Text of the 2017 Hope College Opening Convocation Address
“Nourishing, Invitational and Open: Welcome to the Table”
Prepared remarks by Dr. Cady Short-Thompson, Provost and Professor of Communication
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse
Good afternoon. I am Cady Short-Thompson, the Provost of Hope College. If like many I encounter, you’re wondering, what is a provost? It means that I am the Chief Academic Officer of the college. I lead the administration, faculty and staff in Academic Affairs — in short, I’m committed to and responsible for your exceptionally high quality education. I am honored to lead such an esteemed and accomplished faculty and staff who delight in your rigorous, relational, and rewarding liberal arts education.
I am pleased to welcome the class of 2021. As we enter this year, you and I share much in common. First, we’re both new to Hope College. I arrived as this institution’s new provost a mere 27 days ago. So, while I’ve worked in higher education for 21 years, we are, in Hope College terms, both in the class of 2021. Like many of you, I’ve just left the people and place I’ve known my whole life to learn quickly about Hope College and Holland. In my whopping 27 days here, I can share that, based on my experience, I think you are going to love it here. I do. There’s an abundance of beauty in this city, area of the country, people and college.
More than any other class I will ever work with here at Hope College, we will share this beginning, the journey over the upcoming four years, and ultimately, commencement in 2021, where I will joyfully read your names as you cross the stage and we will share your accomplishments together. This convocation today serves to officially bring you together as a class, to celebrate the beginning of your Hope College education. This formal, historically significant tradition — which has our faculty in our academic regalia — is the beginning day, the perfect bookend to your commencement when you graduate four years from now. On that day, you too will wear caps and gowns and we’ll celebrate your success with your families. Like today, you will be excited and anxious about the days ahead — and both of these days (convocation and commencement) are milestones in your lives — ones that I hope you’ll reflect upon and take note of where you are and where you dream you will go. Unlike today, however, a day when everything at Hope College is new to you, when you attend your commencement in four years, everything will be familiar, your love for this place and its people will be deep, and your lives will be transformed in countless positive ways by the people and programs of this special place.
I invite you to look around this crowded fieldhouse, and see the people who surround you, your roommates and classmates, they will become your very best friends. And if you’re like our engaged alumni, they’ll be your lifelong, dearest friends — and maybe a few of you will even find your life’s partners here. Our stellar faculty and staff are here too and while they are largely unknown to you today, many will become your lifelong mentors and friends. And for some of you, your family members from home are still here, and after they say goodbye to you later today — some with tears, others with cheers — they will continue to love, support, and root for you — but from another place and in a new, maturing relationship that recognizes your adulthood and freedoms, along with your newfound responsibility and personal accountability.
After all of the college visits, applications, decisions and preparations, class of 2021, you are finally here. After all of the hundreds of goodbyes to your high school classmates and neighbors, you are ready for hundreds of hellos. Like me, you’ve turned the page to a bold new chapter. We are now at the beginning. This is day one. You have a beautifully blank slate before you. And this first day, your convocation, will shape the rest of your life. And so I welcome you personally, warmly, to all of it — all that Hope College has to offer you. I welcome you to the table. The table is set for you — for all 783 of you.
I invite you to the table because in my life, I have found the table to be an apt metaphor for the places where we gather — you see, I hail from a large family that has enjoyed countless long, delicious meals and animated mealtime conversations. And I have learned a lot in my life — as the youngest child in my family — from listening to others and being included at the table. And I especially enjoyed being at the table when it was full of guests — and not just because the food was better. 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. 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. Allow me to explain further.
