Renowned Peacemaker Speaks at Graduation Ceremony
Published on May 15, 2011
SELINSGROVE—More than 4,500 graduating students, parents and guests attended Susquehanna University’s 153nd Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 15, when 469 students were awarded degrees. The event took place at 2:30 p.m. in the field house of the James W. Garrett Sports Complex.
Guest speaker Harold H. Saunders, director of international affairs at the Kettering Foundation, founder and president of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue (IISD), and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said graduates will need to employ face-to-face communication to repair deep national and global rifts.
“Our country, in my view, is more deeply and angrily divided today than at any time in my lifetime,” Saunders said. “Too many of us have lost the capacity to talk respectfully or to relate constructively to one another.”
Saunders is the architect of Sustained Dialogue, “a public peace process” designed to change relationships among those involved in deep-rooted conflicts. He has employed the process with thought leaders and citizens of the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Tajikistan and Iraq, among others. IISD is also the institutional base for the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network now operating on some 16 high-school and college campuses, including Susquehanna’s.
Saunders challenged simplistic assumptions about the nature of conversation. “Dialogue is not about talking,” he said. “It’s first about listening. Dialogue is one person listening deeply and carefully enough to another to be changed by what she or he hears. That openness of one person to another makes dialogue the essence of genuine relationship. Relationship is at the heart of a peaceful and productive society.”
Saunders cautioned that technology cannot supersede personal exchange as a means to greater understanding. “I fear that neither dialogue nor genuine relationship can happen with the touch of a few characters on a keypad,” he said. “Modern modes of communication can be absolutely, incredibly useful, but we need to learn how they can complement face-to-face dialogue and relationship—not replace them.”
Patience, too, is key to achieving meaningful change, Saunders said. “It can take days of dialogue before anybody will say, ‘If I had had your experience, I might feel the same way you do.’”
The potential of dialogue to deliver peace should never be underestimated, he said, citing its power to unite even those on opposite sides of civil war. Ultimately Saunders challenged graduates to “[reverse] what it is not an exaggeration to call a potential breakdown in the quality of American social and political life.”
University President L. Jay Lemons and John Strangfeld, chair of the Susquehanna University Board of Trustees, also addressed the graduates and their guests.
Lemons encouraged the Class of 2011 to define its place in the world. “To be truly educated, you must give yourself wholly to the process of learning,” he said. “Be curious. Seek answers to questions. Share your knowledge with others. Become a productive and meaningful partner in this chain of human history.”
“We hope you will choose to be advocates, as well as alumni, and that you will find your own way of making a difference in other people’s lives,” Strangfeld said.
Saunders was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts, Letters and Humanities degree, along with Harriet Mertz, a Susquehanna music education alumna with a long career in voice instruction, music direction and media production. Physician Joseph Mowad, senior vice president of Geisinger Health System and director emeritus of the urology department at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree.
Karen M. Jones