When President Gerald R. Ford accepted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Hope College in April, 1987, he called it the most meaningful degree he had ever received.
"Because of my very, very high regard for Hope College, no degree -- earned or honorary -- will mean more to me than the one I received from this outstanding institution," President Ford said at a convocation held in his honor.
President Ford was no stranger to Hope College. From 1949 through 1973 as a Congressman whose district included Holland, he made annual visits to Hope to discuss foreign and domestic issues with students and faculty. He frequently hosted students and faculty at his Congressional office in Washington, D.C. In 1971 he delivered the keynote address and cut the ribbon celebrating the opening of the DeWitt Student and Cultural Center.
"We acknowledge with gratitude to God, President Ford's service to our country," said Hope College President James E. Bultman. "We are grateful for the affection he showed toward Hope College during his distinguished career, first as a Congressman, later as President, and in recent years as Statesman."
In 1977, just months after losing his presidential election bid to Jimmy Carter, Ford was back on the Hope campus, giving students an opportunity to ask questions of a man who less than a year earlier had been directly affecting the course of U.S. history. Students lined the Pine Grove sidewalk to shake his hand. Electing to speak from the floor instead of a podium, the former chief executive said his visit "was like coming home."
A moment of silence in honor of President Ford was led by President Bultman at the Russ DeVette Holiday Classic basketball tournament on Friday, Dec. 29.
Gerald R. Ford's Comments at Dedication of
DeWitt Student and Cultural Center
October 23, 1971
by Congressman Gerald R. Ford
"We treasure this dedication because it comes to us as the culmination of a great effort, the effort by which students, church and many private individuals collectively made this fine building possible. It was a seemingly impossible goal -- but it was reached, and we here today can glory in the wonder of it.
"It was a glorious undertaking and a glorious achievement. And no small part of that glory is the manner in which it makes evident to us the strength of the private Christian college.
"It is most fitting that the private Christian college should build cultural centers and dedicate them to the greater Glory of God.
"When I pondered what I would say to help dedicate this fine new building, in that instant my mind was flooded with thoughts of the great works of art, music and literature which have been inspired by Christ and his teachings -- the superb paintings that hang in museums in this country and in Europe, the monumental musical compositions which sprang from deep religious feeling, and the great writings rooted in religion.
"What is the most glorious book of all if it is not the Bible? What paintings can be compared with "The Last Supper?" What musical work can be classed with Handel's "Messiah?"
"If we need anything in America today we need the private Christian college and the truths it teaches, the basic wisdom it imparts to young minds, and the muscle it provides to the national character.
"Today America is shaken by doubts about the meaning of education, about the ideals of the college generation, and indeed about the stability of American society.
"As individuals and as a nation we must have a deep, abiding sense of purpose. We need to return to moral values. This should be our answer to the crushing materialism that is robbing our lives of meaning.
"American college students today are among the most privileged and fortunate individuals in the world. And here at Hope College they are doubly blessed because they receive a college education rooted in moral values and the steadfast belief that man is only a little lower than the angels.
"This, your cultural center, will help young men and women to do -- to become all that they are capable of becoming. And if they become all that they were created capable of bring, they will help to build this nation, they will help to make it strong, they will add to its moral character.
"Let each one of us use this cultural center to light a candle in the world, the candle of knowledge and understanding, so that together we will make a great light and illumine the universe for ourselves and for all men."