By Dr. Deborah Vriend Van Duinen, the Arnold and Esther Sonneveldt Associate Professor of Education and founding director of the Hope College NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore

Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022
Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse
Holland, Michigan

Welcome Class of 2026! It’s so good to have you here with us. Parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends - we welcome you as well. 

Convocation is one of my favorite academic events. I love the pomp and circumstance, the faculty regalia, and the beautiful music. Most of all though, I love the visual metaphor of this event. 

New students, you’re sitting in the center. You come from 33 different states and 16 different countries and you are surrounded by your families and friends, people who love you, who have loved you for years, and who have given you roots and experiences that you take with you to this new place. Some of them might have already left to go home. Others are eager for this event to finish so they can start processing this intense weekend of moving you into your dorms. And still others don’t want this weekend to end because they aren’t ready to say goodbye. Goodbyes and letting go are hard. To those of you who are feeling this way, may you find comfort in knowing and seeing that the ones you love are also surrounded today by those of us in the Hope community. 

Freshman, on your way into this event, you were surrounded by Hope College faculty -we’re the ones in the Harry Potter-esque outfits. You walked past us on your way to your seats and though we don’t know you yet, we already love you. We’re excited to call you by name and get to know you. We have the honor and privilege of journeying with you during these next four years. In our classes and office hours and conversations outside of class, we’ll learn with and from you. 

Convocation celebrates the start of our academic year at Hope and of your journey with us. I’m so honored to have the opportunity to share some thoughts with you about the start of this new chapter in your lives. 

First, let me tell you about my dad and his file cabinet. The story of my dad and his file cabinet is one I share with my Senior Seminar students in the capstone course that each of you will take before you graduate. My dad and his file cabinet influenced my decision to attend a liberal arts college as an undergraduate and to want to be a professor at a place like Hope. 

In my childhood home in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, there was a large file cabinet in our basement recreation room. Some of you freshmen might not know what a file cabinet is. I realize I’m dating myself (and my dad) with this reference. Just think of the modern day file cabinet as an app with drawers or as place to store the tangible version of your Google drive account. 

My dad’s wooden four-drawer file cabinet stood right beside our collection of board games, puzzles, and photo albums. And, it was one of those unspoken family rules that we, as kids, weren’t to mess with this file cabinet. It was my dad’s and he was the only one allowed to open it and do anything with its contents. 

This file cabinet was special to my dad. Sacred even. Every so often, he would open it up and go through the assortment of paper documents stored in its drawers. When he did this, stories would emerge. My four siblings and I soon learned that when dad went through his file cabinet, it was time to gather around. 

You see, my dad’s file cabinet was where he stored things from his college experience. This big four-drawer file cabinet in our basement stored his notes, all of them, from the Psychology class he took on Freudian interpretations of dreams, the Philosophy class that introduced him to Plato and Aristotle, the Biology class where he learned about plant subspecies, the Art class that helped him better understand Rembrandt’s paintings. My dad’s file cabinet also contained newspaper articles about his college hockey team, his musical score of Handel’s Messiah from when he sang in the college choir, papers from when he was Student Congress president, and mementos from times spent with friends. 

Let me back up for a moment. My dad and his family immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands. Higher education wasn’t an economic option for my dad’s older siblings but despite this, and despite the fact that he didn’t do well in high school, he wanted to go to a Christian liberal arts college. It took a lot of work and, I believe, some charm on his part, but in the end, he got accepted, attended, and graduated from college. And, at college, he experienced something that was life changing. 

Because of this, my dad’s file cabinet contained more than just a random collection of things that he should have thrown out years ago. The file cabinet represented for him, and it came to represent to me and my siblings, a transformative experience that changed, in rich and deep and beautiful and true ways, how my dad viewed the world, and others, and himself, and God. 

When my dad would tell us stories about his college experience, it was never about transactions or about how college shaped his resume, though he did go on to become an amazing elementary school principal. It wasn’t about what he “had” to do as part of the required core curriculum or the boxes he had to check in order to graduate. Interestingly, he also didn’t describe these stories as representing “the best years of his life”. 

