A Graduation That Is Different
GRADUATION ceremonies have sparked interest since the 14th century, but none have been as important to the human family’s future as those begun more than 40 years ago in a farming community in the northeastern United States. June 23, 1943, saw the first class of missionaries graduate from The Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. March 4, 1984, saw the 76th class. And between those dates, Gilead graduates have spearheaded the preaching of the “good news” of God’s established Kingdom to “the most distant part of the earth.”—Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:8.
When the first class of 94 missionaries was sent out into foreign fields, the “good news” was being preached in 54 lands by 126,000 Witnesses. But now more than 2,500,000 in 205 countries regularly publish the “good news.” The 40 new graduates will add their voices to the declaration of the “good news” being preached in 16 of those countries.
How Is It Different?
What is so different about a Gilead graduation? “Several things,” answers Frederick W. Franz, the school’s current president. “For one, graduates of other schools have completed courses of their own selection that have prepared them for a career in a field of their own choosing. But here at Gilead School all graduates shared in the same courses and had their missionary assignments chosen for them. The Governing Body selects the course and the territory to which each missionary will be sent.”
In the beginning, Gilead students did not find out where their missionary assignment was to be until graduation day, but in recent years they know about halfway through their five-month course. This posed no problem for Dominic and Tjitske Busciglio. When they received their invitation to attend Gilead School, they had no idea that they would be assigned to the African country of Senegal. “We remembered Abraham and his wife Sarah, who also received an assignment from Jehovah and did not know where they would end up,” said Tjitske, referring back to the day their invitation arrived. “My husband and I would reflect upon Hebrews 11:8, where it says: ‘By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed in going out . . . although not knowing where he was going.’”
The goals are another reason why Gilead graduation is different. To explain this, let us go back in history to Gilead’s first graduation exercise. Note what Nathan H. Knorr, the first president of the school, said to those gathered:
“The men of this world, and their women and children, are storing up riches on this earth, trying to have a place of security insured to them. But do they really succeed? They can never be secure against the destruction unavoidably due to come upon the whole world. However, those who have entered into a covenant with God are storing up riches in heaven that will not rust or be destroyed. They have value with God, who is in heaven.
“So, then, the work that you Bible [school] graduates do in . . . proclaiming the Kingdom message . . . where witnesses have never gone before . . . is a vital work preliminary to the establishment of the [New Order] of righteousness.”
The goal of Gilead graduates is not material wealth or prestige through employment. Instead, they eagerly look forward to graduation as a means of satisfying their burning desire to preach the “good news” of God’s kingdom and to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” And their missionary assignment can reach into the new system of things where they can teach the “good news” to resurrected ones.—Mark 13:10; Matthew 28:19; John 5:28, 29.
Students of Gilead School do not become ordained ministers first upon graduating. They were ordained as ministers long before coming to Gilead. What N. H. Knorr told the first class, on its very first school day, still is true today. He said:
“It is NOT the purpose of this [school] to equip you to be ordained ministers. You are ministers already and have been active in the ministry for years. This is a requirement for entrance . . . The course of study at the [school] is for the exclusive purpose of preparing you to be more able ministers in the territories to which you go.”
Graduates of the 76th class have, on the average, been serving as ordained ministers for more than 12 years, with 8 of those years being spent in full-time service. Interestingly, 1 in 3 of the graduates, a total of 14, had served as full-time ministers at Bethel homes in Britain, Canada or the United States.
Sam Gjesdal, assigned to Brazil, pointed out a feature of Gilead School that made graduation especially meaningful. “Worldly colleges dish out information and you take what you can get,” he said, “but here they really care about you and they want to see that you do the best you can. They take a real interest in you.”
Even the graduation exercise was different. There was no noisy fanfare to inaugurate the program. There was no pompous procession led by solemn-faced college faculty heads. There was no one marching down the aisle of the Assembly Hall to blaring music. There was no one garbed in long black robes and square-topped, tasseled college hats. No, there was nothing here in evidence to glorify human creatures and their attainments. Instead, glory and thankfulness were centered on the One who made it all possible, Jehovah God. Gilead graduations are truly different.
[Box on page 27]
● Total number of students ․․․․․․․․․․․ 40
● Number of countries represented ․․․․․ 6
● Number of countries assigned to ․․․․ 16
● Number of single brothers ․․․․․․․․․․ 12
● Number of single sisters ․․․․․․․․․․․․ 2
● Number of married couples ․․․․․․․․․․ 13
● Average age ․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․ 30.6
● Average years baptized ․․․․․․․․․․․ 12.5
● Average years in full-time service ․8.3
[Picture on page 26]
Watchtower Bible School of Gilead 76th Class—March 1984
In the list below, rows are numbered from front to back and names are listed from left to right in each row.
(1) Berglund, G.; Cortez, G.; Bartlett, B.; Wilson, M.; Vittum, Z.; Thompson, K.; Thompson, R. (2) Miranda, M.; McNeill, K.; Turincio, A.; Turincio, C.; Busciglio, T.; Donald, S.; Zubeck, M.; Meyer, D. (3) George, D.; Busciglio, D.; Steinlein, A.; Thrasher, D.; Barreira, J.; George, C.; Etheridge, K.; Hackney, R. (4) Bartlett, K.; McKeel, S.; Cortez, E.; Donald, D.; Fleet, R.; Berglund, C.; Williams, C.; Gjesdal, S. (5) Meyer, R.; Chappell, B.; Nobiss, J.; Vittum, P.; Wilson, R.; Crawley, W.; Thrasher, R.; Zubeck, J.