posted April 4, 1998

Graduation Address Coverage

Although their undergraduate years were ending, commencement speaker Dr. Steven Bouma-Prediger asked the members of Hope College's Class of '98 to remember that their education wasn't.

          Bouma-Prediger, an associate professor of
  religion, delivered the address "Can You Count?" during the
  college's 133rd commencement exercises, held at Holland
  Municipal Stadium on Sunday, May 3.
          So that the largest possible number of family
  members and well-wishers could be present, the event
  proceeded at the outdoor location despite the day's
  intermittent rain.  Seating is more limited at the
  alternate, indoor, Civic Center site.
          Approximately 4,000 attended commencement.  About
  577 Hope seniors participated, including graduates from
  throughout the United States and as far away as Australia,
  Peru and South Africa.
          Bouma-Prediger built his talk around Psalm 90:12,
  which reads, "So teach us, O Lord, to count our days, that
  we may gain a heart of wisdom."  He examined the text's
  emphasis on learning, setting priorities and gaining wisdom,
  and ways he hoped that Hope had helped prepare the graduates
  for the challenges each posed.
          "This text begins with the presumption that we are
  able and willing to learn," he said.  "This prayer assumes
  that we, in counting our days, are humble, are willing to
  grow and change and learn--that we're eager to be taught."
          "I pray that your Hope education has so shaped you
  that you are open to the surprise and the shock of a God
  whose Spirit blows where it wills," he said.
          Regarding counting, Bouma-Prediger urged his
  audience not to emphasize acclaim, and to reject the
  philosophy of "Whoever dies with the most toys wins."
          "The psalmist does not advise you to count your
  awards.  He prays that you and I be taught to count our
  days," he said.  "Note--not other peoples' days, but our
  days.  For our days are in fact finite, limited, numbered."
          "We are--as previous verses in Psalm 90 forcibly
  remind us--we are mortal.  We are dust," Bouma-Prediger
  said.  "Such an honest acknowledgement prompts this
  question:  what really is important?"
          "I pray that your time at Hope has sharpened your
  focus not on possessions but on people, not on supremacy but
  on service, not on that which moth and rust consume, but on
  that which truly lasts," he said.
          Wisdom, he noted, is something other than brain
  power or accumulated knowledge.  "Wisdom is, rather, a kind
  of sound judgement, keen discernment, laced with an
  insightful sense of what is good and right and true," he
          "As one of you graduates put it recently in a
  paper:  'I realize now how fragile and delicate life really
  is, and that has helped me to appreciate it more.  I also
  know that there are many things I cannot take for granted
  any more,'" Bouma-Prediger said.  "Awareness, appreciation,
  gratitude--such is the grammar of wisdom.  Wisdom is, in
  short, living a life in which your gifts meet the world's
          "You have intelligence and learning and skill in
  abundance, but do you strive, in the counting of your days,
  for a heart of wisdom?," he asked.  "I pray that your Hope
  education has caused you to increase in wisdom."
          Bouma-Prediger concluded with one more hope for
  the graduates' Hope years, reciting "Southland of the Heart"
  by Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, which
  recommends a gentle resting place as a refuge from life's
          "I truly pray that there are memories and ideas
  and people from your time at Hope that will in the future be
  for you southlands of the heart," he said.
          "And remember that nothing, nothing--not the wild-
  eyed dogs of day to day snapping at your heels, not thoughts
  you've tried to leave behind sniping from the dark, not the
  nightmare creeping closer while your wheels are in the mud--
  nothing can separate you from the haunting hounding grace of
  God, that Southland of the Heart in whose loving presence we
  are able to take our rest."
          The Rev. Dr. Charles Van Engen was the
  baccalaureate speaker earlier in the day, presenting "Having
  Sung a Hymn, They Went Out."  Van Engen is the 1997-98
  president of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in
  America and a member of the faculty at Fuller Theological
  Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.  His daughter Anita was among
  the graduates.
          He based his theme on Matthew 26:30.  The verse
  concerns the Last Supper, noting that Jesus and the
  disciples sang a hymn before leaving for the Mount of
          Van Engen presented the verse as a model for
  facing change.  "Matthew's account can help us understand
  the crucial place of the Bible, of God's revelation and of a
  personal relationship with Jesus Christ to guide us across
  the thresholds that lead us into the future," he said.
          "The sentence marks a major transition in
  Matthew's story of Jesus," Van Engen said.  "It marks the
  threshold between the events leading up to Christ's passion-
  -and the passion sufferings themselves that mark the
  beginning of the end times in Matthew."
          "And Matthew tells us that singing takes us over
  the threshold," he said.  "Matthew speaks of a look backward
  to the past, a celebration of the present and a call to
  commitment toward the future."
          Van Engen noted that the hymn that Jesus and the
  disciples sang was likely the second part of the Hallel
  Psalms:  Psalms 115-118, one of which is Psalm 116, which
  concerns God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.
          He asked the graduates to think of the challenges
  they had faced during their time at Hope--such as finals,
  performances, experiments, paintings and mathematical
  proofs--and the way that they faced them.
          "You may have gone through some really hard times
  here at Hope," Van Engen said.  "The Lord has brought you
  through them!  God has preserved your life.  God has gifted
  and prepared you for ministry and for a purpose."
          Like Jesus, he noted, the graduates faced their
  own Mount of Olives:  in their case, the challenge of
  transforming a world in need.  "Our globe is itself on a
  threshold--more like a precipice, the edge of a cliff," he
          He cited the scarcity of food in the world, the
  volume of refugees worldwide, religious persecution and the
  explosive growth of cities as four examples of difficulties
  to face.
          Van Engen noted that during his time as president
  of the RCA's General Synod, he has been impressed by the
  large number of Hope graduates who play influential roles in
  the RCA as well as in other denominations.  "Hope College
  graduates change the world," he said.
          He also shared the story of a shepherd that he and
  his wife once encountered while they were visiting a
  protective dike along the North Sea in the Netherlands.
  They watched the shepherd, playing a flute, leading his
  flock of sheep from the dike safely across a busy highway
  and to a corral beyond.
          He challenged the graduates, newly prepared with
  their Hope education, to assume leadership roles as well.
          "You and I are on a threshold today," Van Engen
  said.  "The blessing and privilege of a Hope College
  education makes you a leader."
          "I challenge you to let God play the flute of your
  life and change the world of the next century," Van Engen
  said.  "Having sung a hymn, let us go out and participate in
  the mission of Jesus of transforming a lost and broken world
  so loved by God."