Rather, the stories that came out of the file cabinet were ones that spoke to how college shaped him and propelled him to know and do and be in our world. What he learned spoke to him at a level and to loves that he didn’t know existed before. They were about his willingness to invest in his learning and in the relationships around him. His stories were about how he learned new ways of thinking about issues and people. They were about his love for learning and travel. His stories out of the file cabinet were about college experience’s influence on his interactions with colleagues and neighbors and elementary students. They were about how he came to deeply know what it means to be a child of God and a disciple of Christ. My dad’s college stories were stories that, in some ways, he was still living and contributing to as a dad, husband, son, friend, principal, community member. 

A quick side note - I should add that though I talk about my dad and his file cabinet, my mom had an equally transformative experience in college. Perhaps thankfully, she has an easier time getting rid of things. Her file cabinet just looked different - she made up for it in her vast book collection and in the myriad of newspaper and magazine articles that she would cut out over the years and mail to me and my siblings (in the old days before email). But those are stories for another time. 

As I reflect on what my parents’ stories about college taught me over the years and what I learn each year from my Senior Seminar students about what has shaped them during their time at Hope College, I offer you, Class of 2026, three ways to think about this next chapter in your life: knowing, doing, and being. 

These three ways describe what I believe we try to do here at Hope, what our mission is and what we offer you in terms of our academic program and co-curriculars. But these three ways are also a challenge for you. You see, our invitation to Hope comes with strings attached. We can offer this experience to you but you have to take ownership of it. We want you to intentionally curate your experiences and to fully participate. We also want you to contribute to this place called Hope, regardless of your background, faith commitments, interests and previous experiences and actually it’s because of your background and families and faith commitments and interests and previous experiences that we want you to contribute to our community. We want you to contribute to what we know and do and are here at Hope. 

Let’s start with knowing. 

This is probably the most obvious. Hope College is an academic institution and by the end of your time at Hope, you’ll receive a college degree. In order to do this, you’ll need to know a lot. You’ll gain knowledge and skills in the courses you’ll take as part of your major and minor and from courses in our General Education curriculum. 

At Hope, we believe in the value of exploring issues, methods, and ideas across the natural and social sciences, the arts and the humanities. We believe this will equip you to think broadly, read critically, and write compellingly. Collectively, these courses will give you tools to navigate complex issues and ground yourself in an ever changing world. From different disciplinary perspectives, theoretical frameworks and modes of inquiry, you’ll learn to contextualize your studies and develop practical understandings of living and knowing in our world. 

And you won’t just gain knowledge in your courses. We support and promote the learning you’ll do in your co-curriculars and involvements outside of class. In sports teams, immersion trips, ensembles, groups, Bible studies, and clubs, you’ll also gain tools and skills that will equip you to live and flourish in our world. 

Freshman, as you think about what you will learn and know at Hope College, I encourage you to invest in your learning. Ask hard questions. Resist easy answers. Put in time and effort. Be willing to change your mind. Read widely and learn from people who think differently than you. Allow for disagreements and learn from them. Take risks. Be willing to be wrong. Seek the truth. 

Within this context of gaining knowledge, I also invite you to “do” at Hope. 

During these next four years, we invite you to gain more than just knowledge and skills. We want to do more than just shape your GRE, MCAT or LSAT score. We also want to shape the ways that you live and love and approach learning. 

We want you to know artists and dates in your art history class but we also want you to become people who go to art museums. We want you to learn math equations but also to marvel at the order in our creation and the creativity of God’s order in our world. During your time at Hope, we also want you to practice generosity, travel to new places, develop deep friendships. We want you to place knowledge within the doing of vocational callings that respond to the brokenness in our world, that allow you to be leaders and agents of change in your spheres of influence. And we don’t want you to wait until you graduate in order to do this, we want Hope to be a place where you start this “doing”. 

What I’m trying to say is that during your time at Hope we also want you to develop practices or habits that form your character and inform your doing. 

In his book, You Are What You Love, Jamie Smith argues that we need to recognize the power of habit. Drawing on the work of St. Augustine, he asks “What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire? What if the center and seat of the human person is found not in the heady regions of the intellect but in the gut-level regions of the heart?” 

