With the global COVID-19 pandemic having denied the Class of 2020 its Commencement and other year-end milestones, Hope blended elements of the ceremony and a reunion in an on-campus celebration for members of the class on Saturday, May 22.
In addition to a picnic dinner in the Pine Grove and Van Raalte Commons, the outdoor event included:
- remarks by President Matthew A. Scogin ’02, Dr. Richard Frost, vice president for student development and dean of students, and class representative Chandler Alberda ’20;
- an address by Dr. Jared Ortiz of the religion faculty, who would have been the Commencement speaker a year ago;
- and the “Rope of Hope” ceremony, led by the Rev. Dr. Trygve Johnson, the Hinga-Boersma Dean of the Chapel, that would have been held for the seniors during the final Gathering service last year.
Approximately 200 members of the class returned for the evening along with invited guests.
“It’s been a long journey, hasn’t it, since last March?” Frost said while opening the program. “For me, one of the things that’s important to acknowledge is that celebrations haven’t happened, and in some cases there are people who we love that aren’t here tonight.”
“But we also want to celebrate with joy, because this is an accomplishment for all of you as students,” he said.
Frost also reflected on the difference that the graduates made to Hope, while emphasizing one of the differences that they would find that Hope had made for them.
“You have left your fingerprints in the classroom, in research, in Campus Ministries, the athletic field, dance, theatre and in so many ways,” he said. “And we are forever grateful for that.”
“When I think of all these things, the most important thing, though, as I look out tonight is that you’ve made also some longtime friends,” Frost said. “One of the things for me is that Hope is about relationships that spanned not just one year or two years, but decades and lifetimes.”
“Your college years are not only preparing you intellectually and personally in your faith, but it’s also relationships — relationships that are going to endure,” he said.
A Graduate’s Perspective
When Hope canceled classes on March 12, 2020, and subsequently went to remote learning, following statewide requirements and CDC guidelines, the extent to which the pandemic would have an impact on the remainder of the academic year wasn’t yet apparent. As it happened, though, March 11 was the last in-person day of the 2019-20 school year.
Even as the pandemic correspondingly meant that Baccalaureate and Commencement for the class couldn’t be held last May, the college had anticipated rescheduling the events and initially made plans to hold them that August. However, with the pandemic continuing, and gathering sizes in the state restricted accordingly, Hope couldn’t hold the ceremonies last summer or in the several months since.
Alberda reflected on the sense of loss that resulted, but also on the deeper perspective developed through the experiences of the past year.
“We walked around as students for the last time and we did not even know it,” Alberda recalled during her remarks. “Final performances, athletic games, showcases, presentations, pinnings and social events — that each as a rite of passage were anticipated for years — we didn’t get; even a simple graduation.”
“That kind of loss and that kind of hurt just makes me think, ‘We deserve better. This is not what I expected,’’” she said. “But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the bumpy road of post-grad life, it’s that all the things we think we deserve or how we think things are supposed to go or the expectations that we have are just empty promises to ourselves. Our expectations so easily get the better of us, and they make it difficult to recognize the simple power of each moment, especially the ones you never would have planned.”
“One of those is having the joy of being here right now, on campus with all of you a year later, enjoying a meal in the Pine Grove while the sun sets and reuniting with people that I would not have seen again today if it weren’t for this,” Alberda said.
“Education for Eternity”
Ortiz presented the evening’s formal address, “Education for Eternity,” reflecting on the larger purpose — and longer journey — for which the graduates’ preparation at the college was intended to serve.
“If we have done our job here at Hope College, then you have been prepared not merely for some lucrative career, but you have disciplined your body, heart and mind; you have fallen in love with the true, the good, and the beautiful; and you recognize that Christ is the center of all things,” he said.
Ortiz noted that Hope’s holistic approach as a liberal arts college reflects a millennia-long understanding of education’s crucial role in fostering humanity and wisdom.
“Liberal means free. The word arts come from the Latin which means ‘virtue,’” he said. “The liberal arts, then, are the virtues of free men and women. They are the skills and habits of mind, heart, and body which enable us to be totally free and flourishing human beings; they are the qualities of soul that enable us to be truly alive.”
“According to the ancient Greeks and Romans, to be free meant to be disciplined. The mind had to be trained, but also the body and the soul. The body had to be trained in temperance, lest students act like beasts; the emotions and desires had to be trained so that they responded appropriately in various situations. The mind had to be disciplined so it could pursue and penetrate the depths of reality.”
Such discipline and freedom, he noted, are not mutually exclusive.
“Think about the discipline it takes to play the piano well or to play a sport well. Being disciplined allows us to be free, free to play Mozart or Thelonious Monk. Free to play excellent baseball,” he said. “What is true of music and sport is more true of the moral and intellectual life.”
An essential additional component, he said, is added by Christianity.
“When Christians come on the scene, they adopted this vision of education, but they also transformed it,” he said. “They understood that the human being in himself could not be the goal. This is too limited a horizon. Christians realized that only a transcendent end could really bring the human person to his fullness.”
As the graduates’ lives unfold, Ortiz encouraged them to recognize that their education is continuing — and to be deliberate in shaping it.
“Your formation as a human being will not be complete until the resurrection,” he said. “But, we can live in a way now that is consistent with our final destiny.”
Not an End, but a Beginning
In his closing remarks, Scogin, who became Hope’s president in the fall of 2019, explained that he feels a particular connection to the class.
“Your last year was my first year — and what a year it was,” Scogin said. “And even though we celebrated the Class of ’21 last week, you always will be my first graduating class as Hope College president, so I’m grateful for you.”
He also noted that he hoped that the graduates would use the challenges that they had experienced to take seriously the needs in the world, and use the example of Christ to guide how they approach them.
“You went through a lot during your four years. In particular, you went through a lot during your senior year and you lost a lot,” he said. “And my prayer for you is that these experiences would shape you into deeply formed people — people of substance, people of weight, because the world out there is full of people who are not that.”
“There’s a moment in Matthew 7, it’s part of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus is talking and he says, ‘Do you know what? Do you know how people will know that you are one of my followers? They will know that you are one of my followers by your fruits,’” Scogin said. “And then there’s a passage in Galatians that defines the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness.”
And come what may, he said as he concluded, graduation needn’t be a goodbye.
“The point of tonight was to celebrate you,” Scogin said. “It was to put a punctuation mark on your time at Hope. But please know that Hope will always be home for you. This is not the end.”
“I hope you feel a lifelong connection to this institution. I would love it if it was the case that you come back, and come back often,” he said. “You are welcome here. The Pine Grove is always open, 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s always open, and this is your Pine Grove.”
“We will keep a light on for you. I promise.”