Gilead’s Largest Home-graduating Class
THE big day had arrived. Yes, it was a big and joyful day for the 119 graduating students of the seventeenth class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. For five and a half months they had diligently studied and prepared themselves for this day, Sunday, July 22. Now it was here. It did look as though rain might mar the graduation exercises, but despite the overcast sky, the pleasant, cool breezes kept the rain away, making it even more enjoyable than if it had been a hot, blazing sunshiny day.
Zero hour approached and the 119 students took their places in the three rows of chairs directly in front of the podium front of Shiloah, the school library. Behind them, fan-shaped, spread in orderly array was an all-time peak audience of 8,432. Friends and relatives from far and wide were expectantly waiting to feast on the good things prepared for the graduation exercises. They were not to be disappointed!
Promptly at 9 a.m., Mr. N. H. Knorr, president of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, located near South Lansing, New York, opened the graduation with an appropriate song, followed by prayer from Grant Suiter. The Kingdom Farm servant and each of the four instructors were then called upon to address the student body, recalling the pleasant association in work and in school had by all. The audience greatly enjoyed these short, to-the-point talks. Other expressions of love and unity were heard then, in the many messages and cablegrams read by Milton Henschel, the president’s secretary. Messages poured in from Newfoundland, Ethiopia, Germany, Puerto Rico, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, India, Japan, Central and South America, greatly swelling the audience in numbers as hearts and thoughts all over the world turned toward Gilead. The main discussion for the graduation was then directed to the thousands in attendance by Mr. Knorr, on the subject “Say to the Prisoners, Go Forth”.
Referring to the Scripture text at Isaiah 49:9, the speaker forcefully outlined the will of Jehovah God in sending out his witnesses as ambassadors and missionaries in every land to say to the prisoners to go forth from their bondage in this doomed world and likewise serve the great liberator Jehovah. The graduating class carefully noted that the assignment that each had received, in one of the 29 countries assigned out, was now open as never before for setting free the prisoners. It was stressed that, while the responsibility was theirs for opening the way, the big work was aiding the local people in seeing their own privilege of actively serving Jehovah God and Christ Jesus out of love for the Higher Powers and that the biggest work of “going forth” would be done by the very ones set free in each country.
Immediately following the address, the large, white envelopes containing the diplomas, class pictures, and other gifts were handed out to the graduates as they were called up individually. Mr. Knorr pointed out the various foreign fields that would be covered by the class. Names once strange, such as Surinam, Hashemite Kingdom, Thailand and others, were now commonplace and all were anxious to get to their new assignments. To show the gratitude and appreciation felt by the student body to all who made it possible for the special training they received, one of their number presented a letter to the Society’s president which was unanimously adopted by the class. In part the letter said:
“We resolve to use our training faithfully in our assignments, to remain close to God’s organization, and to be willing servants anxious to be obedient to his will. We will endeavor to set a good example in faith and right works and good conduct for our brothers and persons of good will, and will serve Jehovah God unwaveringly as a ‘theatrical spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men’.—1 Cor. 4:9, NW.”
ADVANCE PREPARATION, AND SATURDAY’S PROGRAM
Graduation exercises for Gilead have become a highly interesting event now. Down through the various classes attendance has been creeping up, until at present these gatherings are comparable to a good-sized district assembly. For weeks prior to graduation, diligent efforts were put forth by the students and members of the farm family along with the local congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses of Ithaca to obtain rooming accommodations for the expected multitude of attenders. Private homes, hotels and tourist homes alike opened their doors to welcome the visitors. Many of these have become close friends with witnesses who have come regularly to their homes during past graduations. The publicity department, too, was busy visiting the neighboring newspapers in Ithaca, Auburn and Syracuse. Pictures of the students from foreign countries along with interesting write-ups appeared announcing the coming graduation date and place, all of which added to the interest and general knowledge of people of good will in and around Ithaca. As Saturday, July 21, rolled around 2,783 accommodations were available, with many more being telephoned in by the hour. Arrangements had also been made for a tent and trailer camp nearby, and several outside toilets had to be set up for the comfort of the visitors.
