In a world that can seem filled with darkness, students should use their education to find the light, Hope College's incoming Class of 2006 was told on Sunday, Aug. 25.
Speaker Dean Overman addressed a capacity audience of 1,100, primarily new students and their parents, in Dimnent Memorial Chapel during the college's Opening Convocation. Classes in the college's 141st academic year begin on Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Overman, a 1965 Hope graduate who is a senior partner at the law firm of Winston & Strawn in Washington, D.C., and a published author, titled his address "Spera in Deo" (the college's motto, "Hope in God").
"I know that there are many problems in today's world," he said. "The daily headlines describe a troubled, embattled world -- 9-11, war in Afghanistan, terrorism, financial disarray in Latin America, bombings in the Middle East, West Nile virus, possible war with Iraq, polluted water, global warming, corporate scandals, and personal tragedies."
"And sometimes, sometimes, the darkness surrounds our lives," Overman said. "When that happens, the goal is not to get used to the darkness or accept it or try to figure out who is to blame for the darkness."
"The goal is to find some light," he said. "Light is important, because light shoves darkness aside making room for us to experience beauty."
"When I talk about beauty, I am talking about more than physical attractiveness, or truth in academic inquiry, or majestic scenery. I am talking about coherent, underlying good," Overman said. "The source of that beauty is God."
He outlined eight ways for students to improve their academic experience as they conduct their search for the light: "Study early in the day when your brain is rested"; "find a quiet place to study"; "read your assignment before you go to class"; "revise and clarify your notes as soon as possible each day"; "if a professor has well outlined lectures, many of the questions on the examination will come from the lectures"; "avoid mindless reading by making outlines"; "start preparing for exams and term papers well in advance"; and "enjoy college with all your heart."
Overman noted, however, that students need to be deliberate in their effort to apply their learning well. "Education, by itself, is not enough," he said. "Look at the Holocaust. A man could read Goethe, listen to Bach and the next day gas his fellow human beings."
"If we are to be bearers of light which will dispel darkness and make room for beauty, we can't be blinded by the darkness ourselves," he said. "We need to walk in the light. We need to love. Our choices count."
The college's Christian character, he said, provides a valuable perspective for the students. "You will have the best experience at Hope if you take advantage of the opportunities to move toward the life which was the light of mankind. That light still shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it," Overman said.
"What I am saying is build a transforming friendship with God, so that you will gradually move toward more and more beauty, certainly more and more the ability to recognize beauty when it's before you in your life," he said.
The perspective, he said, also presents a challenge.
"The cost of admission to the educational opportunity before you is not just monetary; the cost includes forming convictions and acting upon them," Overman said. "Weave into your education the capacity to make judgments, to form convictions and to act boldly upon the values that you have."
The result, Overman said, will be a life that provides a beacon.
"If you're convinced that you want your life to matter, if you want to act boldly, if you want to make a contribution in the world, to bring light to dispel darkness and make room for beauty, you've come to the right place," he said. "You'll not find a better foundation or anchor than that contained in the motto of this college: Spera in Deo."