With the members of Hope College’s incoming Class of 2026 at the beginning of their undergraduate education, Opening Convocation speaker Dr. Deborah Vriend Van Duinen shared a three-point plan for making the most of the experience ahead — and beyond.
The event, which was held on Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse, formally began the college’s 161st academic year. The title of Van Duinen’s address, “An Invitation to Hope: Knowing, Doing, Being,” was also her presentation’s outline, providing what she described as three ways for the students to think about the newest chapter in their lives.
“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,” said Van Duinen, who is the Arnold and Esther Sonneveldt Associate Professor of Education and founding director of the Hope College NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore. She discussed each of the three in turn, but also emphasized that they’re components of a whole — a heady blend that is for each student to discern.
“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,” she said. “My prayer for you is that the stories that you live 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.”
The convocation was geared especially toward the college’s newest students, who comprise what is likely the largest entering class in Hope’s history. Although the enrollment numbers don’t become official until mid-September, approximately 950 first-time students registered for the semester. The previous record was 904 in the fall of 2012, and there were 848 last fall. The college is anticipating overall enrollment above 3,200, which won’t top the record of 3,433 set in the fall of 2014 but would exceed the 3,133 of last year. Hope’s overall enrollment also increased last fall and in the fall of 2020.
The members of the class had arrived on Friday, Aug. 26, for the start of New Student Orientation, with upperclassmen beginning to return on Sunday, Aug. 28. Fall semester classes will begin on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
As she examined “knowing,” Van Duinen observed, “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.”
She noted, though, that knowing will involve learning more than facts and figures, with the students benefiting from the insights from the variety of academic disciplines they will study as well as through the student organizations, athletic teams, immersion trips, Bible studies and other opportunities they’ll find on campus outside of class. “[A]s you think about what you will learn and know at Hope College, I encourage you to invest in your learning,” Van Duinen said. “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.”
“Doing,” Van Duinen explained, both shapes and reflects the type of people the students will become.
“[D]uring your time at Hope we also want you to develop practices or habits that form your character and inform your doing,” she said. “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.”
“[A]s you think about ‘doing’ at Hope, I encourage you to be open to try new practices and to deepen habits you already have,” Van Duinen said. “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.”
“Being,” she said, “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,” Van Duinen said. “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.”