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To the class of 2007:
"You Are Leaders"

EMU awarded a posthumous degree to the late Thomas P. Bowers of Harrisonburg during the school's 89th commencement held Sunday afternoon, Apr. 29, on the front lawn of campus.

Bowers' mother, Deborah Bowers, accepted the degree in economics with minors in accounting and history given in her son's memory. The audience of more than 3,600 gave a standing ovation.

Bowers came to EMU in the fall of 2003 on a presidential scholarship after graduating with honors from Harrisonburg High School.

EMU commencement EMU President Loren Swartzendruber embraces Deborah Bowers in presenting a posthumous degree in memory of her son, Thomas P. Bowers. Thomas, who had MS, was an honors student who enrolled at EMU the fall of 2003 and died in February this year. Photo by Jim Bishop
Despite being confined to a wheelchair due to Duchennes muscular dystrophy, Bowers was active in his classes, raised campus awareness on accessibility issues and lived each day to the fullest. He died of complications from his illness on Feb. 14, 2007, at Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

EMU President Loren E. Swartzendruber conferred 403 degrees - 302 undergraduate, 87 graduate, 3 associate degrees and 11 graduate certificates - on members of the graduating class of 2007.

Lee F. Snyder, president emeritus of Bluffton (Ohio) University, gave the commencement address, using the metaphor of "a road or a path" in urging the graduates to spend some time examining themselves as they embark on their next stage of life.

"We've been sobered in the past weeks by trauma and tragedy - the inexplicable violence that a sister Virginia university has been dealing with," Dr. Snyder said. "We cry out for answers and are reminded that life is indescribably precious and each day is a gift.

"What we do know," she continued, "is that God has ordained a place and purpose for each of you. In simple terms, we think of exploring a path, of blazing a trail, of following the path of Jesus.

While a road implies a more certain destination, Snyder urged the graduates to "discover the more interesting journey by imagining a path. A path invites a spirit of exploration, requires taking risks and that means hardships and suffering.

"In taking a path, by necessity more slow and sometimes torturous, we see more. We learn more things about the world and about ourselves," she continued.

"You will leave here today having already learned that God has placed great power in your hands," Snyder said. "Be bold; don't be afraid to say 'yes' and to say 'no.' Be properly scared . . . go on doing what you have to do . . . and embrace the surprise of the way ahead."

Walkway to be Class Gift

Senior class business manager Mark D. Risser presented a gift of $4,025 to provide a walkway between Hillside Suites and the University Commons. The class dedicated the gift in honor of the life of Thomas Bowers (1984-2007).

The funds included a match of $2,007 from Bibb and Dolly Frazier of Harrisonburg and Heavener Supply, Inc. Elizabeth (Liz) S. Heavener of Telford, Pa., graduated with a major in liberal arts.

Ten members of the senior class wore "Cords of Distinction" as part of their academic regalia. The students were nominated by faculty, staff and their peers for their "significant and verifiable impact" on the university and on student life, for their contributions to developing the institution's positive image, for substantial contributions to the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County area and beyond, for their high academic and social standing and their embodiment of EMU's shared values of Christian discipleship, community, service and peacebuilding.

The class had 100 honors graduates who finished with grade point averages between 3.6 and 4.

-- article by: Jim Bishop