Following a week that had offered some of the summer's stormiest weather, the quotation carried a literal as well as metaphoric relevance: "Some people feel the rain, others just get wet."
Opening Convocation speaker Dr. F. Sheldon Wettack, however, had the future of Hope College 's newest students firmly in mind as he shared the statement attributed to Bob Dylan. Speaking on the eve of Hope's 146th academic year, he encouraged the members of the incoming Class of 2011 to make the most of the coming four years.
"The quote suggests, of course, for you to be fully engaged in your life's experiences, don't just let them happen around you," he said. Wettack is dean of faculty emeritus and professor of chemistry emeritus at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. He is a visiting professor of chemistry at Hope, where he had previously served from 1967 to 1982 first as a member of the chemistry faculty and then as dean for the natural and social sciences.
Approximately 2,000, primarily new students and their families, attended the event, held in the college's Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse on Sunday, Aug. 26. The new students moved in on Friday, Aug. 24, for the start of New Student Orientation. Fall semester classes will begin on Tuesday, Aug. 28.
In setting the stage for the students' Hope experience, Wettack considered three general topics: change, passion and liberal education. "I predict that each will be important to you in the days, months and years ahead," he said.
For many of the new students, Wettack noted, moving to college might well be the largest life change yet. He suggested that they embrace the process as a learning experience.
"Change is something that we face throughout our lives as we take on new positions or new personal relationships," he said. "Thus, you need to take advantage of this challenge and begin preparing yourself to be a 'wise' person, one who deals well with the changes that will take place throughout your life."
In the spirit of embracing change, Wettack said, the students should seek out new ideas and experiences, the better to identify interests and ways to work and serve about which they can be truly passionate.
"One of the major advantages for you during your time at Hope is the opportunity you will have to experience life, to feel the rain, and to begin exploring just what it is that, as they say, 'turns you on,'" he said.
"In short, I want you to come away from Hope with a better idea of just who you are and what you are passionate about," Wettack said. "Use this time to explore new ideas that you may not have been exposed to in the past, and seek experiences that you may have avoided during high school."
Such passion, he said, can lead to a better life.
"Believe me, when we follow our passion, we are much more likely to succeed at doing it, and to sticking with it over time," Wettack said. "With passion come dedication and perseverance, energy and drive, and concentration and focus, all qualities needed to succeed in life."
Wettack commended the college's liberal arts approach and Christian context as an ideal way to learn to handle change and identify passion, not only during the students' years as undergraduates but beyond.
"It is in this setting that we want you to be educated so that you will not only find that first job, but you will also learn how to learn. And you will become a life-long learner who is engaged in your surrounding community, with a sense of faith and calling that leads you to help society face complicated local and global issues," he said.
Wettack recommended that the students make the most of their time as members of a "community of learners": to come to class prepared to participate; to think critically about what they are learning and to take advantage of opportunities to go into more depth through the college's research program or independent projects; and to pursue learning with an open mind, being open to learning about other perspectives, including through off-campus study and programs at the college.
He cited the college's October Critical Issues Symposium, this year focusing on immigration, as an example. In anticipation of the symposium, all of the incoming students were provided with Bich Minh Nguyen's book "Stealing Buddha's Dinner" to read during the summer and discuss in small groups during the orientation weekend.
"A major part of being liberally educated is to be able to listen thoughtfully to both sides of an issue like immigration, and to come to a thoughtful conclusion that one can explain," he said.
Further, Wettack said, the students should take advantage of Hope's perspective as a Christian liberal arts college to explore their faith and its role in their lives and learning.
"May Hope be the place where your faith is strengthened and the false duality of faith and reason is examined," Wettack said. "The place where you see that the exploration of God's handiwork is part of what makes all of life meaningful, and that this exploration benefits from the qualities embedded in a liberal education."
"There will be many opportunities for you to explore your faith and that of others," he said. "And to grow intellectually and spiritually in the soil of Hope."