Remarks by President John C. Knapp

April 30, 2016
Jack H. Miller Center

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of everyone present, I want to thank the Chapel Choir, conductor Brad Richmond, and organist Huw Lewis for a beautiful and uplifting performance of this original composition honoring our sesquicentennial.

I also want to express our collective gratitude to composer Robert Shafer, who is with us tonight, and to Tommye Leenhouts who commissioned this piece and also helped to plan this year’s 50th class reunion. Incidentally, Tommye was involved in planning the college’s Centennial Celebration activities when she was a senior at Hope. Would the members of the Class of 1966 please stand so that we might recognize you?

Finally let me express my thanks to Hideo Yamazaki for his reflections on the history and value of our international outreach. We are fortunate that Hideo serves on the Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Friends . . . In his novel Remembrance Rock, Carl Sandberg tells of a man who from time to time goes to sit on a rock in the forest and ask of himself, 'Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?'

This may be an apt metaphor for our sesquicentennial year. This has been time to retell the stories that preserve the memory of how God has worked in the life and history of our college. With the Psalmist, we can say, "Many, O Lord, are thy wonderful works . . . they are more than can be numbered." It has also been a time to look to the next 150 years with hope and confidence that God will continue this good work for generations to come.

In many ways we realize that our founders bequeathed to us a vision of the future that has been reiterated and carried forward for a century and a half. I would like us to reflect for a few minutes on several elements of this vision that continues to guide us.

First, Hope is a decidedly Christian college with a distinctive character. We are deeply rooted in the Reformed tradition, yet are intentionally ecumenical and inviting.

The original Articles of Incorporation, 150 years ago, were very clear about this facet of our vision:

 “Although the College is Denominational in character,
  yet students shall be admitted to all its advantages, without 
 respect to their ecclesiastical connections.”

In 1911, The Grand Rapids Press said of Hope,  “While the college unquestionably appeals to younger Holland-Americans . . . it extends its welcome just as heartily to those of other faiths.

By 1938-39, the student body, then still predominately from the Reformed Church in America, included students from traditions including Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopal, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventist, United Brethren, Lutheran, Church of God, Baptist, nondenominational, and no faith at all.

In the beginning, as now, the college sought mature Christians for its faculty, for Hope was to be a place where students from many backgrounds might explore the Christian faith freely and, by God’s grace, voluntarily embrace it as their own.

Those early professors were all from the Reformed tradition, but over the years our faculty has become far more ecumenical, more reflective of the global Christian community. This has allowed us to serve an increasingly diverse student body by providing role models who meet the needs of young adults based on their own traditions, backgrounds, experiences, and interests.

This ecumenism gives the college its particular character within Christian higher education. Traditions represented on our campus range from Catholic to Orthodox to Pentecostal to all major branches of Protestantism. We are unified by a shared faith in Jesus Christ, but should not be surprised when we occasionally find that we don’t always agree on things. This, too, is nothing new. Sixty-six years ago, President Lubbers wrote, “As in any institution of higher learning we occasionally run into a problem of reconciling ultra-liberal and ultra-conservative ideas,” but he stressed, “we try to find a good balance between the two."

This tension makes us a stronger college, a faithful community of learners where differing perspectives allow us to model for our students the art of civil, respectful discourse and demonstrate the value courageous conversations.

Our current strategic plan promises, “Hope College will be an ecumenical Christian community welcoming students, faculty, and staff into a vibrant experience of faith formation and intellectual engagement with the historic Christian faith.” We are developing many initiatives to ensure that we are prepared to support newer generations of students who profess no faith or have little or no experience with the church.

Our founders’ vision also foresaw the enduring value of a Liberal Arts education. The 1866 catalog, indicated that the Academy, which predated the College, had focused primarily on the training of ministers. But “the enlarged design of the Academy and College is to make active endeavors in extending the benefits of Christian education through all callings and spheres of life.” In same year, in his inaugural charge to President Philip Phelps, the Rev. Isaac Wyckoff proposed that “we should plunge into the wonderful theories and facts of geology, and consider the myriad forms of beauty and utility in the finer science of botany,” as well as zoology, metaphysics, mechanics.” The first catalog also described courses in religious study and teacher training.

This commitment was reiterated in 1913 by President Ame Vennema who said, “The dignity of our position as an institution preparing young men and women for a liberal arts degree requires that it should not become narrow or superficial, but it should take a broad outlook upon life and provide a comprehensive and well-balanced course of study.”

