posted August 29, 2010

2010 Fall Convocation Address

August 29, 2010
by Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Philippians 2:1-11

Okay, so, first things first, CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You did it! You’re here!! Your parents and grandparents are so proud of you they don’t quite know what to do with themselves. We are all here to celebrate you…to support you, to be here for you and walk with you, alongside you as you undertake this journey. ‘Cause let me tell you, you are about to embark upon a journey and it will be life-changing. You will be introduced to new ideas and preconceived notions will be challenged. Your existing knowledge will be expanded, as will your social networks as you make lifelong friendships; forged in the fires of shared experience. You will develop your own, personal, life view as you wrestle with academic, philosophical, theological, social, and spiritual questions posed along the way—and yes, there will be a test. In fact, you’ll be writing your life view paper when you take your senior seminar [so, I’m just sayin’…]. What I’m trying to say is that you won’t quite be the same when we meet again in four years to see you walk across the graduation stage. Oh, you’ll still be “you” at the core—we don’t want you to lose those qualities that make you fundamentally yourself—God has blessed you with those gifts for a reason. So what we do want to do is to help you discover more ways in which your gifts can be used to serve in this great world of ours; to assist you in becoming global citizens, nurtured in the soil of Hope (Campus Ministries), to help you find your calling—or if it has already been revealed to you—to help prepare you to achieve it.

To do this, we want to make sure that you give serious consideration to the attitude with which you’re planning to approach your time here. Winston Churchill said that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference” (Churchill). I happen to agree. We are here as guides along your journey, but the attitude with which you undertake it is of critical importance. We can’t do that for you—no matter how much we might like to at times. And I can only imagine how many times your parents have wished they could do something for you, to protect you, but knew that you had to do it for yourselves. Well, this is another one of those times where it’s up to you—each of you has got to take the lead on your college experience, and the attitude you employ will have an enormous impact on how this journey goes for you.

When we think about attitude, we need to remember the ABCs. An attitude is composed of three distinct elements—A, the affective, B, the behavioral, and C, the cognitive. In other words, our attitudes have an affective, or emotional component, our attitudes lead us to respond in certain ways behaviorally, and our attitudes guide our cognitive, or mental processes, like thought, reasoning, and language. Thinking about all of these attitudinal facets, in conjunction with your own previous life experiences, perhaps serves to elucidate just how an attitude can, indeed, “make[s] a big difference” (Churchill).

So, I’m here to encourage us to be intentional in thinking about our attitudinal approach. Now, you may have heard of someone “having a ‘tude”, or “catching a ‘tude”, or “copping a ‘tude”, or even, “Hey?! What's up with the ‘tude, dude?” William James said, “It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome” (James). Dude, we sit here at the beginning of a difficult task, so we need to make sure our ‘tude is on track. In an environment like the one we are blessed to have here at Hope, with the myriad opportunities—literally a multitude of academic, cocurricular, and spiritual encounters and possibilities—just waiting for you to take advantage, I propose that our ‘tude be a "multi-'tude", embodying elements of multidisciplinary study, multicontextual focus, multidirectional pedagogy, and multicultural encounter.

So, let’s begin with multidisciplinary study. One of the great things about Hope is that it is firmly and unapologetically committed to the liberal arts rooted in the Christian tradition. A main strength of a liberal arts education is its multidisciplinary approach. Now, that term, ‘multidisciplinary,’ here refers to incorporating or combining several academic disciplines, schools of thought, branches of learning, or fields of expertise. One of the ways in which you will be exposed to various academic disciplines during your time here is by taking courses that are available in the General Education Curriculum. These courses have been identified such that every student at Hope will have breadth of knowledge as well as depth of knowledge. To that end, you will have the opportunity to take courses in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural and applied sciences that will enrich your erudition and enhance your skills. Now, some of you are probably thinking, “But, why should I have to study mathematics, history, psychology, literature, biology, art, or music if that has nothing to do with my major?” Well, that is certainly an attitude that one might adopt. But let me ask you this—what do you do when you come across an unfamiliar object? