By Dr. Richard Frost Retired from in 2022 as vice president for student development
and dean of students after serving at the college since 1989.
Sunday, May 7, 2023
Ray and Sue Smith Stadium
Thank you, Helen, for those kind words.
President Scogin, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family and friends and a hearty congratulations to the Class of 2023.
Members of the Class of 2023 I want to say thank you; I am honored that you have asked me to present your commencement address. I hope that my thoughts and my insights will have meaning for you as you leave Hope College and boldly step into the new journey.
I have spent a lot of time with Hope College students (thirty-three years). You could say my life has been students, and outside of my family that would be correct. Of those thirty-three years, I have walked with you on and off campus. I understand and know you, and have learned who you are. I have walked with you with roommates, classes, research, Chapel, relationships, athletics, fine arts, student groups, and so much more have been woven into your rich tapestry. It is a lot!!! I want to pause to recognize that the work that you have done here was only made possible by the families that sit around you today. They are the ones that have prayed for you, supported you, listened to you, sent you money, and more money, all the way through four years.
Of my thirty-three years, I continue to receive phone calls and conversations with alums, some planned and some unplanned. These are blessings, and from them I understand how your four years will crisscross your lifetime after leaving Hope. So, as you prepare to leave Hope, I have three lessons that I would like to share with you that will shape your life.
First: Transformative Relationships
Relationships are the core of the Hope DNA, and have been the catalyst for connecting you with those like and unlike you. Over the past four years, you have met a full spectrum of people that have walked with you. Each one of these people have contributed to who you are. What is the chance that a young man named Luis from Dallas would have a best friend, Nathan, from Michigan? Or what about the person that would find the love of your life, Natalie, and be engaged? Or that philosophy, religion and spike ball would find harmony with Logan? Or melodies will change lives in a classroom, Gretchen? Or the smile with the zest for life would be shared abundantly from Nigeria, Marvelous? I could go on for a long time as YOU embody a congregation of transformative relationships. Stop for a moment and think about these relationships and how they happened. As President Scogin said, you leaned into the Hope DNA, engaging authentically and understanding that all persons have value. Hope relationships are different.
The relationships that you have developed at Hope are transformative, and going forward it will may not be quite as easy. The world that you are stepping into operates at a frenetic pace, interactions are often mediated by technology or transactions, sometimes leaving you wondering where community fits. The mirror we often look into may be shaped by the number of likes, or hits, or what’s posted on online. Leaving the caring and close-knit community of Hope can and most likely will be difficult.
As you leave Hope College, you are presented with the opportunity to be a light of difference. In her book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown presents a vision of how to live in a tumultuous world. She shares that each of us is searching and needing “true belonging” which establishes who we are and allows us to live fully into the messy middle. “True belonging” is not a one-and-done experience, graduates; rather, it is a choice for how each of you will live your lifetime. Brene Brown says these are four truths:
- People are hard to hate close up. Move in.
- Speak truth. No bull.
- Hold hands. With strangers.
- Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.
I believe that the Hope DNA mirrors these truths. The last four years you have walked with members of the community and experienced the willingness to listen rather than distance; be patient and state your convictions; and be strong as well as caring. Tomorrow is a new day: where belonging can be up for question, the tendency to judge quickly before we know others’ story is an easy out, empathy is a scarce commodity because we are busy, and pulling back from people who are different is common. However, the people of Hope and you are different!
Lesson one: Be willing to develop transformative relationships formed by Hope’s DNA, we are all created by God, that each of us has a complex story to share, be committed to build bridges which may result in transforming experiences creating a multitude of possibilities that you could never imagine. Lesson one.
Lesson Two: Liberal Arts – A Lifetime of Learning
Each of you over the last four years has travelled Hope’s liberal arts pathway. Yes, I am all too aware that sometimes gen eds were not your favorites and you wondered why you should invest your time and energy in these classes. However, based on those that have come before you, I firmly believe the habits of learning – curiosity, intellectual courage, creativity, critical thinking — are significant and life-long companions. The essential question now is whether you will decide to embrace and exercise them.
Why am I so confident in this unshakable belief that you are ready for the new day? Two reasons. First, I look out at you, the Class of ’23, and I see possibilities beyond possibilities. You have all come with different stories from all over the United States and in some cases the world. You have participated in a rigorous academic journey testing your intellect, and you have personally faced an array of experiences that challenged your faith, your values, your identity, and your purpose. passing with flying colors. I know many of you, I sat in Honors Convocation, reviewed the list of undergraduate research projects, have watched performances or contests and I marvel at your readiness to compete and thrive.
The second reason are the students who have gone before you and every day embrace enthusiastically the habits of learning that are grounded in Hope’s liberal arts. I will give two quick illustrations.
