Reality television provided a framework for the advice shared with the members of the incoming Class of 2009 during Hope College's Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 28.
Featured speaker Dr. Deirdre Johnston of the college's communication faculty titled her address "Global Hope" and invited the students to take the "Global Challenge," to prepare themselves to live in and help meet the needs of a complex and interconnected world.
"But be forewarned. The 'Global Challenge' is a difficult path," said Johnston, who is an associate professor of communication and chairperson of the department. Adopting the titles of three reality shows, she continued, "There are three 'Global Challenge' tasks we must engage: Fear Factor, Extreme Makeover and Trading Places."
The convocation, held in Dimnent Memorial Chapel, marked the beginning of the college's 144th academic year, and a capacity audience of approximately 1,100, primarily new students and their parents, attended. Fall semester classes begin on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
Johnston's international theme complemented a major milestone in the life of the college: the opening of Hope's 49,000-square-foot MarthaMillerCenter for Global Communication, which houses the departments of communication and modern and classical languages, and the offices of international education and multicultural life.
Before outlining the three elements of the "Global Challenge," Johnston asked the students to approach each while heeding the advice of James 1:19, which notes that "Everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak."
Of fear, she said, "our fears often target people who are different from us. And we use fear to exaggerate these differences." Further, Johnston noted, "Fear prompts us to flight or fight - we either tend to deny or avoid those who scare us, or we project our hate and animosity toward those who scare us."
"Being brave does not mean that you are not afraid," Johnston added. "Being brave is centering yourself in the face of fear. This year, be brave. Take the Global Challenge: Learn everything you can about what or whom you fear. If you fear Islam, learn about it. If you fear global poverty, learn about it. If you fear al-Qaida, learn about it. If you fear Asian bird flu, learn about it."
Johnston rephrased "Extreme Makeover" as "Extreme Mind Makeover," encouraging the students to open their minds and learn everything possible, "because you never know when it's going to come in handy."
"An Extreme Mind Makeover is not easy," she said. "We have to accept the uncomfortable fact that Ultimate Truth is known only to God. We each carry partial truths, perspectives on the truth--a few random pieces of the jig-saw puzzle. An open mind means giving up the illusion that any one of us holds the whole truth."
"Trading Places," Johnston said, "requires taking the perspective of another, and this is key to the Global Challenge."
"When we trade places, we have to tear down walls," she said. "We so easily separate ourselves from others with our neighborhoods, our standard of living, our nationalism. We try to fix our national and global problems by occasionally throwing food over the wall to the people on the other side, all the while maintaining our separation. While the distribution of global resources is important, we often overlook the spiritual implications of the walls we have built."
Johnston challenged the students to apply all three components during the coming months.
"This year, as we dedicate our commitment to study global communication in the Martha Miller Center, as we embark [through the Critical Issues Symposium in September] on an in-depth, campus-wide study of genocide, as we engage diversity at Hope and in our community and in our world, embrace the fear factor: Learn about what or whom scares you. This year, as you are exposed to new concepts and ideas, open your mind to an extreme mind makeover. This year, as you meet new people - whether in your residence halls, your classes, in books or in films - trade places. Treat each and every one as a child of God."
"Most of all, have faith," Johnston said. "Changing systems takes time and perseverance. Have faith that you, too, can change the world in which you live."