First, the table at Hope College is nourishing — my colleagues and I have been planning and building an educational experience and a sense of place that will nourish and nurture you. We’ve been building this experience over 151 years, and with each year, we commit ourselves to making this college an even better place for your holistic education. We want your entire lives to be positively impacted by this college — academically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. Four years from now, we want you to look back on your time here as truly transformational — we want your life and future to be bolder, bigger and more impactful than you could have ever imagined. I chose the adjective “nourishing” because, collectively, my colleagues and I know a lot about the components of the educational nourishment you’ll need to thrive. Just like a balanced nutritional diet, we will provide you with a menu of curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular options. I also utilized the word nourishing because Hope College is now your alma mater and the Latin translation of alma mater is “nourishing mother.” So, this nourishing mother will ensure that you are well fed — academically, spiritually, physically and more. 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. We will engage you with options in new worlds from your first day and first year — study abroad in more than 60 countries, off campus study such as the D.C. Center, undergraduate research like the Day 1 program, experiential learning, internships, performances, recitals, exhibits, community engagement, service projects, significant college leadership opportunities and more. Sometimes, we will make you uncomfortable because we know that learning happens when you stretch. We will expect much from you — higher education is meant to be rigorous, exhausting, and satisfying. We will provoke, test, and push you. And, just like your diet of food, you may be served a few items you initially believe that you do not like, items that are acquired tastes — ones that you learn to appreciate and enjoy. Some may taste like spinach, Brussel sprouts, or buttermilk to you — but they will lead to your greater, overall nourishment — they are crucial in a strong liberal arts education. Through the full experience, you will learn to revel in the Life of the Mind.
Our faculty at Hope College are talented and engaging — we provide superb scholarly teaching. Unlike other institutions that often choose between teaching well or researching well — we refuse to choose — instead we do both well. In addition, you can expect our faculty to learn with you — discovering new ideas, concepts, findings, and theories alongside you in undergraduate research programs. And at Hope College, we know and love our students, and we recognize that each student is different and we will work hard to know you and offer meaningful opportunities for each of you to learn, grow, and thrive. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become.” I have great optimism and faith about what you will become — your well-being, success, and joy are important to me, just as important as those of my own three children. We want you to love Hope College, your alma mater or nourishing mother.
Second, the table at Hope College is invitational. And just as the college is now your nourishing mother, it’s also a place that actively engages our Holy Father. 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. 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. We take the time to be our full, true selves throughout this College. There isn’t one right answer, there’s no prescribed theology, and there are no boxes to check— just an open invitation for you to explore, ponder, share, believe and grow in Christian love and faith. Our scripture reading earlier reminded us to test our faith and we know that it’s through that testing of our faith, that we find strength and endurance, which leads us to maturity and to feel complete.
I invite you to live out your faith here — join our vibrant Chapel services, engage in faith formation programs, explore your faith with your friends, faculty, and staff — you have so many choices — choose. For each person, it will be different; but jump in, knowing that you’re invited without a lot of assumptions or formal expectations.
And sometimes, my colleagues and I will sit beside you to help you to look and listen for God’s voice in your own life — to help you to discern your calling and live fully into your gifts and life’s purpose. This isn’t simple and it won’t happen in your first advising meeting or class but know that our faculty and staff will travel this road with you to help you to decipher your calling. There’s enormous joy in living into the life that God leads us. For decades, I have seen my own calling clearly — to teach well, empower others boldly and lead strongly, positively and inclusively, by example. I have come here to Hope College because I believe that God wants me to be here to utilize my gifts. I hope that you will ask God for wisdom and direction and then listen. I cannot wait to see where God will lead each of you — academically, vocationally, and spiritually.
Third, the table at Hope College is open — we are open to opportunities, possibilities and difference — broadly defined. We engage difference because we know that it makes us better and stronger to do so. 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. I believe that your openness to learning from others — faculty, staff and your peers — will change your lives for the better. 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. Be open to new activities, endeavors and people — our global education will grow your world and your comfort in it. Trust me — I have lived this experience. In my life, I have learned much from my college roommate Ranmali from Sri Lanka, my classmate MeiMei from China, my best friend Kenya from Philadelphia, my friend Ryan who was raised in a very different socioeconomic background than mine, my dearest traveling friends who are 17 years my senior, my colleagues who are more liberal and more conservative, and literally thousands of others. My world and knowledge of it have expanded along with my friendships of those who are distinctly different from me.
