Prepared remarks by Dr. Kristen Gray, associate dean for Health and Counseling and director of Counseling and Psychological Services

Sunday, May 5, 2019
Ray and Sue Smith Stadium
Holland, Michigan

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8

My neighborhood growing up was a wonderful place for children. On summer days, our collective backyards became one enormous playground. The Mihaczaks had a giant tractor tire filled with sand, the Andersons had apple trees, the Seaquists had a small shed just right for hide and seek. Our yard had a climbing tree and a swing set! We staged sweeping dramas where the good guys chased the bad guys, and somehow we always ended with a fancy dress-up wedding. In the heat of the afternoon, the mother at the closest back door would magically provide Kool-Aid and homemade cookies. Those same mothers, at those same back doors, could clean up a scraped knee or cut finger – back in those years anyone’s mother could help you.

Those same mothers would wade into the fray if they saw fights or bad behavior. Any mother could storm out of her back door, call you by your full name, scold you, and send you home. The mother who discovered your misbehavior would call your house, so further punishment was waiting for you when you arrived.

We often played until after dark. It wasn’t the biting mosquitoes that drove us home, but rather the operatic calls of Mrs. Burmeister: “It’s bedtime!” Like a siren, we all knew that this marked the end of the day.

Growing up in my neighborhood in the 1960s might sound more like a surreal bedtime story than reality. It was all-white, all-Christian, stay-at-home mothers (and not fathers), all middle class, fully employed families living in houses in a new sub-division. And while it did not prepare me for the broader more diverse and much more interesting world I live in today, it did teach me every day that I am responsible to and for my neighbors. Neighbors call on each other and neighbors call each other out.

When you arrived at Hope College, you were greeted by a mob of OAs who grabbed your things and showed you to your new neighborhood. RAs, the Hope equivalent of the good neighbors from my childhood, were there to comfort and to call you out as needed.

What you may have noticed about your new neighborhood is that most of the people living there looked a lot like me (just not as old). However, even if you look like me, if you were curious and interested you could make friends with people with different backgrounds and different experiences and world views and religious beliefs and political thoughts. So much good neighbor building! And that’s just in the residence halls.

Hope does not stop preparing you to be a neighbor in residential life. You see, this whole liberal arts thing is set up to allow you to find the strength of conviction to be a true and worthy neighbor. Whether you experienced the arts, natural and applied sciences, social sciences and the humanities as part of your major, or for your core education, the culmination of a liberal arts education at Hope is intended to inspire and prepare you for lives of leadership and service in our global society. In other words, we have been educating you to be neighbors.

The arts, a place of joy and expression for some of you, are a place of terror and shame for others. This core requirement is not to see how silly you can look, but rather to give you an experience of creating something unique and seeing that dedicated hours of rehearsal, time spent perfecting technique, juries and critiques all work together to develop more powerful artistic expression. The arts allow you to stand in a gallery, see a piece of art from an unknown artist and weep at the sheer wonder of it. Or hear drumming, pause to appreciate the rhythms, and begin moving because the only reasonable response to good drumming is to dance! Studying the arts makes you a more empathic neighbor.

A neighbor who can sing, strum, soar, syncopate, percuss, tap, pirouette, sweat, hip-hop, paint, sketch, sculpt, carve, film, photograph, see — really see, visualize, imagine, embody, transform, design, build, express, write, revise, rise up, fall down, rise up, see the world, push past your fear, reach out to tell the stories that need to be told. Artists.

The natural and applied sciences, in their exploration of the physical world educate neighbors who are scientifically literate, knowing that science can be used to manipulate as well as illuminate — neighbors who understand that theory is not just somebody’s opinion, but rather the culminations of endless observations, insightful questions, information gathering, forming a hypothesis, reaching a conclusion, reporting the outcome, and evaluating the entire process to then begin again and again. Research is a complex and time-consuming, process that your lab classes have allowed you to see (if even for a tiny moment). The sciences allow you to be a more critical consumer of science reports, to understand the impact of single-use plastics and live more environmentally sustainable lives, to give thanks to the people who spent untold hours in a lab to develop the life-saving medication your loved one needs, to be a neighbor who understands.

And admittedly, science has the coolest stuff: test tubes, beakers, burners, pipettes, Petri dishes, microscopes, telescopes, syringes, electrodes, binoculars, green houses, calculators, re-rod, combustion engines, soldering irons, CAD, tweezers, goggles, gloves, lasers, lenses, microchips and a particle accelerator (just like the giant one in Switzerland only smaller). Scientists.

The social sciences, by examining behavior across time, by individuals and groups and institutions, allow for insight into the world. By gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for all the variety as well as commonalities of human lives, we might just be able to live together in more peaceful and harmonious ways. The social sciences allow you develop the skills needed to put theory into practice to intervene in primary, secondary and tertiary ways, analyze stocks and economic markets, develop curriculum, and engage in both debate and dialogue with differing points of view. The social sciences are all about being neighbors in the broadest of definitions.

