A few weeks ago, Betty and I took leave of the President’s House, which has been our home for the past two years. Leaving the PRESH, as it is known by some on campus, was bittersweet, but it was also an occasion for celebration! On July 1, Hope College will have a new president: Matthew A. Scogin ’02. We can’t wait to welcome President Scogin and his family to their new home, and we are eager to support them in all their endeavors. Under President Scogin’s leadership, Hope College is sure to thrive, develop and reach new levels of excellence. What an exciting time to be a part of the Hope community!
When I accepted the Board of Trustees’ invitation to serve as president, I did so out of a deep and abiding love for Hope College. I couldn’t imagine loving the college any more than I did as I stepped into the President’s House on July 1, 2017. And yet, as I crossed that same threshold one final time, I found myself filled with even more affection, even more passion, even more optimism about the future of Hope.
It’s not surprising, I suppose, to experience these feelings during my final days in the presidency. For two years, Betty and I were uplifted by prayers, support and kindness of students, colleagues and alumni. We learned new stories of Hope — stories of great personal and professional achievements, of learning inside and outside the classroom, of untold struggles to overcome adversity, of the blessings of both failure and success, of meaningful journeys where the mind and heart intersected. What a joy to be able to say that, every day, we were inspired by those who surrounded us.
No single word adequately describes what Betty and I are feeling as we approach June 30. But there is one word that we return to over and over: grateful. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to have served the Hope College community. We thank God, and we thank you.
Faithful, Welcoming and Transformational
Three days a week during the school year, Dimnent Memorial Chapel holds a standing-room-only crowd for worship. We often point to our full chapel when we cite examples of how our campus community engages with the Christian faith. But, chapel attendance is only one of many ways to gauge that engagement. Over the course of two years, I have been involved in countless programs, discussions and decisions that confirm an ever-growing cross-campus commitment to ecumenical Christianity. In fact, I believe our identity as a Christian college is more vibrant — and more gracious and grace-filled — than it has ever been.
In May 2018, the Board of Trustees voted to affirm the Statement of Hope’s Christian Aspirations, a statement initiated and developed by the Board of Trustees’ Christian Faith and Formation Committee. Here we are, one year later, living into this statement, which begins, “Hope College is a Christian community that invites all its members into a holistic and robust engagement with the historic Christian faith and a personal encounter with the living Christ through the Holy Spirit.” It goes on to describe our Christian identity in terms of three aspirations: to be faithful, to be welcoming and to be transformational.
This was meant to be a living statement that we consider deeply and revisit regularly, and so it has been this first year. The work of bringing this statement to life has involved a certain level of humility, as the very act of aspiring requires us to acknowledge, “We are not there yet; we are in process.” In fact, we will always be in process. We will never be perfectly faithful or perfectly welcoming or perfectly transformational. But, we will work hard to be the community that God intended us to be. With that mindset, we have embraced the aspirations, creating positive momentum in several areas.
In September, toward the aspiration to be transformational, we officially opened the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career on the first floor of the DeWitt Center. According to the Statement of Hope’s Christian Aspirations, “the whole Hope community is encouraged in a life-long commitment to grow in God’s grace and to pursue vocations through which the world so loved by God is renewed.” While every student’s journey toward vocation is different, all Hope students should be ready to share their God-given gifts with the world after graduation. With the support of the Boerigter Center, our students are not just cultivating academic excellence but are transforming into men and women who seek to understand their roles in the world. Working closely with faculty and staff from our academic, advising and alumni programs, the Boerigter Center team guides students through the journey to discern their gifts, prepare for the future and pursue their calling.
In May, toward the aspiration to be welcoming, the Board of Trustees voted to replace the 2011 Position Statement on Human Sexuality with the Statement of Hope’s Christian Aspirations. In the spirit of vibrant ecumenism, we recognize that faithful and professing Christians across the globe — and on our campus — hold differing views on human sexuality and the definition of marriage. Rather than focusing on a single issue that divides us, our institutional focus will be on our shared faith in Jesus Christ. We will be, as the statement says, “a community where all come together to offer their gifts of understanding to one another,” cherishing our historic affiliation with the Reformed Church in America while also honoring the diversity of perspectives within the global church.
Also in May, toward the aspiration to be faithful, the Board of Trustees voted to remove ambiguity in our faculty-hiring policy, so that the language of the policy aligns with current practice. Since 1984, the board’s hiring directive has been “to strive diligently” to hire Christian faculty; the practice, however, has been not just striving to do so but actually doing so. The two are explicitly matched through this board action, which states that the college will hire full-time faculty who are “dedicated to excellence in teaching and scholarship, and who have a mature understanding of and commitment to the Christian faith.” Again, true to our call to be robustly ecumenical, we will define “Christian” broadly and diversely, recognizing, in the words of the Statement of Hope’s Christian Aspirations, that “the variety of expressions of the Christian faith we hold in common contributes to the vitality of Hope College.”
A Position of Strength
If these past two years have revealed anything to me, it’s that the mission of Hope College is very much alive and present in the daily work of the faculty, staff and students. At a time when private, liberal arts colleges struggle to find their place and assert their identity in the higher education landscape, Hope holds strong to its mission. Our identity as a faithful, welcoming and transformational college has never been clearer, and the path forward — while not without difficulties — has never been more promising.
I have always believed that we need to nurture “heroic Christians.” There is heroism in choosing to serve the world that needs us — not just in communities that feel comfortably familiar, but in unfamiliar and even inhospitable communities, where there are differences, challenges and real issues of hatred, intolerance, hostility and bitterness. There is heroism in realizing what it takes to “go out and make a difference,” and then doing it. I don’t know of any other school that prepares its students for this kind of heroic work as well as Hope College.
When I think of the future of Hope College, I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in which he asks his fellow Christians to “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” Indeed, Hope will be a place where we work together with one mind and one purpose, even as we hold diverse individual perspectives. When I addressed my Hope colleagues last August at our annual Pre-College Conference, I affirmed that “as a community of Hope College, we look forward — together — to where we are going — together.” We will keep doing this because we believe in our name: Hope.
Thanks and Prayers
And so, I close out this letter with the same sentiment I included in the opening paragraph: Friends, we have much to celebrate!
Betty and I know this is true because we have experienced the goodness of Hope College. We experienced goodness from you — kindness and positivity from students, encouragement and wisdom from colleagues, and friendship and fortitude from alumni and supporters. So many good things have happened at Hope, thanks to you. There will be more changes in the years ahead, and I am confident they will be positive and worthy of celebration.
In the summer of 2017, Betty and I asked for your prayers, and you responded. Now, I ask that you pray for our new president, Matthew A. Scogin, his wife, Sarah, and their three children, Sophie, Lucy and Oliver. Let us open our hearts and our community to them, knowing that they will lead and serve Hope College in new and wonderful ways.
Grace and peace,
Rev. Dr. Dennis N. Voskuil
President and Professor
DeWitt Student Cultural Center141 East 12th StreetFloor 2Holland, MI 49423