BETHANY, W.Va. — Bethany College celebrated 173 years as a small college of national distinction on March 7 with its annual Founder’s Day activities.
Festivities included the College’s traditional Founder’s Day Convocation in Commencement Hall. This year’s Convocation featured recently appointed West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman ‘73 as the guest speaker.
Bethany President Dr. Scott D. Miller presided over the Convocation and presented remarks. The program included special music from the Bethany College Choir and recognition of those students “distinguished in scholarship” for the fall semester of the 2012-2013 academic year.
Before welcoming Harshman, Miller prefaced his remarks by noting that it is “perhaps unimaginable to fully understand the enormous risk and significant challenges that Alexander Campbell faced when creating a campus in the middle of wilderness and farmland.” He continued by remarking that “small liberal arts colleges like Bethany revolutionized early 19th century American society and culture.”
“Certainly, Bethany students and faculty have always been leaders. Fortunately, the 18 Bethany presidents who preceded me were also willing—like our founders—to think ‘big,’ to incur formidable risks to make their dream a reality. This audacity must serve as a model for us today,” said Miller.
Miller’s messaged continued, saying “Although customs and campus residential life have changed dramatically over the years, the College’s essential character—emphasizing intellectual freedom, diversity, personal growth, leadership and a close academic community—has continued to flourish.”
Harshman, who was appointed as West Virginia’s poet laureate by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, brought his creativity and passion for stories and adventure to Commencement Hall. He related his early years spent around his family’s “story table” and how Bethany inspired his interest in religious studies and writing. He encouraged students to travel in order to “regulate the imagination.”
Harshman began, “I never expected to be here, and by here I don’t just mean Bethany College, but here in my life and my career. I still see myself as a journeyman poet, but I am here and I am grateful. I am grateful for Bethany College. This college has shaped me profoundly and held me together.”
“Campbell was a progressive man, and I think he would have grown to embrace this more progressive sense of having no one left out. On this day, his day, let us remind ourselves that Campbell and Bethany were very progressive in this area. It was, in his words, an experiment in education,” said Harshman.
A native of Indiana, Harshman is a longtime Wheeling resident. He earned his bachelor’s degree in at Bethany and went on to receive a master’s degree in religion from Yale University and a master’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh. To date, he has published 11 children’s stories and numerous poems for children and adults, drawing on his experiences growing up in Indiana and living in Appalachia’s foothills along the Ohio River.
His awards include the West Virginia English Teacher of the Year, Parent’s Choice Award, and West Virginia Arts Commission Fellowship in Poetry. His poems have also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His book “Only One” was a Reading Rainbow review title on PBS TV. “The Storm” was selected for the Junior Library Guild and as a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children. He received the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Collection Fellowship from the University of Minnesota for research on Scandinavian myth and folklore.
His children’s books have been published in Swedish, Spanish, Korean and Danish.
“Bethany was the savior. Not only did it keep me from getting lost, but I had superb teachers,” Harshman continued. “A tome on Bethany’s history noted that among the goals of the faculty, was the desire to educate the conscience at Bethany. They did so, and I believe they still do.”
Following the address, Miller conferred a Doctor of Letters degree to Harshman for his significant achievements. The conferring of the degree was presented by Dr. Jessie L. Janeshek, assistant professor of English.
An afternoon wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Old Meeting House in Bethany. The wreath will be placed at the gravesite of Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), Bethany College’s founder and first president. Remarks were presented by Rev. Jonathan W. Rumburg ‘96, pastor of First Christian Church in Snow, Ohio.
Founder’s Day at Bethany College is observed on the first Thursday of March. The College received its official charter from the Commonwealth of Virginia on March 2, 1840. The charter was affirmed on June 20, 1863, by the Legislature of the newly formed state of West Virginia.
Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.