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May 23, 2003

Commencement 2003 Set for May 24; John Perkins Will Speak

EDITOR'S NOTE: Read the May 23 Grand Rapids Press story on Commencement 2003.

Calvin College will hold its annual Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 24 at 3 p.m. in its Fieldhouse. Commencement 2003 marks the 83rd such conferring of four-year degrees in Calvin's 125-year history.

This year's ceremony will feature a graduating class of approximately 900 students. Calvin awarded its first bachelor's degrees in 1921 to a senior class of eight men.

The 2003 Commencement speaker will be John M. Perkins (above), a sharecropper's son who grew up in Mississippi amidst dire poverty (see below for further bio details).

Calvin's 2003 Commencement Ceremony also will be marked by the presentation of Calvin's highest alumni honor -- the Distinguished Alumni Award -- to Robert Swierenga and Paul VandenBout (see below for bios). Calvin College has presented its Distinguished Alumni Awards -- intended to honor those who have made significant contributions in their field of endeavor -- annually since 1966.

Commencement weekend at Calvin College will mark a first. Senior Joseph Ku will be the first-ever Calvin student to take part in an ROTC Commissioning Service. Ku was dually enrolled at Calvin and Western Michigan through the ROTC program.

The event will take place at 6:30 pm on Friday, May 23 in the Calvin Chapel. Commencement for Calvin is Saturday, May 24 at 3 pm in the Fieldhouse.

Among the people scheduled to take place in the Friday ROTC Commissioning Service are Calvin president Gaylen Byker (an Army veteran who served as an artillery officer in Washington state and Vietnam, where he supervised 90 enlisted men in combat situations and was repeatedly decorated) and 1965 Calvin graduate Rev. Herman Keizer (a former Army Chaplain who also served in Vietnam and was repeatedly decorated).

Ku, a California native, enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army in 1998 and continued to be in the Army Reserves at the 334th Medical Group in Walker, Mich., until Dec 2001 when he received his contract as a ROTC cadet. At Calvin he is a computer science major and business minor. Aftr graduation he will head to the 128th Quartermaster Airdrop Unit in Santa Barbara, Calif. He will go to airborne school in the summer and quartermaster officer basic course in September.

And a quartet of Calvin professors will mark their final Commencements as they move from the classroom into retirement. Together the four - Edward Ericson (26 years), Sanford Leestma (35 years), James Timmer (33 years) and Lambert Van Poolen (35 years) - have served Calvin for a combined 129 years!


Born in Mississippi, Perkins fled to California when he was 17 after his older brother's murder at the hands of a town marshal. He vowed never to return. However, in 1960, after his conversion to Christ, he returned to his boyhood home to share the gospel of Christ with his people. His outspoken support and leadership role in civil rights demonstrations resulted in repeated harassment, imprisonment and beatings. Despite dropping out of school in the third grade, Perkins has received recognition for his work with seven honorary doctorates. He is an international speaker and teacher on issues of racial reconciliation, leadership and community development. Perkins is assisted by 2000 Calvin graduate Nate Bradford, who began working for Perkins as an intern and now coordinates the Inside Out Prison Ministry Association and serves as a community organizer focused on developing an aftercare network of services for ex-offenders.


Dr. Robert Swierenga, a 1957 Calvin graduate, is A.C. Van Raalte Research Fellow at Hope College and a professor of history emeritus at Kent State University. Dr. Swierenga is the "dean of scholars" concerning Dutch-American studies in the 19th and 20th
centuries. His recent 928-page volume, Dutch Chicago, has won accolades from historians and lay-audiences. In 2000, he was knighted by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands in the Order of the Netherlands Lion.

Dr. Paul Vanden Bout, a 1961 grad of Calvin, is director emeritus of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Va. Dr. Vanden Bout is a pioneer in the field of radio astronomy, a science that now brings us more information about the nature of the universe than optical studies. While currently on sabbatical at Columbia University, he remains the NRAO's leader in developing the next stage in radio astronomy, the construction of the international ALMA site in Chile.


Commencement weekend begins Friday, May 23 with a 5 p.m. worship service in the Calvin Chapel followed by a Commencement Cookout on the Commons Lawn for seniors and their families. Also that evening there will be an art department reception, ROTC officer commissioning for Calvin senior Joseph Ku (6:30 p.m. in the Chapel), and the education department's teacher certificate ceremony (7:30 pm in the Fine Arts Center) in which Calvin's numerous future teachers are recognized.

On Saturday, May 24 things begin with the annual senior breakfast (9 am in the Commons Dining Hall), followed by an 11 am Commencement Rehearsal in the Calvin Fieldhouse (mandatory for all grads) and the actual event at 3 pm followed by a 4:30 pm reception on the Commons Lawn.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)