The first week of September brought an atmosphere of excitement to Grebel as a new batch of Grebelites arrived at the residence, joined by their parents and greeted by enthusiastic upper-year students. A spirit of new possibilities could be felt in the air—a spirit that has been gracing Grebel’s doorstep for the past 60 years.
Jessica Reesor Rempel (BA 2011) has been appointed Conrad Grebel University College’s new Director of Student Services. She has already served with distinction in the roles of Interim Chaplain, Chaplain, and, for the past few months, as Acting Director. Jessie brings a wealth of experience in pastoral care, social services, and organizational leadership.
At the end of each year, several graduating residence students are invited to reflect on their time at Grebel and offer words of wisdom to the rest of the Grebel community at Chapel or Community Supper. Here are several of this year’s reflections.
At the end of April, Grebel’s graduating class of 2023 celebrated the end of their university journeys with one of the College’s beloved traditions—Convocation. Although many students had yet to finish final exams and papers, the afternoon served as a congratulations recognizing the hard work, drive, and dedication that undergraduate and graduate students had put toward their degree. Alongside their peers, families, faculty, and staff, graduates were blessed into their new beginnings with a heartfelt goodbye and warm wishes.
It’s been a busy but fun term. Members of Student Council and Larger Leadership Team organized events for various facets of the Grebel community, including mocktails, upper suppers, an Easter egg hunt and weekly events like apartment socials and games nights.
Winter 2022 has been quite the exciting term for residence students! Due to the Omicron wave of the pandemic, we experienced a bit of a slow start. However, Student Council did everything we could to foster a warm, welcoming, and joyful environment for both new and returning students. Among other things, this included door decorating, online games nights, outdoor winter activities, and walk-a-mile in small groups. As restrictions eased, we hosted larger events such as Pi Day, a Bob Ross paint night, a games night, and the classic roommate challenge. Additionally, the Associate program has been exuberant this term as we can once again welcome Off-Campus Associates to Community Supper and into all areas of the building. Associates have also enjoyed multiple community-building campfires, a pizza lunch, and a BBQ potluck.
As part of Grebel’s mission to nurture faith in service to church and society, the College has woven many threads of opportunity into its programming. While Grebel students are on diverse career paths, those who want to build church leadership skills find ways to develop those gifts.
At the end of each winter term, one of Grebel’s beloved traditions takes place. Several graduating students are invited to reflect on their university and Grebel experiences. Presented either at Chapel or Community Supper, these times of sharing are heartfelt and often emotional. The excerpts printed here offer a taste of Grebel’s impact on student lives.
With excitement and trepidation, Grebel returned to an in-person Convocation service (that was also livestreamed) after a two-year hiatus. This April 10th event marked tremendous achievements and celebrated the hard work and dedication of Grebel’s graduate, academic, and residence students. It was an ending, but also the beginning of a new journey.
On a gorgeous Saturday in July, Chaplain Ed Janzen led a dozen students and a few staff on a biking and learning tour of the Queen’s Bush area in Ontario, which includes Glen Allen, Macton, and Wallenstein. This area was the location of a Black Settlement, beginning in the 1840s, before Mennonites acquired the land.
After an extensive search, Conrad Grebel University College has named Beverley Fretz as Director of Student Services. The search committee found Beverley to be authentic, energetic, and engaging, with obvious enthusiasm for Grebel and its mission and values.
In June of 1999, Ed Janzen began his role as Chaplain at Grebel, with experience, energy, and passion. He came with a desire to serve the College and with the perspective that service needs to be relational from beginning to end.
This year, the Grebel community was excited to welcome Reema Alhamad into the family. Reema is a bright young woman filled with hopes and dreams—a person who sees a light even on the darkest of days. She grew up in Syria, but the war forced her family to flee to Jordan, where they were caged into a disconsolate refugee camp.
With the Grebel residence at half capacity and in-person interactions restricted by varying amounts depending on provincial lockdown regulations, the winter 2021 term will not soon be forgotten. Students living in the Grebel residence and apartments, as well as at home, stretched their creativity to find meaningful ways of connecting, growing friendships, and building a sense of community.
One of Grebel’s most treasured traditions is honoured at the end of every winter term when several graduating students are asked to reflect on their university and Grebel experiences. Again this year, students shared their reflections over Zoom, with many students, staff, and faculty in attendance. These excerpts offer a taste of Grebel’s impact on student lives.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, music directors have been driven to change from a traditional in-person format to a far more challenging online experience. However, technology has allowed the music ensembles to practice and learn together, record individual students, and compile those tracks to create beautiful music.
