With the members of Hope College's freshman class having arrived from around the country and even across the globe, Opening Convocation speaker Dr. John Cox began his formal address, appropriately enough, with an anecdote about seeking directions.
Cox, who is the DuMez Professor of English at Hope, told a story of a traveler in Maine who received conflicting advice from two pedestrians when she sought their help. Following ever-increasing confusion, one of them finally told her ruefully, "You can't get there from here."
The education on which they were about to embark, Cox told the new students in the audience, might initially seem as confusing as that advice, but in the end it would prepare them to understand life's geography well enough to plot their own course, whatever the destination.
He presented his address, "Where Do We Go from Here?," on Sunday, Aug. 24, in the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse. He prefaced his remarks with a reflection on the June 19 death while jogging of faculty colleague Dr. John Quinn, associate professor of classics, to whom he dedicated his address.
Approximately 2,000, primarily new students and their families, attended the Opening Convocation, which marked the formal beginning of the college's 147th academic year. The new students moved in on Friday and returning students began moving in on Sunday. Fall semester classes begin on Tuesday.
"If you haven't asked, 'Where do we go from here?' recently, I guarantee you will ask it many times during the next four years," Cox said. "In fact, one way to describe a Hope College education is that it is designed to help you ask that question well."
He noted that the students could expect, for example, to encounter conflicting opinions about a variety of issues - a process that he said will itself be helpful. He quoted 17th-century poet John Milton, author of "Paradise Lost," who wrote, "Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good [minds] is but knowledge in the making."
As a liberal arts college, Cox said, Hope will provide a broad base from which the students can conduct their explorations. "That kind of education in itself is an important resource for students as they pick up pieces of the truth in their attempt to answer the question, 'Where do we go from here?,'" he said.
The college's emphasis on educating "in the context of the historic Christian faith," he noted, will provide a source of hope and confidence in their search. "It means, for one thing, that though the truth is in pieces, and though human beings can never know it all, or even know any piece of it with absolute certainty, it nonetheless exists entire in God's view of things," Cox said. "Knowing that, we undertake the quest for truth with respect and humility."
Amid the uncertainty, he said, the students will not be left to quest alone. "Your teachers see their task not just as finding truth for God's sake and its own sake but for your sake," he said. "They see their purpose as enabling you to ask the question, 'Where do I go from here?' in the best possible way for yourself."
Ultimately, Cox said, the students should expect that the question of direction will persist throughout life. "Let me conclude with another guarantee: you will ask the question many times after you graduate," he said.
"You will not leave Hope College with all your questions answered, for reasons that I have tried to make clear," he said. "But the college will have done its job well if you graduate with an ability to ask the question 'Where do I go from here?' with confidence and, yes, with hope, the anchor of the soul, for which Hope College is named."
Text of Convocation Address