Hope College Commencement speakers John and Julie Fiedler found numerous ways to highlight their anchor analogy during their address on Sunday, May 9, including visually.
Shortly after beginning their speech, they
discarded their black academic robes and continued while
clad as sailors. "Since everyone seemed to be dressing up
today, we decided 19th century sailor costumes are pretty
appropriate outfits for the commencement speech at a college
whose symbol is an anchor and whose athletic teams are known
as the Flying Dutchmen and the Flying Dutch," said Julie
Fiedler, who like John is an adjunct assistant professor of
English at Hope.
In keeping with the nautical theme, the Fiedlers
titled their address "Anchors Aweigh." They presented their
"Top 5 Rules for the Flying Dutch of 1999" as the graduates
prepared to sail into their lives after Hope.
Approximately 4,000 attended commencement, held at
Holland Municipal Stadium. About 590 Hope seniors
participated, including graduates from throughout the United
States and as far away as Bulgaria, Kuwait and Peru.
In addition to honoring the graduates during the
ceremony, the college also presented a Distinguished Service
Award to Professor Jose Alfredo Zepeda Garrido, rector of
the Autonomous University of Queretaro. Zepeda played a
central role in establishing the on-going exchange program
between Hope and the university.
Also as with the graduates, the event marked both
an ending and a beginning for the Fiedlers, who are leaving
the college after their 13 years on the faculty. John
Fiedler plans to pursue a career as an elementary teacher,
and Julie Fiedler as an artist.
In presenting their five rules, the Fiedlers
shared the story of the Flying Dutchman captain of legend,
who because of a rash oath was cursed to repeat an
unsuccessful journey around the Cape of Good Hope for
eternity, bringing bad luck to those who encountered him.
Julie Fiedler noted that "We're proposing a better breed of
Flying Dutch: people a lot closer to the way you guys
John Fiedler said, "As you cast off, consider
these rules and you should have no trouble avoiding a
lifetime of beating your head against the same old waves and
making those around you miserable."
Their first rule was "Count Your Blessings and
Give Yourself Credit." Julie Fiedler noted, "Even if you're
feeling very anxious about venturing onto the high seas, you
need to recognize how lucky you are, and how much you've
The second rule was "Look Before You Leap."
"Before you exit the mother ship, make sure you've
planned your next tour of duty," John Fiedler said. "My
advice is to seek complex, diverse environments. In other
words, choose a ship where you'll meet the whole creation
and grow in the process."
"America's becoming more diverse, and you can play
an important role in determining whether it becomes a
culture of racial and ethnic inclusion or devolves into a
society of separation," he said.
The third rule was "Get Ready to Change Course."
"Once you haul anchor, you need to be flexible
about your destination," Julie Fiedler said. Together, the
Fiedlers encouraged the graduates to "Commit to the kind of
continuous learning that will keep you alive, vital,
engaged, creative, spiritually attuned, interested and
interesting, and connected to your community."
The fourth rule was "Lighten Up, Don't Clam Up."
"Obviously, coping with the kind of change your
life will demand will be a lot easier if you have a sense of
humor," Julie Fiedler said. "Believe me, if we weren't
laughing as we argued about how to write this speech, our
marriage would have suffered."
"But without the argument, our speech would have
suffered," John Fiedler said. "So don't clam up, speak up.
Seek a ship where your voice will be heard."
The final rule was "Love Your Mates."
"As you've seen recently, in locations far and
near, hatred is a deadly threat to individuals and whole
communities. It destroys lives, and the threat of violence
erupting from hatred can destroy the quality of life," Julie
Fiedler said. "What I'm about to say will sound incredibly
obvious, but it bears repeating: you can love people, even
people very different from yourself, and love God at the
"And when you find people who love you in an
exceptional way, hold onto those friends for dear life,
whether they're a parent or partner or professor or spouse
or mentor or minister," she said. "Love can expand your
horizons and make your voyage doubly worthwhile. And who
knows all the places you'll go when love plays a part?"
Earlier in the day, the Rev. Frederick Kruithof
delivered the Baccalaureate sermon, "A Living Dog is Better
Than a Dead Lion." The title was based on Ecclesiastes 9:4,
"Anyone who is among the living has hope - for a living dog
is better than a dead lion!" He subtitled the address "Turn
to God, Rejoice in Hope," a phrase inspired by another of
the service's scriptural passages, Romans 12:12a. Kruithof
is the 1998-99 president of the General Synod of the
Reformed Church in America and minister of preaching and
congregational care at Second Reformed Church in Kalamazoo.
He considered the anxiety that the graduates might
be feeling as their time at Hope ended and the next phase of
their lives began. Perhaps, he noted, they were troubled by
campus controversy, or uncertainty concerning employment or
graduate school, or events like the shootings in Littleton,
Colo., or the crisis in Kosovo.
Kruithof said that despite such troubles,
Christians can be optimistic.
"If you are alive, there is reason to be
optimistic," he said. "Just because God is God, the
Christian is always certain that 'the best is yet to be.'"
"In the English usage, the word 'hope' covers a
wide range of meanings, and in fact it is no more widely
apparent than in the Bible," he said. "It springs from the
very covenant between God and his people."
"The promises are made to Abraham and to his kin.
Paul, among others, picks it up when he preaches--in a world
of death and despair--to the church at Corinth and says,
'Death, my friends is swallowed up in victory.'" He added
that Paul "encourages us never to lose heart. Do not lose
hope, he reminds the Corinthians."
"There really are no hopeless situations in life;
only people who have grown hopeless about them," Kruithof
said. "The universe at times may stare blankly at us but
God is still in charge."