BETHANY, W.Va. —Bill Strickland, President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and its subsidiaries—Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) and Bidwell Training Center (BTC) in Pittsburgh—presented the Bethany College 2009 graduating class with a call to live lives that deepen the impact of their education with philanthropic service.
Strickland delivered his remarks to Bethany’s 140 graduates on May 16 in the grassy quadrangle adjacent to the College’s historic Old Main.
“Find a non-profit like mine or another that you are passionate about and join their board, send them financial support and adopt their values and belief systems,” stated Strickland. “If each of you would only do that much, we might spark a movement, we might create a tidal wave of hope and human opportunity and finally let the sun shine into the darkest areas of our nation’s life.”
A Pittsburgh native and one of the nation’s leading social entrepreneurs, Strickland is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in American History and Foreign Relations. Strickland returned to Manchester, the inner-city neighborhood in which he grew up, and created a model for turning underprivileged people into productive workers. His business model proved highly successful, and he continues to replicate it across the country.
Strickland founded MCG to teach life skills to at-risk children through the arts. Students have the opportunity to take classes and workshops in photography, design, ceramics and more and learn from internationally known artists. In addition, MCG works extensively with jazz artists and audiences to preserve and promote jazz music through a variety of performances and recordings. Grammy-winning MCG Jazz is the most successful jazz subscription series in America.
Strickland also created BTC, an innovative partnership with local companies that provides displaced adults with the training they need to land jobs in those companies. Participants can earn an associate degree or complete diploma programs in fields such as horticulture, office technology and chemical laboratory technologies. MCG and BTC have each grown into $3-million-a-year operations.
Crediting his former teacher for providing the inspiration for his successes, Strickland stated, “Frank understood that an outpost outfitted with materials that celebrated the power of the human spirit and imagination would ultimately save lives. Mine was one of them.” He later added, “All of this because of one public school teacher who believed that children are a function of expectations and not the location of their birth.”
Bethany College President Dr. Scott D. Miller also emphasized the importance of creativity in response to challenging circumstances. “You’ve spent several years here enlarging your knowledge base, but that is not the most important aspect of your time with us,” he stated in his opening remarks. “It’s what you do with that acquired knowledge that counts.”
Miller continued, “Now, of course, the elephant in this gathering is the specter of uncertain times when, as you all know, America is facing perhaps its greatest challenge of our lifetimes. This fact, however, should inspire imagination rather than fear.”
He concluded, “While we can’t gird you with steel-plated armor against all the vicissitudes of life, what you have gained here is immeasurably more valuable. You have acquired that which, unlike wealth and material possessions, can never be taken away—an excellent education. Combine the knowledge you have gained here with imagination, and there are no limits to the new worlds you can conquer.”
Following Strickland’s speech, he was conferred with an honorary Doctorate of Humanities by Dr. Miller.
The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, the first woman to serve as General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, delivered remarks to the graduating seniors during the College’s Baccalaureate service on May 15. Rev. Watkins earned her bachelor’s degree in French and Economics at Butler University and holds a Master of Divinity from the Yale Divinity School. She earned her Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1984 at Hamden, Conn.
Rev. Watkins delivered the sermon at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service on January 21, 2009, at the National Cathedral. She was the first woman to give the address at the inaugural event, a tradition that dates back to George Washington and celebrates America’s diversity of faith. President Barack Obama recently announced that Rev. Watkins has been named to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. One of 25 faith leaders appointed to the advisory council, she will serve a one-year term.
Watkins was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Dr. Miller.
A small liberal arts college of national distinction, Bethany was founded in 1840 and held its first Commencement on July 4, 1842. It is the oldest degree-granting institution in West Virginia.