Flags whipped above the foreheads of students, faculty and guests in the packed cathedral rows on Tuesday during the annual flag ceremony that begins World Awareness Week at John Brown University.
“The flag ceremony began in 1993 with the idea that we needed to celebrate our international students,” director of international programs, Bill Stevenson, said.
While the University was already celebrating World Awareness Week, Stevenson said that when he had the idea for a flag ceremony in 1993, there were probably fewer than 20 international students on campus. He requested that a flag be purchased for each international student, which cost about $60 each at the time. The following year, the University celebrated its first flag ceremony in chapel.
The international athletes ceremony featured 27 student athletes carrying 17 flags from their respective countries. The ceremony took place before the men’s basketball game versus Arlington Baptist College on Monday.
“It means that international students, even the athletes, have a voice,” Sofia Mendoza Duran, senior women’s basketball player from Colombia, said about the opportunity to represent her country. “They care about us,” she said of the University community.
“Two years ago I was sitting in the stands at the beginning of a men’s basketball game during World Awareness Week, and as they announced the starting lineup for the team, I realized that every starter was from a foreign country that year. I thought ‘why aren’t we recognizing this during world awareness week?’” director of Service and Outreach Ministries Frank Huebert, who helped catalyze the athletic ceremony, said.
“This year we thought it would be great to also include our club athletes from men’s and women’s rugby and ultimate Frisbee teams, as they include a large number of internationals and children of missionaries as well,” Huebert said.
The Tuesday chapel flag ceremony featured 52 flags, including the Christian and U.S. flags, carried by 51 international and American students.
Niklas Derungs, freshman who carried the Swiss flag in the chapel ceremony, said he is honored to represent his country and exhibit his unique heritage.
“I’ve been told that I stick out like a zebra among horses, but I’ve also been told that I blend in with the other Americans,” Derungs said. “But I don’t think I want to blend in. I’d rather stand out and be different.”
“Some take it quite seriously and are very solemn when they’re carrying their flag. Others, like Becky from South Korea, was jubilant and waving it all over the place,” Stevenson said. “There’s mixed emotions all attached to a flag to which students pledge allegiance.”
“It is also a reminder that heaven is not made up of one nation,” Stevenson said. “But it’s made up, as Revelation says, from people of every tribe, of every tongue, of every nation, of every people.”
“When we see the flags going in, like Rod [Reed, chaplain,] said today, it is a pale reflection of what lies before all of us. And for me that’s a happy thought,” Stevenson said.