Saturday evening found the weather cool and delightful for the program that was to come. The 3,000 chairs neatly arranged around the library building Shiloah were soon filled. Coats came off and blankets were spread and hundreds of others were comfortably seated on the surrounding grassy, green slopes. An audience of 5,133 attentively listened as loud-speakers carried the Watchtower discussion “The Place of God’s Word in Our Lives” within the hearing of all. Following this a musical program was put on by the students, adding to the enjoyment of all present. After the evening session was over latecomers who found the grand total of 3,078 accommodations all taken began looking for space to sleep for the night. In addition 225 members of the Brooklyn and Toronto Bethel homes were accommodated at Gilead itself. Soon the hay barn was filled, other buildings filled rapidly, and the more hardy ones spread out their beds under the big, friendly trees on the campus grounds. In short time all was quiet and only the croaking of the frogs could be heard.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING
After Sunday morning’s graduation exercises were over, the many thousands of a mixed multitude scattered out to take in the sights of the spacious grounds of Gilead School. An orderly rush was made for the cafeteria, where the lines were increased from four to eight to cater to hungry mouths. Huge stocks of sandwiches, salads, soft drinks and ice-cream bars were depleted in short time with everyone satisfied and ready for the afternoon of relaxing recreation. The many buildings of Gilead were open to inspection by the visitors. Constant streams toured the grounds visiting the big dairy barn with its prize Holstein cows, the nearby cheese factory, the greenhouse, the mill where the machine for making puffed wheat and puffed rice is found. From there one could go over to the excellent library “Shiloah”, which contains well over 8,000 Bible references and volumes. Here the many questions concerning special books, the photostatic copy of the famous “Dead-Sea” Hebrew manuscript scroll, the “Writer’s Inkhorn” of the type used in Ezekiel’s day, and various doctrinal points were discussed and answered. But most enjoyable of all for many was the chance to meet with the brothers and students and just talk about the field service work and new assignments.
Evening came around all too soon, but for the four thousand who remained it was a unique one. The graduates were invited up to the grassy podium to tell of their experiences and impressions of Gilead school days. They talked of their new assignments in Japan, Siam, Fiji Islands, Turkey and Jerusalem. One of the graduates was a little worried about finding a cookbook in Japanese and learning how to eat with “chopsticks”. Another was wondering which language of five or six spoken in her assignment she should start on first. A number in the audience were trying to picture one of the sisters speaking Japanese with her southern drawl. This last meeting of graduates and visitors was brought to a close with some words of admonition from the school’s president. While they had thoroughly enjoyed their stay at Gilead and the pleasant association together, now they were to be ever mindful of the seriousness of the times. Serious, too, as to their responsibilities of service and the moral responsibility all have in conducting themselves aright in these last days. In foreign fields a right example will further aid the people of good will to see the truth and be brought out from their prison houses of darkness to join in saying “Go forth”.
Mr. Knorr announced he would soon see many of the graduates in their various assignments on his trip to London, Paris, Germany and other European assemblies yet this year. Then to the joy of all present he announced that he hoped to see all who could attend in Washington, D. C., October 12-14, 1951, at an assembly there. The many conventioners from England would be invited to tell of the manifold blessings due from the European assemblies. Another blessed event to look forward to, Praise Jah!
This terminated another Gilead graduation. With happy hearts the 12 buses filled with passengers and the 1,587 carloads of witnesses were soon on their way home. Visitors from all over the states had attended, some of whom were to continue on to London, England, for the big convention there. Most of the provinces of Canada were represented too, license plates of cars showing from Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia and others. All felt greatly refreshed and better equipped to “say to the prisoners, Go forth”.
[Picture on page 589]