posted May 9, 2010

Graduates Encouraged to Seek Compound Interest in Living

“Invest immediately, invest wisely and invest for the long term.”

The ideas work as financial advice, but Hope College Commencement speaker Rob Pocock had a larger purpose in mind for the members of the graduating Class of 2010: a model for how to make the most of their lives across all the years to come.

“What are you going to do to be a good steward of the countless investments that have been made in your life culminating in what we pause to celebrate today?” he asked.

Pocock, who is an adjunct assistant professor of communication at the college and associate vice president of communications at Priority Health, delivered the address “Compound Interest” on Sunday, May 9, at Holland Municipal Stadium.

More than 650 graduating seniors participated in the ceremony, the college’s 145th. The class consisted of students from throughout the United States as well as Belgium, Brazil, Ghana, Japan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Korea, Tanzania and Uganda.

Prior to the Commencement address, the graduating class presented the 46th “Hope Outstanding Professor Educator” (H.O.P.E.) Award to Dr. Jesus Montaño, associate professor of English. The award, first given in 1965, is presented by the graduating class to the professor who they feel epitomizes the best qualities of the Hope College educator.

After all of the graduating seniors had been honored, Hope surprised Provost Dr. James Boelkins with conferral of an honorary degree in recognition of his years of service to Hope. Boelkins, who had announced all of the graduates during the ceremony, is retiring at the end of the school year after serving as provost since 2002.

Pocock demonstrated the effectiveness of compound interest—when interest earned is added to the principal and itself earns interest--in a hands-on way, sharing a bucket of 653 $1 coins—one for each member of the class. If invested immediately at 10 percent interest, he noted, the 653 coins would be worth more than $109,000 in 50 years.

He encouraged the graduates to think of their lives across the next half century in the same terms.

“Now, I’ve set a benchmark for what kind of compound interest you can expect from this coin. What sort of compound interest are you going to expect from… no, no, no, no, no, what kind of compound interest are you going to demand… from your diploma?,” he said. “Now, while the formula for calculating compound interest on a diploma probably isn’t quite as easily defined as that for a coin, the steps I suggest remain the same: invest immediately, invest wisely and invest for the long term.”

Just as the graduates would do well to be good stewards of the material things in life, he said, so should they be exceptional stewards “of the things in life that really matter.” Accordingly, he asked them to invest in all dimensions of their lives, outlining four steps.

First, he said, “Promise yourself that you’ll identify ways to earn compound interest intellectually. Don’t let the last good book that you read be the one that Doc Hemenway assigned you in one of his amazing classes. Embrace a genuine curiosity, challenge yourself to learn something new each day.”

Second, Pocock said, “Promise yourself that you’ll live a lifestyle that seeks compound interest physically. Don’t let Coach Van Wieren’s Health Dynamics class be the last time you intentionally think about good nutrition and regular exercise. Moderation is an incredible habit that will provide a wonderful return on investment.”

Third, he said, “Promise yourself that you will earn compound interest socially. Don’t let Dance Marathon be the last time that you express your love for people that you’ve never even met. Our world craves servant leaders. And I’m excited to see the many ways that each of you gives back to the communities in which you live.”

And fourth, he said, “Promise yourself that you’ll earn compound interest spiritually. Don’t let last Sunday’s Gathering be the last worship service you attend for a while simply because all the churches where you live are ‘boring.’ Faith must be nurtured and nourished. A vibrant faith impacts every aspect of our lives as we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neighbor as we love ourselves.”

The graduation activities began in the morning with the college’s Baccalaureate service in Dimnent Memorial Chapel, during which the Rev. Kate Davelaar, who is a chaplain on the campus ministries staff at the college, delivered the sermon “Keeping Your Back to the Future.”

She built her message around Isaiah 30:18-21 and John 14:5-7. She cited both passages for the way that they explain that God provides guidance for the journey through life.

Davelaar derived her title from the Old Testament passage and what she described as the ancient Hebrew perspective of considering God’s relationship to their ancestors—Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jacob and others—to inform their lives.

“In some of our translations of the Hebrew text, we find references to ‘the coming days’—referring to the future—a literal translation of the Hebrew, however, would be ‘in the behind days,’” she said. “Because the Hebrews faced the past, the days yet to come were behind them. The Hebrews, in a very literal sense, backed into the future.”

“When you keep your back to the future a few things happen,” Davelaar said. “One, you are constantly aware of God’s faithfulness. Looking back gives us the perspective that God has carried us through before and this bolsters our ability to trust that God will indeed carry us through again.”

“This bolstering is essential, because the other thing that keeping our back to the future does is requires us to trust,” she said. She likened such trust to how essential it would be to have a reliable guide pointing out obstacles if one were literally walking backward.

The New Testament, she noted, provides that guide in Jesus Christ, quoted in John 14:6 as saying “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

“Keeping our back to the future and our eyes on Christ helps us to drown out the persistent voices that lure us to believe the truth of another way—that we are to do whatever it takes to get ahead, be the best, the smartest, the wealthiest, the most beautiful,” she said.

“The Word says, however, that when you turn to the left or when you turn to the right you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’” she said. “It is less about questioning whether it’s this job, that program, this person, or that city, and more about trusting that you do know the way—and that Way is not simply a path, but a person.”