As the members of Hope College’s graduating Class of 2023 concluded their journey as undergraduates with ceremonies on Sunday, May 7, they received encouragement and advice from two recently retired or soon-to-retire mentors whose combined service to Hope totals more than 80 years.
The day opened with the college’s 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Baccalaureate services in Dimnent Memorial Chapel, which featured an address by Dr. Stephen Hemenway, who is retiring at the end of the school year as the Betty Roelofs ’53 Miller Professor of English after serving at Hope since 1972. It culminated in Commencement at 3 p.m. at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium with featured speaker Dr. Richard Frost, who retired from Hope in 2022 as vice president for student development and dean of students after serving at the college since 1989.
Both connected their remarks to the spiritual meaning behind the name of the college that they and the graduates have shared together.
“Graduates of the Class of 2023, may you all have hope and blessings for a fantastic future,” Hemenway said. “In the words of Romans 15:13, ‘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.”
Hemenway presented a personalized list of five “W” words with which he framed advice that he promised that he would also heed in a purposeful retirement.
“When I was editor of my high-school newspaper, I learned the importance of the five W words: who, what, where, when, why,” he said. “My five W words for you and me are: welcome, wonder, weirdness, worldliness and worship.”
“[T]hese suggestions are also advice I give myself, since we are all moving from capital H Hope to lower-case hope today,” Hemenway said. “‘But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,’ says Isaiah 40:31. ‘They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’”
Frost focused on three thematic lessons encapsulating the graduates’ time at the college: transformative relationships, the liberal arts as preparation for a lifetime of learning, and accepting that not everything is easy. None, he noted, would be achievable without 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,” Frost said. “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,” he said.
“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,” Frost said.
The approximately 590 graduates participating in the Commencement ceremony included students from throughout the United States as well as other nations including Australia, Germany, Honduras, Malaysia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam. Also during the event, the graduating class presented the “Hope Outstanding Professor Educator” (H.O.P.E.) Award to Dr. Kirk Brumels, who is the John H. and Jeanne M. Jacobson Professor of Kinesiology.
Reflecting Baccalaureate’s role as a worship service, Hemenway wove scriptural passages throughout his discussion of his five Ws. Opening with “Welcome,” he said, “Welcome everyone into your life,” he said. He connected the word to 2 Corinthians 6:17: “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”
Hemenway encouraged the graduates to maintain a sense of wonder as embodied by passages like Psalm 65:8: “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”
He shared from experience that wonder is a quality that can last a lifetime.
“I have taught more than 30 different courses at Hope to current seniors and many of your parents and a few of your grandparents,” Hemenway said. “Wonderfully, I was still learning new ideas and ways of looking at life from students last week.” [The semester concluded the Friday before the Sunday ceremony.]
For weirdness, Hemenway admitted, identifying a scriptural passage was challenging. “The closest I could come to biblical approval of weirdness is in one translation of Deuteronomy 14:2: ‘The Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself,’” he said. “A second translation changes ‘a peculiar people’ to ‘his treasured possession,’ which sounds more appealing.”
Hemenway linked weirdness to wonder as a way of enriching discovery by meeting the expected in unexpected ways. In his teaching, for example, he often had students respond to literature through “nonpaper” assignments to allow for artistic, choreographic, cinematic and electronic approaches. In his World Literature class, he said, he wore ties related to the work he taught that day.
“I have a peculiar penchant for low-key weirdness as a trait of intriguing people who take life seriously but find ways to bring humor, color, vibrancy and quirkiness into their families,” he said. At the same time, he added, “Be weird, but don’t overdo it.”
Hemenway acknowledged that his fourth W, worldliness, was “a weird word in a spiritual homily which should probably condemn the often sinful and secular ideas of the world.”
“However,” he said, “I want you and me to redefine the word worldliness to make the world a better place by being Good Samaritans, by sharing our talents and possessions with people all over the world, by making our world travels into adventures that celebrate the cultures and food and religions of all people. I want to speak out more and write against war and racism and gender inequality in many parts of the world and the USA. 1 Timothy 4:10 declares: ‘That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God.’”
Worship, Hemenway said, followed from Romans 12:12 — “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” — in addition to both needing and fostering the first of the Ws: welcome. “Worship includes reading and communicating with companions and colleagues about the Bible, the classics and current films to enrich yourselves,” he said.
“Spiritual communities can keep us grounded and other-oriented,” he told the graduates. “Many of you took Senior Seminar classes from me during the past two years where we flourished in classroom communities and could agree or argue with trust and care.”
During the afternoon’s Commencement ceremony, Frost noted that his three lessons were derived from the insights provided to him by alumni whose student days spanned his more than three decades at the college.
“I continue to receive phone calls and conversations with alums, some planned and some unplanned,” Frost said. “These are blessings, and from them I understand how your four years will crisscross your lifetime after leaving Hope.”
Relationships, he noted, “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,” he said. “Each one of these people have contributed to who you are.”
Noting that such connections may not be so easy after college, Frost encouraged the graduates to carry the spirit of their Hope experience with them.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The students’ experience with the liberal arts, he said, will provide a distinct advantage as they step “into a world that is forever changing.”
“[B]ased 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,” he said.
“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; willing to think and rethink what you know; recognize that your life will have few ‘final drafts’ and lots of ‘rough drafts,’ as we are constantly becoming and learning.”
Noting that “Hard is hard,” Frost said that the students can also use their Hope foundation to weather the challenging times.
“For each of us, life is about the hard and good together,” he said. “The jumble of hard and good build who we are and the confidence to keep going.”
“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 and NOT a Google search.”
And ultimately, Frost said, “Give all you can. God has raised you up to impact, so waste not a moment or a day.”