from racism, sexism and homophobic attitudes.
“We've got a long way to go to respect diversity in America,” Nunes said. “We are failing as a nation, and we need your generation.
“I dream that your generation will stretch us to get over it. People are people. Everyone is made in the image of God. There is one race, and it's called the human race.”
Nunes also wanted the graduates to know how fortunate they are to be living in the United States. He asked those in the audience who were age 49 and older to raise their hands.
“Those with their hands up are already dead in the countries my organization serves,” Nunes said. “Poverty and disease abbreviate life.”
He said those in the audience who earn $38,000 a year or more are among the world's wealthiest 1 percent.
But with the advantages of living in the U.S. comes an obligation to help others less fortunate, Nunes said.
“You go, graduates. You go into a wonderful world. Now, let's all go and make it better.”
While many of the graduates have landed jobs, others will pursue further studies. Katie Staples, Drew Taylor and Chrissy Terry talked about their futures before the ceremony began.
Staples, a psychology major from Crystal Lake, Ill., said she may go into pharmaceutical sales or return to school to pursue nursing.
Taylor, of Pewaukee, Wisc., earned a degree in sports media and has a job as assistant director of intramurals at Endicott College near Boston.
Terry, of Hammond, plans to pursue a master's degree in social work. She credits VU faculty member Barb Crumpacker Niedner with getting her on the “right path.”
In his remarks, VU President Mark Heckler wished the graduates “God's richest blessings” in their personal and professional lives.
"Your knowledge, character, integrity, and wisdom – traits for which Valpo graduates are known – will help guide you through your life’s journey,” Heckler said.