To this end, at Hope, we want to help you develop loves, desires, and virtues steeped in the historic Christian faith. Humility, wisdom, courage, moderation, integrity, perseverance. We want you to practice hospitality and gratitude, to seek justice and to love mercy. 

This requires more than just knowledge and skills. It also requires more than just knowing that these loves and virtues are good and right. “Doing” in this way is hard and needs to be practiced on a daily basis so that these actions become habits and part of who you are, so much so that we do them without thinking. In the classroom. In conversations at the cafeteria. In residence halls. On the sports field. On the stage. In social activities. 

It’s hard to do this kind of work alone. And so, as faculty and staff and administrators, we invite you to watch us in the “doing” of our jobs. In the ways we begin our classes or interact with each other. In the ways we hold class discussions and disagree with different viewpoints. In the ways we live out our callings beyond the campus. We invite you to participate in the Christian practices we live out individually and collectively, in the virtues we are trying to cultivate. We don’t and won’t always get them right but, we invite you to join us in the work and discipline of making these practices character forming. 

Along with this, we invite you to join Hope College’s institutional rhythms and rituals that make space for these practices. We believe in breaking bread together, praying and singing together, taking sabbath rest, self-reflecting, having times of silence and solitude, investing in friendships. Together these embedded practices cultivate Gospel values that shape our hearts and souls and we welcome you to join us in these experiences. 

Freshman, as you think about “doing” at Hope, I encourage you to be open to try new practices and to deepen habits you already have. Practice humility as you listen to others. Show hospitality to someone in your dorm. Go out of your way to talk to and get to know a classmate who thinks differently than you. Be willing to examine your own assumptions and biases. Seek justice in what is happening around you. Have courage to say and do the right thing. 

My final invitation to you today is to “be”. 

“Being” is the root of all of our knowing and doing and is integral to both. And here is where I share my caveat that while my three-part framework makes for a great title and fits with the three-point sermon structure of my faith tradition, these categories really can’t be separated. There’s so much overlap between knowing, doing, and being. When we dig into the rich ways these words can be defined and understood, I actually think it can become problematic to think about them as separate entities. 

But, maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Maybe this speaks to the liberal arts journey of starting out by wanting to put things, even people, into neat, tidy boxes and labels and then realizing at some point along the way that there is so much more overlap and messiness than initially anticipated. Maybe this is the beauty of the liberal arts. When done well, a liberal arts experience shows us the interconnectivity between everything, that knowing, doing and being can all exist in the same drawer of a file cabinet. 

Within this holistic framework, I invite you to “be” people of Hope, people rooted deeply in their identities as beloved children of God, as bearers of God’s image, as disciples and friends of Christ. As stated in our Christian Aspirations, we, at Hope, invite you “to a holistic and robust engagement with the historic Christian faith and a personal encounter with the living Christ through the Holy Spirit.” 

We have a large landscape of faith here at Hope - there’s a variety of ways that faculty, staff, and administrators express their Christian faith and this contributes to the vitality of Hope and the richness we experience together. We have disagreements but the theological commitments that hold our center together are stronger than what divides us and we are united in our understanding of who we are as people of the God of hope. 

It’s out of this center that we invite you to reflect on who you are in this world, on where you place your identity, on what you believe and value. If you ascribe to the Christian faith or other faith traditions or no tradition at all, you are welcome here and we invite you to “be” and reflect on what that means to you. I encourage you, during your time at Hope, to reflect on your worldview and I invite you to consider being trees rooted in the soil of Hope. I encourage you to have conversations with others about what you see as good and true and beautiful. Reflect on the alignment between what you say you believe about the world and what you do and how you define your core identity. 

Class of 2026, today you are starting your own file cabinet of college experiences. As you do this file, I invite you to a transformative experience at Hope College, an experience that involves a messy mix of knowing, doing, and being, an experience that isn’t handed over to you but one that requires your active engagement. 

My prayer for you is that the stories you live out here be ones that allow you to know, do and be as people at Hope in our broken world and people who live within a larger story, not just for the next four years but for the rest of your lives. 

And as you do this, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Thank you.