The table offered an apt metaphor as speaker Dr. Cady Short-Thompson welcomed the members of the incoming Class of 2021 during Hope College’s Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 27, in the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse.

“I have found community at many tables in my life — the dinner table, the communion table, the classroom table, the library table, the conference room table and now, the board room table,” said Short-Thompson, who is provost and a professor of communication at Hope, which she joined recently herself — on August 1 — after previously serving as dean at Blue Ash College in the University of Cincinnati system. “We gather with a shared purpose and form community with one another around many different tables within Hope College and you’re personally invited. I want you to feel included and welcome and to see Hope College as nourishing, invitational and open to you.”

See the full text of the Convocation address

Short-Thompson expanded on the imagery as she presented advice to the members of the class for making the most of their time at the college.

“First, the table at Hope College is nourishing — my colleagues and I have been planning an educational experience and a sense of place that will nourish and nurture you,” she said. “We want your entire lives to be positively impacted by this college — academically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.”

“Begin today to seek out your best options for ideal nourishment at Hope College — and be open to the guidance of expert faculty and staff who will offer ideas and inspiration for you,” she said, noting that the students also shouldn’t shy away from being challenged. “Sometimes, we will make you uncomfortable because we know that learning happens when you stretch.”

Convocation 2017 photos

Second, Short-Thompson said, Hope takes its foundation in the historic Christian faith seriously, but in a way that is invitational rather than prescriptive.

“Unlike many other institutions, at Hope College, we freely talk about and live out our Christian faith in our education, work, service, and leadership here,” she said. At the same time, she noted, “Wherever you are in your faith walk, we support and respect your beliefs. We share our faith and respect others’ faith. We learn from one another — ideally sharpening each other and deepening our faith together.”

“I invite you to live out your faith here,” she said. “For each person, it will be different; but jump in, knowing that you’re invited without a lot of assumptions or formal expectations.”

Third, she said, the students will benefit from and contribute to a table that is open to opportunities, possibilities and difference. “We engage difference because we know that it makes us better and stronger to do so,” Short-Thompson said.

“We can and will be a haven for thoughtful, respectful discourse on the issues of the day,” she said. “We can — and should — disagree but we must always do so with love and respect. We can each interact well and lead by example — controlling our urges to behave in negative or ugly ways in an increasingly polarized world.”

The students and the world around them, Short-Thompson noted, will benefit from the openness that the students will both experience and model.

“Our world needs educated citizens who include — those who include by listening, learning, inviting, hosting, valuing, asking questions, acknowledging, respecting, encouraging, empathizing, and praising one another for who they are and who they can become,” she said. “And I encourage you to be wide open to discovering your passions and gifts — our liberal arts education will reveal strengths that were hidden to you before now.”

The convocation marks the formal start of the college’s academic year. The new students had moved to campus on Friday, with returning students arriving on Sunday. Classes begin on Tuesday, Aug. 29.