Twenty-five students were honored at Bhaktivedanta College’s ninth annual graduation ceremony in Radhadesh, Belgium, on June 3rd.
Thirteen received a certificate after one year in the ISKCON college’s theology program, and six received a diploma for two years of study. Meanwhile, six students—Gatikari, Dragana Jagusic, Lalita Manjari Janssens, Manoj Kiran, Ramacandra Kaviraja, and Saradiya Rasa—graduated from the program with a Bachelor’s Degree.
The students were a truly international crowd, hailing from the UK, the US, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Russia, Slovenia, Croatia, India, and of course Belgium.
Their study was a three-part program, including academic, vocational, and devotional elements. On the academic side, students studied world religions, sociology, Sanskrit, classical Indian literature, and more. Their vocational classes included ethics, mediation training, and communications. And on the devotional side, they participated in the traditional temple morning program, contributed their time in service, attended japa meditation retreats, and went on regular public chanting outings. All this at a beautiful medieval castle in the magical countryside of the Ardennes, surrounded by acres of woodland—a place highly conducive to focused study.
The graduation ceremony was held at the Radhadesh Community Hall, and was attended by Yadunandana Swami, who has been principal at Bhaktivedanta College since its inception; and Jaya Krishna Dasa, former executive director of the college, who is now serving as community president in New Vrindaban, USA.
Also present were many members of the Radhadesh community, as well as College trustees Shaunaka Rishi Dasa, Anuttama Dasa, and Hridaya Chaitanya Dasa, who were on hand to pass out the degrees.
The event was particularly poignant for Hridaya Chaitanya—also this year’s GBC chairman and president of ISKCON Radhadesh—who was there to see his son Visvambhar Chaitanya and daughter Lalita Manjari receive a Diploma and Bachelor’s Degree respectively.
Several of the trustees and college administrators spoke at the graduation, including Yadunandana Swami, Hridaya Chaitanya, and Shaunaka Rishi, who likened education to a gift, and told the students that their’s was first class since it had taught them to think for themselves.
In his speech, Anuttama Dasa opined that with both their solid foundation in Krishna consciousness, and their high caliber academic training, the sky was the limit for these students.
“Whatever you set your minds to—whether it be dedicating your lives to the ISKCON institution, or continuing your education and becoming a doctor or lawyer—be your very best for Krishna,” he said.
Students also delivered speeches, including a humorous video presentation. There were also words of gratitude over Skype from graduate Ramachandra Kaviraj Dasa, who is already enrolled in a Master’s Degree program at the University of Florida.
These were followed by a musical theater performance by students along with Parividha Dasa, who has appeared in many mainstream musicals, and served in ISKCON UK’s Bhaktivedanta Players Drama troupe.
From here on it only gets more exciting for Bhaktivedanta College, who will be re-affiliating their theology program with the University of Chester in the UK, after nine years with the University of Lampeter in Wales.
“It’s a better fit for the College, as it moves forward into the future,” says Trustee Anuttama Dasa. “And we won’t be alone—some of the top directors of the program at the University of Lampeter are moving on to Chester with us.”
Bhaktivedanta College also hopes to add two new fully accredited three-year programs in the near future. The first, set to begin in September 2012, will be a degree in education, for devotees who hope to become a teacher either within or outside of ISKCON.
The second, to follow one or two years later, will be in business and management.
“While the theology degree is an excellent program, we realize that there are a lot of students who would love to study at Bhaktivedanta College, but are more interested in a practical career either in ISKCON or in the secular world,” Anuttama says. “So we’re providing more options for them.”
Former Bhaktivedanta College students have gone on to pursue advanced degrees, and have made an impact on the academic world as experts in the fields of Hinduism, Vaishnavism, and religious studies.
“The College is helping to create future generations of devotees who are deeply rooted in our devotional practices and traditions,” says Anuttama. “And at the same time, they are trained academically in the study of theology, education, or management, to be well-rounded members of our society.”