Thanks in part to these friendships — I’ve also had a heightened awareness that some faces and voices haven’t been at the tables in my 21 years in higher education. And because I have had the privilege to lead and sit at the conference table and the board room table, and since I believe that “to whom much is given, much is expected,” I feel compelled to encourage and invite those who are missing at the table. For us to best and most fully educate you, I believe it is critical for Hope College and you to be open to others — open to diversity in its many forms. I hope and pray that you will be open to and respectful of difference — difference in demographics, psychographics and sociographics. We differ in values, beliefs, attitudes, thoughts and behaviors. Our worldviews, narratives and lived experiences are different. Our God designed us with different passions, talents and gifts; yet He wants us to live peacefully and lovingly in community together — this we know.
My life has been shaped, time and again, by diversity. People have exposed me to new ideas, new ways of thinking and new places. Look at my friends and you’ll find folks with different gifts, faces, voices, stories and lives — and my life is richer for it. My advice to you is to share yourself generously with others and also listen and learn from others. Seek out the lessons they have to teach you and surround yourself by people who are different from and perhaps better than you. Watch what happens: you’ll be richly rewarded. My great hope and vision for Hope College is that we can be an authentically communal place where different ideas are openly shared and respectfully discussed. I expect students, faculty and staff to demonstrate our Christian values of kindness, love, patience and humility even when confronted with clashingly different opinions and viewpoints. We can and will be a haven for thoughtful, respectful discourse on the issues of the day. 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. There is no room for hate in a loving Christian college. We control ourselves and our college’s climate — one person and one interaction at a time. Each one of us is responsible for civility, collegiality, and community.
As we take this first step, this first day together, we invite you to be who you are in our midst. And we invite you to actively throw your best, most authentic self into the fullest Hope College experience. I ask you to enter in with the trust and belief that all of us together will ensure that you will have more than ample nourishment, an always present invitation and broadly defined openness to meet you wherever you are and launch you forward into the dreams and brilliance that lie ahead of every single one of you. You’re here for a reason.
Before I close my remarks today, I’d like to share a blessing for our students and then for their families. This blessing was written and delivered by Xavier University President Father Michael Graham last week in my hometown of Cincinnati. Because I was moved and inspired by it, I wanted you to also receive this special blessing.
First a blessing from the hearts of our parents and families here to their students, Families, I invite you to place a hand of blessing toward your student, close your eyes, and let it be a prayer in your heart for your student:
May you be powerfully loving and lovingly powerful.
May love ever be your guide with family, friends and colleagues.
May you listen carefully to your own heart and to the hearts of others.
May you have the strength to overcome fear and pride.
And follow instead what has heart and meaning for you.
May you be an active, committed, positive force in your community.
May you show respect to people of all ages and races and help make a better world for the poor, for the sick, for the elderly, for the young.
May you constantly bring your gifts and talents forward every day without hesitation, reservation, or expectation of reward.
And may you know every day how grateful I am to God for the gift of you. And know as well in your heart the depth of my own love for you.
This second blessing flows the other way from students to their parent and families and so students place a hand toward your family member, close your eyes and let this be your prayer:
May you know how grateful I am to you for all you have done for me.
With the life you have given me, for the lessons you’ve taught me.
For the love you have shown me.
For the comfort you have provided me.
Never forget how very much of you I carry forward with me into this new chapter of my life.
I go into it with a mix of excitement and fear, for I do not know what the future may bring.
But I go into it confidently because of you.
May you always trust in all of the work you have done in me for your ideals are my ideals, and your hopes are my hopes.
Always remember that I am growing into them, just as you still are.
And as we grow together, we will meet again in a new way — on a new and higher ground, as friends and as equals.
But for all of that, I will always be yours.
And if I do not call as often as I know I should or text or tweet, or ask for money when I do.
Know that no one else will ever have the place in my heart that you do.
May God always bless you and give you all the best of gifts.
Class of 2021, we’ve set the table. Please join us and bring others with you. There’s room for all of us at this table at Hope College.