Social scientists use fantastic words that we all think we understand. Mediation, meditation, cultural appropriation, family systems, systems of power and privilege, unconscious bias, xenophobia, misogyny, civil disobedience, consumer price index, compound interest, food desserts, focus groups, placebo effect, evidence-based treatment, biomechanics, gerrymandering, strength training, standardized testing, grade inflation and complex concept mastery. A person who has studied in the social sciences can recognize that opinion-based editorials are not investigative journalism, correlation is not always causation, translation differs from interpretation and research is not the same as Google! Social scientists.

The humanities, with the word human tucked right in there, give us ways to grasp and grapple with what it means to be human – not in the behavioral ways of the social sciences, but in the wrestling with the essence and meaning of life way. Humanities allow you to think philosophically about religion, and religiously about philosophy; reflect historically about politics, while questioning the politics of our history; challenge English translations for colonialist leanings; and debate the dreaded Oxford comma. Rather than memorizing “correct” answers, the humanities nurture neighbors who ask life-changing questions. Questions like:

Who hears the voice of the disenfranchised?

Do we worship the same God?

What do the Gospels teach me about loving all of my neighbors?

Is learning a few words of a new language enough?

How do you say thank you? merci, danke, arigato, xie xie, gracias, shukran, tusen tack, medaase, miiggweech, ASL.

What is love?

Am I loved if I didn’t get a ring by spring?

Does history repeat itself?

If I didn’t get an A on the final, will I have to repeat my history class?

How long is a good speech?

And, just for my English-major friends: Why do you want us to call you Ishmael?

Fully human neighbors from the humanities.

Just as the liberal arts and Hope have offered you lessons on becoming neighbors, you have had lessons of your own to teach Hope about what it means to be responsible to and for your neighbor.

You stretched and pushed, Pushed shopping carts, as Odd Year, you Pulled, and pulled all-nighters, danced all night For The Kids. You’ve thrown Frisbees, thrown parties, thrown touchdown-worthy passes, passed classes and failed exams, examined your world view, viewed countless PowerPoints, pointed out errors in logic and failures in community, built community and new organizations that better fit who you are and what you need. Geek Life and Greek Life are not the same thing and yet, oh so similar in terms of developing a sense of belonging. You published news in the Anchor, poetry and art in Opus, and broadcast some of the best music in Holland on WTHS. Through Nykerk and Images you sang and danced and orated. You’ve worked on knitting projects and played hockey, balanced on slack lines, “hammocked” in the Pine Grove, hung out in downward-facing dog and de-stressed with the therapy dogs.

You showed us what worship can look like in Dimnent and in the Harvey Chapel, with Gospel and Praise Song, with Bach and Mendelsohn, but also in the Pine Grove with sunrise and sunset, hawks and black-capped chickadees. The Gathering, Catholic Mass, small-group Bible study, Glory Hour, Emmaus Scholars, and local congregations were all part of your spiritual time. You’ve been in conversation with neighbors right here at Hope who are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, non-denominational, evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and non-religious. You searched for meaning, and explored calling and vocation as you prepared for this next chapter of your lives.

With Vox Populi, as Hope’s people, you made your voices heard. You registered, campaigned, voted, rallied in red baseball caps, and got on the bus in pink kitty hats, you Took Back the Night by telling your stories, you told more than 95 stories, when GLOBE was not enough. You sat in the Pine Grove. You raised consciousness about intersectionality, white privilege, colorism, systemic racism; you were placed in a corner, said “no,” and spoke truth to power. Period.

You had your hearts broken, you faced significant losses, had dreams destroyed, grieved, mourned, wept, wailed, asked how long, asked why?! You comforted one another beyond words; coming together as a true community of neighbors to sit in silence and hold each other in moments too difficult to comprehend. You reached out to The Helpers here at Hope in numbers other generations could never imagine. You used college resources to the top of their capacity because you know that we all struggle and no one needs to struggle alone.

You also celebrated and competed, experienced victories and defeat on the field, and on the court, you cheered and roared as a crowd, rowed as the Dew Crew, crewed on sailboats and for a Formula race car, carved out time to serve with CASA, Holland Free Clinic, SEED Trips, Day of Service, Pancakes R Us, Young Life, Engineers without Borders. You pushed wide the borders of Hope College to include neighbors in the Holland community and beyond. You lived into being neighbors who can be called on to act as servants and healers in the world.

Some of you crossed many borders to come and study at this college founded by immigrants. The flags behind me are here to honor you. Some of you made the important decision to leave Hope and cross borders to study off campus, where you navigated new educational systems, managed day-to-day life, worked at internships, and experienced cultural, social and political communities never imagined here at Hope College. You met people in their neighborhoods. You learned that your neighborhood is so much greater than any backyard; your neighborhood is the world.

And now we, Hope College, send you out into that world to courageously seek justice and righteousness, to fiercely love kindness and mercy, to bravely walk in humility as you love and serve your God. Class of 2019, go in peace.