EPP TO GRADS: BECOME GOD’S AGENTS OF CHANGE
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Ten seniors from Freeman Academy took their turn crossing the commencement stage and received their high school diplomas in a graduation marked by humor and poignant perspective from speaker Nathan Epp.
Epp, the outgoing head of school at Freeman Academy, focused his comments on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that hit during the Class of 2022’s sophomore year.
“And nothing has been normal since,” he said at the 60-minute ceremony held in the Pioneer Hall auditorium Saturday evening, May 21. “These past few years have definitely been a journey for the entire school, but especially the senior class. More than half of your high school years have been impacted by remote learning, canceled events, quarantines, and hand sanitizer everywhere.”
As a way to lighten the mood and involve the seniors in his address, during his preparation, Epp had asked the class to come up with a Top 10 list — ala David Letterman — focusing on the lessons learned from the pandemic. Here’s what they came up with.
10. During Zoom classes, it is important to accidentally point your camera at the window so the teacher can’t see you using your phone.
9. We all need to learn how to become more self-reliant.
8. Having translator apps on your phone is essential for passing Spanish during remote learning.
7. If you really want to get people around you excited in public, cough loudly and repeatedly. For extra attention, don’t cover your mouth.
6. Staying in touch with friends is important for your mental health.
5. Sometimes, losing your sense of smell can be a blessing.
4. It is sad that it took a pandemic for us to learn how important it is to wash our hands after going to the bathroom.
3. During summer, always wear a hat when wearing a mask outside. Mask tan lines are a real thing.
2. Don’t ever take people for granted.
1. Who would have guessed that a sign of the apocalypse would be lack of toilet paper.
“I’m glad that we can joke about some of these things at this point, but it is safe to say that we as a society have been transformed by these events of the past few years,” Epp said. “And I use the word transformed, because I believe it goes beyond just a simple change in how we act and how we treat each other. The results have been much more dramatic.”
Epp said the broader impact is the loss of social trust — that is, a belief that people, institutions, government and even churches cannot be trusted.
“During and following the pandemic our social trust in each other was impacted negatively,” he said. “During the pandemic we would often wonder why people would choose to wear or not wear a mask, or why people got vaccinated or decided not to get vaccinated. This went far beyond the health issues that were associated with the decisions that people would make. These thoughts crept into how we as a society view politics and, in general, how we view the people around us who may not have the same beliefs that we do.”
“Instead of having conversations, people will make assumptions and create their own narratives about people who act different and make different choices than what we do. The media, especially social media, has both contributed to and compounded the problem.
“The result of this is an us vs. them mentality, which is not healthy. While there were indications that our sense of social trust had been deteriorating prior to the pandemic, the negative trend certainly was enhanced during the past two years for a variety of reasons.
“The process of reversing this trend is very complicated and will be challenging to say the least.”
Epp encouraged the class to simplify the challenge through one of the Bible’s most well-known verses: John 3:16-17 — the “for God so loved the world” passage.
“Love, especially God’s love, has the power to be transformational and to break down the barriers that we as people create,” he said. “Verse 16 doesn’t say that God so loved Americans, or Mennonites, or Catholics, or Republicans or Democrats. God’s love transcends all those boundaries and categories that we put other people in. God’s love can conquer the us vs. them mentality.”
“You do have a choice in the things that you allow to transform you,” Epp concluded. “In your lives you will experience events that have the potential to transform you and those around you, for better or for worse. Remember, God’s love will never change, and if you choose to be transformed by this love, you all have the potential to become God’s agents of change in the world around you.”
Freeman Academy’s graduation also included words of welcome from Sierra Eslinger and Samuela Ndongosieme, audience participation through a hymn, class comments and reflection from seniors Tim Epp and Maria Cortes and the presentation of the class gift by Paul Hoff — cash so the art department can purchase supplies.