As she delivered her Commencement address to Hope College’s graduating Class of 2018 on Sunday, May 6, Dr. Temple Smith explained that she had considered a variety of approaches for framing her remarks.
Front-running possibilities had included exploring “The Game of Life” board game, the words of Oprah Winfrey and the collected wisdom of Smith’s academic discipline of sociology. However, she said, in the end none of them were quite right, and she looked back several centuries for her address “Chosen: so this is Hope” and started with 1 Peter 2:9. Just as the passage references a people chosen by God, she observed that the graduates, too, were chosen — each for a path his or her own.
“Remember that you have been chosen for a unique purpose. It is our hope that you pursue that purpose and wholly fulfil it,” said Smith, an assistant professor of sociology. “There are lives that you are meant to touch, positions that only you can fill, answers which only you have and barriers only you can break.”
Approximately 685 graduates participated in the ceremony, held at 3 p.m. at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium. The class consisted of students from throughout the United States as well as foreign nations including Australia, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, China, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Rwanda, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. Also during the event, the graduating class presented the 54th “Hope Outstanding Professor Educator” (H.O.P.E.) Award to Dr. Stacy Jackson, who is the Kenneth J. Weller ’48 Professor of Management and chairs the Department of Economics and Business.
The graduates represented majors across the arts, humanities, natural and applied sciences, and social sciences, preparation that Smith noted would serve them well. Even so, she noted that following calling won’t always be easy. For the difficult times, she encouraged them to remember the inspiration for their alma mater’s name, expressed in the college’s motto, “Hope in God” (Psalm 42:11) and embodied in Hope’s symbol, the anchor (from Hebrews 6:11,18,19: “We desire that every one of you lay hold of the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast”).
“Hope is a desire for some future good,” she said. “This is not merely looking on the bright side or being a perpetual optimist. The theological virtue of hope is a form of confidence in God. It sets aside empty fears and a dread of failure and encourages fresh efforts.
“Hold fast to hope when fiery trials of life threaten to extinguish your light,” Smith said. “Know that if God brought you to it, He will bring you through it. Remember all that you have learned here, in and out of the classroom.
“The writer of Lamentations 3:21 puts it this way: These things I remember, therefore I have HOPE,” Smith continued. “Colloquially speaking, you got this!”
The Commencement ceremony was preceded by the college’s Baccalaureate services, which were held in Dimnent Memorial Chapel and featured the sermon “(You’ll) Never be Lost,” by Dr. Gerald Griffin, assistant professor of psychology and biology.
Griffin reflected on the morning’s scriptural passage, Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen.” He called on the graduates to be mindful of the message in their own lives.
“When we start switching THE (singular) truth for OUR ‘truths — when we start regarding ourselves and other created things as the source of universal truth, THE source of love, it is at this moment that we start getting lost,” he said.
Griffin shared that he understood the temptations from experience, outlining how his intense pursuit of success earlier in life had left him in darkness. “I had accumulated all these tools but was void of passion and direction,” he said.
He encouraged the graduates instead to remove the focus from self and draw on the lessons of faith learned at Hope to navigate life’s journey purposefully, treating “never be lost” as an imperative. “See the skills, habits and competencies you’ve gained were not without root,” Griffin said. “With Hope, there is direction with the tools.”
“A primary motive of your education here at Hope has been this, and I quote: ‘How to think from multiple perspectives about what it means to be human — what it is to be embodied creatures living in a physical world, social creatures in a world of cultural diversity, seekers of knowledge and meaning, creative makers of technology and art, human beings who experience suffering and joy, and spiritual creatures made for relationship with God,’” he said.
The relationship, Griffin noted, will always buoy the graduates.
“If we stand on the promises of God and know that we serve a shepherd that will leave the 99 for one — for you, even when we go astray — then you’ll never be lost,” he said.