As Hope College formally launched its 158th academic year with its Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 25, the members of the incoming Class of 2023 were encouraged to be concerned not just with the answers, but how they find them.
The featured speaker was President Matthew A. Scogin, who like the students is a recent
arrival, having taken office just seven weeks earlier. As a 2002 Hope graduate, he
had also once attended the traditional event as a freshman himself.
“So I empathize with what you’re feeling,” he told the students. “In fact, I actually know a lot about what you’re feeling, because 21 years ago I sat exactly where you sit today. In the fall of 1998, my parents drove me to Hope College in their blue minivan and dropped me off at room 217 in Scott Hall.”
Titling his remarks “Show Your Work,” Scogin based his theme on an insight he gained during his own freshman year, illustrating his message not with an obvious success but instead with an experience that seemed at first a failure. He recalled a calculus assignment with which he struggled — and struggled.
“In the end I turned in a piece of paper that didn’t even have an answer on it,” he remembered. “My page was full of sweat and tears but no answer. All I had was a bunch of false starts and eraser smudges. And in a moment of defeat, because time had run out, I turned in the homework page without an answer.”
But then, he said, something unexpected — and life-changing — happened. “A few days later, the professor handed it back,” Scogin said. “At the top it said ‘B+’ and he had written something to the effect of ‘You showed your work and you were on the right track.’”
“That has stuck with me in a profound way,” Scogin said. “What I always say, when people ask me what I learned here at Hope, is that I learned to learn. What that really means is this: I learned that when it comes to the biggest, hardest, most difficult questions, sometimes what matters — more than the answer itself — is showing your work. Showing that you wrestled with the question.”
That perspective, he said, reflects a fundamental and unique dimension of the college’s approach to learning and faith as a Christian academic institution.
“Hope is a place where we can put all the big questions on the table,” Scogin said. “The biggest most important questions of all, like: Who am I? Why am I here? How did I get here? Is there a God? We can be a place that puts the questions on the table and wrestles with them together in an environment that is loving and caring.
“This is distinct,” he said. “A lot of research institutions are taking questions off the table because they think they know the answers. And similarly, at a lot of Christian colleges maybe the questions are on the table, but the answers are pretty prescribed.”
“Hope is different,” Scogin said. “We are a place that gives you the opportunity to wrestle through tough issues on the way to discovering truth. We are not afraid of this because we believe that the pursuit of truth and beauty in all its forms is in fact a pursuit of God.”
Ultimately, he said, the process can help students develop a deeper, more fully realized faith while preparing them to lead and serve in addressing the world’s greatest needs and most complex issues.
“What I learned at Hope is that life is a giant math problem,” Scogin said. “If your paper is not covered with crossed-out stuff and eraser marks and false starts in your attempt to figure out God and figure out truth, then your relationship with God will be pretty shallow at best.”
“Hope College is a place that encourages you to show your work,” he said. “We want you to spend the next four years wrestling with big questions on the way to discovering truth. In doing so, we then aim to send you out — into the world — filled with a deep understanding of God’s hope so that you can rush toward the messiest, most complicated problems you can find all around the globe and bring God’s hope there.”
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. 27.