May 5, 2012
For Immediate Release
|Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, United States ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, addresses the graduates at Campbellsville University’s undergraduate commencement May 5. (Campbellsville University Photo by Ashley Wilson)|
By Joan C. McKinney, news and publications coordinator
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, United States ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, addressed the 248 undergraduate students in Saturday’s commencement ceremony at Campbellsville University.
Campbellsville University bestowed degrees on a record-breaking number of graduates, 597, for the 2011-12 academic year. In ceremonies Friday, May 4, there were 132 students who received master’s degrees and 248 undergraduates received their degrees on Saturday, May 5, for a total of 380 in the May ceremony. There were 217 graduates in December ceremonies.
Johnson Cook discussed religious persecution with her forefathers as she talked about religious freedom in the world.
She said the United States Constitution holds religious freedom to be a fundamental human right. She said many of our founding mothers…and fathers…fled their countries to escape religious persecution and found refuge here.
“Many of my foreparents, as well as others in the Black church, were brought here against their will and experienced persecution on these shores,” said.
“They were not always free to worship where or when or how they wanted—nor even with whom. Many were relegated to the balconies or separate areas of a church, required to listen to a message preached by those who enslaved them.”
As an African-American, she said, “We understand what religious persecution means. And we understand that freedom of religion is not just for people who believe like us.”
Johnson Cook became ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom May 16, 2011 and has traveled many continents in the quest for religious freedom.
“I am committed to advancing religious freedom for everyone in every part of the world,” she said. “I travel overseas promoting religious tolerance and helping to build bridges between people of different faiths—whatever that faith may be. Our country holds that the freedom to believe, or not to believe, is a fundamental human right which transcends faith, background or tradition.”
Johnson Cook said, more than ever, “religious freedom matters around the world.”
She said she was pulled into a direction she never imagined on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
She was in the Bronx, returning from voting, when she heard about the first airplane striking the World Trade Center.
“Being a NYPD chaplain, I was soon asked to report to police headquarters—ten blocks from Ground Zero.
Families of officers who were missing in action after the collapse of the towers had gathered there and I and the other seven chaplains prayed, counseled and consoled them,” she said.
She went to Ground Zero to work with police, firefighters and medics as they searched for survivors.
“When rescue personnel saw I was a chaplain, they paused to catch their breath and to pray—regardless of their religion,” she said.
“At that moment I saw the unifying power of religion– almost in direct contrast to those who tried to use religion as an excuse to commit violence against innocent people. In the face of adversity, Americans prayed together and we were even more unified.”
She said during and after 9/11, “We found our common humanity and sought to find common ground. We formed municipal, national and international faith coalitions to build bridges of understanding, respect, and tolerance to push out suspicion, prejudice, and intolerance.”
Johnson Cook said religious intolerance is not a thing of the past. “Even as we speak, there are thousands around the world being persecuted, imprisoned and harassed on the basis of their faith,” she said.
She said Pew statistics show 2.2 billion people face social hostility because of their religion or where their governments restrict their worship.
She said, “It is our core conviction that religious freedom and respect for diversity is essential for a peaceful society. And research shows that where there is religious freedom, there is more stability in the country.”
Johnson Cook said, “Regardless of tradition, people of faith can work to build peace and strengthen civil society – and to model for society the values of tolerance, dialogue and respect.”
Johnson Cook acknowledged CU’s recent appointment to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for 2012 and said, “You have spent four years learning and growing in a university which believes in serving others. Now, you are about to embark on a journey of ever-greater engagement with the world around you.
“Whatever else you remember as you begin working in business, in education, in science, in medicine, in ministry—don’t lose sight of this great lesson taught here at Campbellsville University: Find your call and do it.”
Johnson Cook has traveled to five continents promoting religious tolerance and helping to build bridges between people of different faiths.
“I have seen that great things can happen when members of different faith communities come together to share ideas and to grow a vision of harmony together through relationships that stretch beyond borders, beyond religions.”
She told the graduates, as members of a faith community, they play an essential role: “to build bridges across religious differences, to work together against religious hatred, violence and repression.”
“As members of a faith community, each and every one of you can work to promote mutual respect and freedom for people of your own faith, for people of other faiths, and for people who don’t belong to any religious group,” she said.
She urged the graduates to think of some of the ways they can take a leading role in serving others who face persecution due to their religious beliefs.
She urged them to be informed, get involved and volunteer their time.
“As young people, you have an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference in the world around you,” she said.
“Take a moment to appreciate what your hard work has accomplished,” she said. “You stand poised to live your values, and to work for your values, on a much larger stage.”
She was presented an honorary doctorate degree of public service during the ceremony.
Campbellsville University bestowed degrees on a record-breaking number of graduates, 597, for the 2011-12 academic year. In ceremonies Friday, May 4, there were 132 students who received master’s degrees and 248 undergraduates received their degrees on Saturday, May 5, for a total of 380 in the May ceremony.
There were 217 bachelor’s degrees, 132 master’s degrees and 31 associate degrees presented by Dr. Michael V. Carter, president, and Dr. Frank Cheatham, vice president for academic affairs. The students receive their degrees upon completion of all academic requirements.
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 3,500 students offering 63 undergraduate options, 17 master’s degrees, five postgraduate areas and eight pre-professional programs. The website for complete information is campbellsville.edu.