Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet

Hope College formally launched its 151st academic year on Sunday, Aug. 26, welcoming the incoming Class of 2016. In the Opening Convocation address, Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, who is the John H. and Jeanne M. Jacobson Professor of Psychology, presented “Learning in a Life that Matters.”

“What I invite you to think about is your vocation of learning at Hope,” vanOyen-Witvliet said, “Not learning to live a life that will matter someday (as if real life begins after graduation), but learning in a life that already matters now.”  Hope’s mission, she said, is established “to support the ongoing discovery of how to live out your vocation as an individual, in community.  Learning is the calling of students.  Learning is the vocation of our college community.”

Approximately 2,000, primarily new students and their families, attended the event, which was held in the college’s Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse.

The college has registered more than 900 freshmen this fall, topping last year’s record of 848.  The new students moved in on Friday, and returning students began moving in on Sunday.  Fall semester classes start on Tuesday.
The students, vanOyen-Witvliet noted, are joining a community whose dedication to fostering their discernment extends campus-wide.

“Hope is made up of people who get up every day to create the best possible community of learning,” she said.  “Together, administrators, librarians, cooks, secretaries, trustees, coaches, directors, chaplains, custodians, professors, officers, counselors and many more play their parts in making Hope a learning community that is concerned with your flourishing here and now…  and ultimately when all things are made new.”

What that means for the students across their years at Hope and how they might themselves focus their experience, she noted, is reflected in an overview from the college titled “Graduates anchored in Hope”:  “Hope graduates are educated to think about life’s most important issues with clarity, wisdom and a deep understanding of foundational commitments of the historic Christian faith.  They are prepared to communicate effectively, bridging boundaries that divide human communities.  They are agents of hope who live faithfully into their vocations.  Hope graduates make a difference in the world.”

A key step in the process, vanOyen-Witvliet said, is for the students to think in terms of calling:  to discern where needs, faithfulness, talents, and interests intersect.

“Frederick Buechner (in ‘Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC’) says that ‘The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done…The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,’” vanOyen-Witvliet said.

She described six “signposts” that provide clues in discerning calling, a listing shared in the book “The Will of God as a Way of Life” by 1972 Hope graduate Dr. Gerald Sittser, who is a professor of theology at Whitworth University:  What motivates you?  What are your talents or gifts?  What life experiences form you?  Opportunity, with its open doors and closed doors.  Conversations with a discerning community.  And joyful service—Buechner’s “deep gladness.”

Hope, she noted, would provide numerous opportunities for students to explore how the pieces might fit for them, and even, perhaps, to be surprised by the result.

“Beware, attending classes, conferences, and the Critical Issues Symposium could inspire a new love for history, political science, philosophy, poetry, statistics, piano performance, chemistry, another language, theology or psychology,” vanOyen-Witvliet said.  “You could realize that you have gifts in areas you hadn’t explored before.  You might learn about communities you didn’t know existed.  And, you might see the world’s needs.  You just might discover a calling you hadn’t planned on.  It happens.”