The faculty member who is presented the “Hope Outstanding Professor Educator” (H.O.P.E.) Award by Hope College’s graduating class during Commencement doesn’t normally give a speech, but this year was an exception.
As it happened, the recipient of the award when it was announced on Sunday, May 3, Tim Schoonveld, was also the scheduled speaker. Following his unexpected additional role on the ceremony stage, he presented the address “Into What World Are You Being Sent?,” exploring how the graduating seniors can choose lives of substance in a world that stresses appearances.
“I would contend this world should be filled with people who are willing to be the person God uniquely created them to be,” said Schoonveld, who is an assistant professor of kinesiology, co-director of athletics and associate director of the Center for Faithful Leadership. “Where we seek to serve others over self. Where we seek to give more than get. Where we focus on what is right, not on what feels right. A world focused on meaning, purpose, sacrifice and others. A world that will bring fulfillment that I believe lasts a lifetime.”
The largest graduating class in the college’s history, totaling 766 seniors, participated in the ceremony, held at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium. The class consisted of students from throughout the United States as well as foreign nations including Canada, China, El Salvador, Honduras, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands and South Korea.
It was the college’s 150th Commencement. Hope, which received its charter from the State of Michigan on May 14, 1866, will be celebrating its sesquicentennial across the forthcoming 2015-16 school year.
Schoonveld shared his personal goal of transforming the world. “Some people laugh it off and think, ‘Changing the world. Yeah, that can’t happen.’ Yet the older I get the more I realize I think it’s truly an attainable goal,” he said. “I think if we impact one person at a time and then we multiply it out, I think we do change the world.”
“Yet as I prepared for today and have looked back on my life, I have come to believe that there is one fundamental obstacle before each of us in our journey to change the world,” he said. “What I see standing in our way is our concern with how we look to the world. In his book ‘Scary Close,’ author Donald Miller writes of this and talks of living in a world of applause.”
To counter the temptation to seek approval, Schoonveld recommended that the graduates take three steps: to remember that all people matter; to humble oneself and serve others; and to seek Jesus and his plan for their lives.
He reflected on Isaiah 6:6-8, in which a seraph removed sin by touching coal to the writer’s lips, and God called for someone to serve in His name. The graduates’ experience at Hope, he said, prepared them for their own journeys in response to the call.
“Just as Isaiah was touched by the coals of God, I believe that you’ve been touched by the ‘coals of Hope College.’ I believe that your life has been transformed, you’ve been cleansed, you’ve been made new. You’re different than when you came in. I believe that God’s standing here today and He’s saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go forth for me?’,” Schoonveld said.
“And you have a choice. And the world needs you,” he said. “My prayer is that you will choose to enter a world of Hope and transform the lives of those around you for Jesus Christ.
Strategies for living a life of deeper meaning were also central to the college’s Baccalaureate service in Dimnent Memorial Chapel earlier in the day. Gerald Pillay, who is vice chancellor and rector of Liverpool Hope University in England, delivered the sermon “Walk worthily of the calling by which you were called,” reflecting on Ephesians 4:1-6.
“This is a rich text with very important messages for all who graduate today from this distinguished college we call Hope,” he said. “It is about how Christians should live in the world.”
Calling, Pillay explained, is not necessarily one’s employment, but instead a sense of deeper purpose that one must be open to understanding.
“The ‘hearing’ is a personal encounter that requires you in your busy and active life to be still and find time to contemplate; quiet-time to pray and to listen,” he said. “Sometimes God uses the wise counsel of friends or family; sometimes He uses circumstances through which we must struggle. To know your calling requires discernment; more than the head knowledge or the high skills training that one gets by successfully gaining a degree in a subject or discipline.”
Pillay further considered the passage’s emphasis on how to live one’s calling. “In other words, take care that your actual tone and bearing answers to the great in-bred conviction that you belong to God,” he said.
The passage, Pillay said, explores the importance of three characteristics: humility, with gratitude for God’s forgiveness and graciousness; selfless love for others, a concept known in Greek as agape; and a sense of peace stemming from fellowship with God.
The combination of calling and the characteristics, he said, would enable the graduates to live into the historic mission of their alma mater.
“Our first universities in the west both in Europe and here in the U.S. were church foundations,” Pillay said. “Many of these older universities (Oxford and Cambridge in England, the Sorbonne in France, and then 500 years later Harvard, Yale and Princeton here) have lost or marginalized their founding Christian vision. But places like Hope College remain part of the oldest university tradition and seek to keep alive a distinctive education philosophy informed by Christian moorings.”
“You are ambassadors of Hope,” Pillay said. “You are urged to walk worthy of the calling that you have been called. To walk humbly and to be longsuffering; to walk in love—agape that enriches all our pursuits and ambitions. To be at peace with God so that, in a world riddled with troubles of all kinds, we may be truly peacemakers.”