Dr. Virginia Beard of the Hope College faculty is dedicated to helping students make the most of their education, and as a long-distance runner who has participated in multiple marathons she is no stranger to the demands and benefits of hard work and perseverance.
Her commitment and experiences shaped her advice for the members of the incoming Class of 2019 during the college’s opening convocation on Sunday, Aug. 30, setting the pace for the college years to come—and beyond. The event, held in the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse, marked the formal beginning of the college’s 154th academic year.
Approximately 2,000 attended, primarily new students and their families. The new students moved in on Friday and are participating in orientation activities through Monday. Fall-semester classes begin on Tuesday.
Beard, an associate professor of political science and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, encouraged the students to be purposeful in how they approach all of the choices and challenges they will encounter not only in college but in all of life. She titled her remarks “Living a ‘Wild Life’: Attention and Intentionality,” phrasing derived from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day,” which asks the reader, “[W]hat is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
“In contrast to going through the motions without much forethought, what if we lived our lives full of attention and intentionality?” Beard asked. “Everything we do would then be done with an acute consciousness, fulfilling the core values that we find most essential (such as empathy, self-awareness, curiosity and responsibility—values around which Hope College has geared courses and co-curricular activities so that you leave this place in four or so years more deeply formed in these values). What if life was built on a type of paying attention that ensures we do not waste the ‘one wild life’ we are given?”
As the students make their journeys, she advised that they concern themselves with the truly important; to pursue truth; to be curious; to be grateful; to be honest and walk in humility; to know themselves, including their strengths and weaknesses; to live in grace with themselves and others; and to work hard—sometimes even with a marathon effort.
“Somewhere between miles 18-21, a marathon starts to feel REALLY difficult,” Beard said. “Your body is tired, and your mind starts to play with your heart. The race becomes really, really hard work—mentally, emotionally and physically. I have heard it said that a marathon has two halves—the first 20 miles, and the last six.”
“Your college journey as well as the rest of your life will have such times of hard work, that last six miles,” she said. “Maybe it will be the next few weeks as you adjust to being away from home, learn to interact with classmates or hallmates from different cultures, develop new study skills to succeed at the higher level of academic rigor offered by college, figure out how to juggle the demands of being first a full-time student with your other activities, jobs and friends, or push through to the finish line that is exam week.”
As she has experienced in running, she also noted that it is important—and rewarding—to persevere, even if the results aren’t what was first envisioned.
“Sometimes you push through to the outcome you set out to attain, and other times you have to turn another direction,” Beard said. “Perhaps for you hard experiences will lead you to new paths in your major midway through your college career, or seeking out new activities when the sport you are playing no longer fits your goals or investing in new friendships or activities in your second, third or even fourth year at Hope because you are carefully and attentively choosing to engage with the people and experiences that fit your goals and calling.”