Though this year’s convocation took place through a screen, it still held excitement and appreciation for the graduates. This year’s speakers also included a dose of the reality and state of today’s world, but not without providing some much needed hope and inspiration.
While most Grebel residents moved home, they continued to engage in the community of support they had built up over the past year. Many student committees and leadership teams continued to meet virtually to plan activities for the College community.
As Grebel’s bustling halls were quieted at the end of March, a few people stayed behind in the empty halls. The Campus Hosts (known in past years as Senior Residents), Faith and Colin Friesen, and their two-year-old daughter Ronen, have lived in their Grebel residence apartment through the transition.
It’s likely one of the most awkward moments and places in the world—standing in what will become one of the most intimate, vulnerable places in your life, your residence room—waiting, on either side of the door, to meet a stranger with whom you may spend significant time. Is the risk born in that moment worth the world of opportunity and possibility that a university education affords? Time and experience say, “Yes!”
In a time when fast food dominates university culture and cafeterias focus on eat-and-run, multiple options, 24/7 service, and seating that allows one to sit alone, Grebel’s dining practices are intentionally different.
The parking lot was full of anxious and excited incoming students, and I knew that one of them would be my roommate for the next eight months. Despite being nervous about the idea of sharing a room, my sister’s stories reassured me that having a roommate could be great.
At Grebel, we recognize that gender inclusivity is an important element of community members’ mental wellbeing. Gender inclusivity means that we recognize that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary of male and female. Simply, we recognize that some people are transgender or non-binary. Therefore, our facility and services strive to be mindful of all gender identities and expressions.
As a part of Grebel’s off-campus Associate program, we live in off-campus housing, while still participating in student council events, building relationships with the residents, and holding leadership roles.
During the February Reading Week, nineteen Grebel students embarked on a service trip to Marianna, Florida, to volunteer with Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS) in working to repair homes damaged during Hurricane Michael in 2018.
A beloved tradition at both the Winter End-of-Term Chapel service and the Community Supper prior to the Banquet is when several graduating students are asked to reflect on their university and Grebel experience. This year, students shared their reflections over Zoom videoconferencing, as nearly 100 students, staff, and faculty listened in.
On March 11, three Grebel students competed in the C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest. The contest invites students from Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges and universities across Canada and the United States to speak on peace issues.
The University of Waterloo has nurtured an environment where opportunities for experiential learning are vast and varied. Fully engaged in this trend of learning beyond the classroom, Grebel offers students a chance to participate in leadership roles, music ensembles, and volunteering. These opportunities complement in-class learning and allow students to link their studies with life experiences.
Over 100 talented and dedicated Grebel students mounted a highly successful, student-driven, completely sold-out musical over a fun-filled March weekend. The crowds loved Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and so did our students. Congratulations to all involved!
A treasured tradition at Grebel centres on the celebration of all students who have been connected to the College over their university career. Whether these students lived in residence or associated, took courses in Music or Peace and Conflict Studies, or achieved master’s degrees in Theological Studies or Peace and Conflict Studies, the Grebel Convocation Celebration is a time to acknowledge the achievements and connections of each individual. On April 14, a crowd of around 400 friends and family members marked the end of a journey and the beginning of a new path for about 55 undergraduates and 20 graduates in attendance.
In keeping with the long tradition of Reading Week service trips, 14 Grebel students used their February study break to help repair flood-damaged homes, learn skills, and build relationships through Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).
Hebron Hailu Gabre-Marian’s (BASC 2007) first contact with Grebel was during a University of Waterloo Open House day in March 2002 when he was checking out the Mechanical Engineering program. His dad, knowing a little about Mennonites, convinced him to swing by Grebel for a quick tour. He remembers his tour guide fondly (Eric Lepp BA 2005) and thought, “if there are more people like this guy at Grebel, then this will be a fun place to live.”
Debra Worth (BA 2001) grew up in Kitchener, Ontario with her home backing onto the train tracks of Victoria Park. Neither of her parents had gone to university and she didn’t expect to go either. And if she did, why would she live in residence when her home was minutes away?
Trisha (Niemeyer) Ashworth (BASC 2005) lives in the greater Toronto, Ontario area. She is a professional engineer, a mother of two teenagers, a partner to John David, and an engaged member of Rouge Valley Mennonite church.
Grebel and its Student Services department has a unique vision for residence life. It includes expectations for participation, encouragement to explore questions of significance, involvement in chapels and community suppers, engagement with faculty and staff, and accountability to one another for creating a hospitable environment.