All 653 members of the graduating Class of 2010 at Hope College had crossed the stage, but there was still one degree to present, and it was a surprise.

Provost Dr. James Boelkins, who had just finished announcing all of the members of the class one by one, received an honorary degree presented in recognition of his service to Hope, which will conclude with his retirement at the end of the school year. The award, a Doctor of Letters, was kept a secret until its presentation.

“Jim Boelkins is the consummate provost. He has led Hope to new levels of academic distinction,” said Dr. James Bultman, president of Hope College. “Thank you, Jim, for all you have done to make Hope College a better place. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Boelkins has served at Hope since 2002. A 1966 Hope graduate, he has worked in higher education administration for 39 years, including 25 years as the chief academic officer at Hope and other institutions.

He has valued the opportunity to play a role in strengthening the mission of the college: “to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society through academic and co-curricular programs of recognized excellence in the liberal arts and in the context of the historic Christian faith.”

Boelkins identifies his most important contributions as the recruitment of more than 80 outstanding faculty, supporting the excellent teaching and scholarship by faculty, supporting the mission of Hope, participating in the design of new and renovated academic facilities, and the restoration of the Skinner organ in Dimnent Memorial Chapel. He has also emphasized building even closer ties between the academic, campus ministries and student life programs to create a more holistic experience for students.

The college’s students presented him with a special award in recognition of his service to Hope during Homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 10.

He has been active in professional associations and local organizations. Among other activities, he chairs the Great Lakes Colleges Association Deans’ Council, the Advisory Committee of the Van Andel Institute Graduate School, chairs the Board of Directors of Wedgwood Christian Services, and is active in his church.

He and his wife, Barbara, have three grown children, Matthew, Jonathan and Melissa.