In pursuing their post-college lives, the members of the Hope College Class of 2004 were encouraged to spend their time day-dreaming.
During his Commencement address on Sunday, May 2, speaker the Rev. Dr. Timothy L. Brown wasn't advocating inattentiveness but instead the sort of imagining that can transform the world.
He adapted the phrase from T.E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," which he recounted as, "All people dream but not all people dream equally. Some people dream at night in the dusty recesses of their minds, and they wake in the morning and find it all vanity; but other people dream in the day, with their eyes wide open. And they're dangerous people because they make their dreams come true for everyone."
"That's it," Brown told the graduates. "I want you to be day dreamers."
Approximately 3,500 attended this year's Commencement, the college's 139th, held in the gymnasium at Zeeland East High School.
About 630 Hope seniors participated. The class included graduates from throughout the United States as well as from several other nations including Albania, Cameroon, China, Jamaica, Kosova, Liberia, Mexico, Romania, Senegal and South Africa.
Additional highlights during the ceremony included the announcement of the annual Hope Outstanding Professor Educator (H.O.P.E.) Award and the presentation of two honorary degrees. The H.O.P.E. Award, given by the graduating class, was presented to Dr. Joel Toppen, assistant professor of political science, and accepted by his wife Heather as he was still enroute to the ceremony. Hope awarded honorary degrees to J. Kermit Campbell, former chairperson of the college's Board of Trustees, and Danny R. Gaydou, who is chairperson of the Board of the Michigan Colleges Foundation and publisher of The Grand Rapids Press.
Brown, who is the Henry Bast Professor of Preaching at Western Theological Seminary, titled his address "Day Dreamers." He called on the graduates to reject seeking the sorts of worldly ends and successes advocated in popular culture.
He offered instead the words of the prophet Isaiah as a model: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, and the Lord has anointed me; to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to declare to everyone everywhere the acceptable year of the Lord's favor."
"When you listen to voices like that, it kind of makes you want to reconceive of the way things are arranged," Brown said.
Brown cited several examples of day dreamers from recent history, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who died for resisting the Nazi regime; Dorothy Day, who started the Catholic Worker movement; Mother Teresa, who worked with the poor of Calcutta; and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.
He outlined three qualities shared by such day dreamers for emulation.
First, he said, "Day dreamers are savvy enough people to lean deep into moral authorities way beyond themselves." Brown noted that the historical day dreamers he had listed had consulted the Bible, adding, "It's true that the Bible isn't the only moral authority on the planet today, but it's a pretty good moral authority to cast a God-sized vision for everybody everywhere."
Next, Brown said, "Day dreamers are hugely hospitable people, and they take pains to take pains that don't belong to them naturally... The poor, the blind, the disenfranchised, these are the people that day dreamers think about all day long. And in their thinking they find ways to enter into that pain, if only to have it for just a moment."
And last, he said, day dreamers "are never bought off and they're rarely easily satisfied."
"Just think of the day dreamers that I mentioned a moment ago," Brown said. "Could you even for a split second see Dr. Martin Luther King take a back seat in the bus? I don't think so."
The graduates, he said, should similarly reject the status quo and be true, too, to the example set by Jesus.
"Never be, ever be, far too easily pleased with the settled arrangements of this world," Brown said. "Dream a great big wide dream that takes in everybody, because there was a dreamer once who walked the face of the earth. And he dreamed a dream for everybody. It cost him everything, but we get everything back in return because of it."
The college's Baccalaureate service took place earlier in the day. The Rev. Dr. Carolyn Holloway, who is senior pastor of the DeWitt Reformed Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, N.Y., delivered the address, "What a Day!"
She based her text on Psalm 118:23-24: "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."
Holloway described the passage as a psalm of victory, at the same time noting that the verses also offer a reminder that victories come from God.
"The psalmist had to rejoice because of what God had done in his life," she said. "The psalmist declares for us all the days or our lives are given to us by the Lord. It is God who gives us new days and new hours and new times and days of great rejoicing."
Correspondingly, Holloway said, even as the graduates rightly celebrated their achievements and their graduation milestone, they needed to remember their obligation to God by helping the broader world.
"You've been given the tools to help better yourself and your condition. But you also have a responsibility now for changing the lives of those around you," she said. "You cannot hide your light under a bushel now. You now have the chance to bring that great light that you have into this dark world."
"Education is no good if we keep it for ourselves," she said. "Even though today defines a success for you, you will still have the responsibility to the least of them."
Reflecting on the college's excellence and the accomplishments of the graduates even as students, Holloway expressed confidence that they would make a difference.
"Hope College is producing the great thinkers of this time, and you're one of them," she said. "I believe that this graduating class has the potential to improve the conditions of this society."
"For all we know, sitting amongst us receiving a degree today could come one who will discover the cure for HIV/AIDS, or provide the means for poor people with AIDS to get the care that they need," she said.
Similarly, she said, from among the graduates might one day come a cure for other diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer's. They might erase racial prejudice from society, and find justice for the marginalized. They might assure access for all to the necessities of life. They might be peacemakers.
"Class of 2004, the world is waiting for you because the world is in need of hope," Holloway said. "And it's a new day. This afternoon each of you will receive your degree. You will receive your recognition. And Hope is about to release you to the world - new, intelligent, energetic, creative, innovative, spirit-filled, God-loving and God-fearing young men and women - for you to shine for the glory of God."