With the members of the Hope College Class of 2007 at the advent of their college experience, Opening Convocation speaker Dr. David Marker on Sunday, Aug. 24, provided a user's guide for approaching a "life-changing" liberal arts education.
Marker was a member of the Hope faculty for 19 years, serving as provost from 1974 to 1984, and went on to positions including the presidencies of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and Des Moines University. He presented "Anchors of Hope in a Turbulent World" in Dimnent Memorial Chapel, addressing a capacity audience of about 1,100, primarily new students and their parents. Classes in the college's 142nd academic year begin on Tuesday, Aug. 26.
He offered his advice in light of his of his own experience when acquiring a new computer or software. Eager to get started, he admitted, he typically neglects the user's manual, sometimes with unfortunate results. "Sometimes the approach works okay, but often I get into trouble, he said. "So I'm reminded: if all else fails... read the instructions."
"Well, so it is with liberal arts education in a way. Very few of us have seen, much less read, a user's guide to liberal arts education," Marker said. "So I wrote one for you."
First, he said, the students should make the most of required courses outside of their primary area of interest. "These courses expose you to the breadth of human knowledge and cause you to explore the best that has been though and written and composed and invented," Marker said. "It is in the breadth of your liberal education that you will be changed forever as a human being, because your liberal education will give you new hopes, and new dreams, new insights and new aspirations. This liberal education that you're about to embark on is a life-changing venture."
Second, he said, students should hone their oral and written communication skills. He encouraged them to enroll in courses that require extensive reading and writing, and oral presentations. "You'll be cheating yourself if you don't improve your ability to write and speak clearly and persuasively while at Hope," Marker said. "And if it is not a good enough reason for its own sake, you'll have a great competitive advantage when you go to interview for that first job."
Third, Marker said, students should learn as much science as possible, even if majoring in a non-science field-not least of all so that they can grapple with issues ranging from cloning, to global warming to the disposal of nuclear waste. "It is obvious to all of us that we live in a world which is increasingly dependent upon and governed by science and technology," he said. "For that reason alone, you should learn as much science as you can, certainly to be a well-educated human being and a responsible citizen and voter."
Fourth, he said, the students need to become informed about religion. "Religious studies give an absolutely essential look at the ideas and forces that have contributed so much to the evolution of Western civilization and certainly they are of no less importance at this time than they have ever been in the past," he said. "You know, while you're here you ought to take an in-depth look at Islam. Given the recent attack on our country by Islamic terrorists on 9/11, and most recently this past week the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad and the suicide bombing of a bus in Israel carrying 21men and women and six children, who can doubt that this world has become ever so much more turbulent, especially in the last few years? To really understand these extremists' motives, you need to know much more about Islam than the great majority of Americans know."
Finally, he said, the students will realize character benefits from the college's Christian foundation. "This Faith was brought here by those who founded Hope almost a century and a half ago. It provides the ethical and moral grounding needed to live a life of integrity, freedom and service," he said. "It provides the commitment to taking the compassionate and just 'high road' in dealing with one another."
Marker closed by presenting several goals for the students to pursue in the course of their college years and beyond-and not only for themselves: "learn to think clearly and critically; learn to write and speak clearly, correctly and persuasively; commit to a moral and ethical foundation; commit to working for peace and justice for all persons; resolve to be a truth-teller without spinning the truth to your own advantage; commit to doing your part in protecting our free, open and democratic society; enrich your life by becoming familiar with the best that has been thought, and written, and invented, and composed; learn to heed the hard lessons of history; always take the high road in dealing with one another; and be committed to defend the freedom of religion this country offers for all persons."
"If you're able to realize these goals even in part in the course of your Hope education, and to continue to work on them over your whole life, the symbol of all this college stands for, the anchor, will be reflected to the world through your life and your work, and you will indeed-each one of you-become an anchor of hope in a turbulent world," he said.