Bishara Awad, a 1964 graduate of Dakota Wesleyan University, speaks during the 2011 DWU commencement ceremony in the Corn Palace on Saturday. Awad spearheaded the creation of the Bethlehem Bible College in Jerusalem. (Austin Kaus/Republic)

Bishara E. Awad was only 9 years old when his father was killed by a stray bullet during the Arab/Israeli conflict. But, 63 years later, he came to Mitchell to tell Dakota Wesleyan University graduates to embrace the unexpected moments that occur.

“Life is full of surprises and changes and we should never be afraid to change,” Awad said.

Awad delivered the commencement address Saturday at the Corn Palace as part of the DWU commencement ceremony.

A total of 207 degrees were conferred during the ceremony. Of the 207, 127 were Bachelor of Arts degrees of a variety of disciplines, 66 were Associate of Arts degrees and 14 were Master of Arts degrees.

After completing high school in Jerusalem, Awad earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics with a minor in chemistry in 1964. After working as a teacher, he started Bethlehem Bible College in 1979 with a vision and $20.

Today, the school is fully accredited and teaches approximately 170 students each year. Bethlehem Bible College has two campuses, the original campus in Bethlehem in the central West Bank, and a daughter college, the Galilee Bible College, in Galilee.

Bethlehem is considered to be the birthplace of both Jesus and King David. It is now a Palestine-controlled city just five miles south of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

Both Awad and William L. Bates Jr. were awarded honorary doctorates during the ceremony. Awad received a doctor of humane letters degree and Bates received a doctor of divinity degree.

Bates was credited for helping to unite the North and South Dakota Conferences and create the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Bates currently works at the Sioux Falls First United Methodist Church.

“You have served the United Methodist Church in the Dakotas with compassion, leadership and humility, and your commitment to ministry has positively influenced countless lives,” Duffett told Bates during the ceremony.

Dan Miller, director of theatre at DWU, was awarded the Clarke Award for Teaching Excellence.

The Corn Palace was packed with family and friends for the event. While most of the ceremony was traditional and formal, a brief moment of spontaneity came when Dr. Michael Catalano, professor of mathematics at DWU and part of Saturday’s Wesleyan Brass group, used his tuba to perform a piece of “The Imperial March” from the “Star Wars” films when Seth LaBounty crossed the stage to receive his degree in religion and philosophy.

The crowd laughed and applauded in approval as a grinning LaBounty, who was awarded the William B. and Mary Mallory Medal, an academic honor, raised his fist in the air.

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