In 1946 the Hope College Bulletin declared that it was the aim of the college “to offer through a broad, basic curriculum a ready acquaintance with major fields of human experience, and a foundation for concentrated study in special fields."

We continue to be committed to this founding vision. Indeed, we believe the liberal arts model is more relevant than ever. College graduates today need more than a ticket to a trade. They must be agile learners, able to adapt to a changing world; critical thinkers, able to apply the perspectives of multiple disciplines to complex problems; broadly educated, able to place themselves and their work in a larger societal context.

Our new strategic goal states: “Hope College will engage every student in a holistically formative education distinguished by its combination of academic rigor, intimate learning environment, and experiential relevance developed and delivered by nationally recognized teacher-scholars."

This was the vision of our founders and successive generations for the last 150 years. We share with them a distinctively Reformed view of the world, that God is the sovereign creator and sustainer of all things, and we are invited to freely pursue the truth in every field of interest. For such an endeavor brings us closer to the Author of all truth.

It was also in his charge to President Phelps that Isaac Wyckoff famously said, “This is a shrinking world, and we must learn to be at home in it.” 

President Phelps took this to heart and brought the first Japanese students to our campus – at one time there were as many as 14 – a significant percentage of a fledgling student body. The southwest corner of the campus became known as the Japanese Grove.

In this sesquicentennial year we renewed a 50-year-old agreement with Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, continuing a multifaceted relationship with the Japanese people that spans our whole history.

In 1963, President Cal Vanderwerf said, “As we enter the era of the shrunken and shriveled universe, with no part of our globe as far from us in actual time as Grand Rapids was from Holland when this college was founded, we can no longer afford to remain in appalling and abysmal ignorance of the history, the culture, the language, and the religion of nine-tenths of the world’s population. We must be able to say with Socrates, “My country is the World; my countrymen are all  mankind."

How much more true is this today?

The global vision of our forebears resounds in our 10-year strategic goal: “Hope College will equip every student to lead and serve in a global society by orienting all areas of the college toward greater global engagement.”

We also should never forget that ours is a college founded by immigrants to serve the children of immigrants. Our founders understood that this mission called for keeping a Hope College education as accessible as possible to families. They knew this would only be accomplished by enrolling others in this vision of Hope. Fund raising, therefore, was a high priority from the beginning.

By 1873, nine scholarships had been endowed, each in an amount of $1,000. This commitment has never changed, and today the number of endowed scholarships has swelled to well over 700, benefiting more than one-third of our students. Yet even more is needed today, as this is a time of stagnant household income, even as we welcome more first-generation students with greater financial need.

Likewise, the generosity of donors has always made fine facilities available to our students. Van Vleck Hall was paid for through our first capital campaign in 1857. Individual members of Reformed churches donated $12,000. As recently as 1950, the largest gift in the history of the college was $100,000, from the Van Zoeren family. This past October we completed the Greater Hope Campaign, which brought $203 million to the college, surpassing a goal of $175 million. This added considerable value to each student’s Hope education and transformed our campus.

This vision is articulated well in another ten-year goal: “Hope College will be the best value among leading liberal arts colleges by providing an unsurpassed educational experience through faithful stewardship and development of resources."

Well, we could go on tracing our founders’ vision through the present and into the future. If time permitted, we might talk about our traditions in athletics and Greek life, or our college’s storied relationship with the town of Holland. 

But for now, I think we can agree that that the title of our strategic plan – Hope for the World: 2025 – would surely resonate well with our founders.

Let’s return momentarily to Carl Sandberg’s Remembrance Rock. In the near future we will place a suitable rock on our campus, bearing the engraved logo of our Sesquicentennial celebration as a remembrance of a uniquely special year in our history, and as an invitation to each of us to ponder anew the journey of Hope College – where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and who we are.

Thanks be to God that we look to the future with the words Spero in Deo as our motto.

It is now my pleasure to introduce senior Andrew Neevel who will close the program by leading us in the Doxology and the Alma Mater. Andrew is an accomplished musician studying biochemistry, molecular biology and philosophy. You might say he embodies the liberal arts ideal.

He is a seventh generation Hope student with a Hope College lineage that can be traced all the way back to the pioneer school. Many of his family members are here today.

Please welcome Andrew to the stage