John was from West Michigan, and knew Hope, and easily fit in. He planned on graduating with a degree in business with the purpose of going into the one of the many furniture organizations. Between his junior and senior years, he went to Officer Candidate School and upon graduation entered the Marine Corps to become a pilot. When he was honorably discharged as pilot, he returned to Holland, working at a manufacturing company and obtaining an MBA, picking up where he began. However, after a few years he went back to medical school as a little bit of an older student. Today he is in anesthesiology. Living the liberal arts.
Brandon was not from West Michigan and didn’t know Hope. It was hard for Brandon as he didn’t feel like he fit in. He struggled to find his purpose and questioned his educational choice, perhaps like some of you have. Gradually, with help of fellow students, faculty, and staff, he found his place in International Relations and Japanese studies. While at Hope, he spent a year in Japan studying and exploring. After Hope, he returned to Japan, where he became a journalist and immersed himself into his heritage and culture. After a short time, he went to University of London to obtain a master’s in Japanese Management and Energy. During his time at University, he explored science, ethics, climate, global economics, and ecosystem restoration. While in Europe, he also explored his roots in Ireland and Italy, and he speaks fluent Italian. He now is in Hawaii, and is extremely successful at business doing development and climate change mitigation. Living the liberal arts.
As I look out at all of you, I believe that you are stepping into a world that is forever changing. You have a distinct advantage because of your liberal arts education. You are exceptionally competent and understand that:
- There is a lot to learn
- Learning requires you to question, examine, be curious, think and rethink, be intellectually brave and humble, understand faith, and be ethical
- Recognize that your life will have few “final drafts” and lots of “rough drafts,” as we are constantly becoming and learning
I believe that your journey will be like John and Brandon’s, where learning will be an everyday companion. As you leave Hope College, it is now your responsibility to own your liberal arts heritage, willingly pulling up your chair, no longer to Phelps, or Schaap, or Lubbers or the Cook table, but the table of work, professional programs, and opportunities where your voice needs to heard and you need to be seen.
The world is forever changing, and you have a Hope College liberal arts compass that will enable you to learn, and navigate, and thrive, making an impact your entire lifetime. Lesson Two.
Lesson Three: Hard Is Hard
Hope College is a special place! Think back for a moment to your first roommate, Chapel, midterms, first snowfalls, brinner, and so much more. Take a moment ready to graduate and think about a faculty member, coach, chaplain, adviser, administrator, or staff that walked with you, helping you become and flourish in ways you never knew or thought possible. I think we can all say that Hope is a community of exceptional people. As a community, we are bright, caring, difference makers, and they have touched your lives in ways that you can see today and you will for a lifetime.
Now this is not to say that there have not been highs and lows; there have been. To name just one, your class lived and experienced the entire COVID journey, which was difficult and at times stretched us to our limits. It has been just a moment since we were in COVID with testing, masking, isolation, quarantine, updates as well as many agreements and disagreements as to what we should do and not do. We had to change classes, not every relationship was always great and sometimes they ended on a rocky road, games, programs, or performances were cancelled, and for some there was real loss.
For each of us, life is about the hard and good together. The jumble of hard and good build who we are and the confidence and resilience to keep going. Tomorrow is a new day; the world you are joining is not Hope College. Not everyone will have your back, the Hope nice is not universal, and it is more difficult to decide who is on your team.
Hard is hard and I know that you are ready!! As you step onto your new mountain, here are a few handholds to consider as you climb:
- Listen to yourself with greater intentionality
- Understand that failures are an opportunity to grow
- Successes are opportunities to give thanks and share
- Being resilient comes from being on the field and not the sidelines
- Be who you are and NOT what tweets or podcasts suggest
- Understand that you and your journey will unfold over a lifetime, NOT a google search
Lesson 3: Hard is hard, and as Hope College graduates you eat hard for lunch
I have shared three lessons with you: transformative relationships, a lifetime of learning, and hard is hard. These three lessons are only achievable if you have one thing, HOPE.
Hope is the ingredient that allows us each to push through the skeptics and cynics of our culture today, enabling us to have transformative relationships.
Hope is the ability to see and understand that God created all of us differently.
Hope allows us to extend to others grace and understanding.
Hope allows us to realize that a lifetime of learning invites us to become more of ourselves, building bridges daily to serve an ever-changing world.
Hope provides us with a faith that in the best of times or the darkest of times we are never alone and that God is with us.
Hope provides the daily strength to get up and face the hard.
Hope helps us understand that we need to nurture this in ourselves and for one another.
Hope is the energy to know that you are competent and ready to the climb whatever mountain is before you.
Class of 2023:
Live into transformative relationships, embrace enthusiastically lifelong learning, and eat hard for lunch.
Give all you can. God has raised you up to impact, so waste not a moment or a day.
And always remember that Hope and Hope College are the anchor for each of you! Hope as your anchor will always, always, be steadfast, and pray you feel its gentle pull daily as you climb your mountain of life.
Congratulations Class of 2023!!!!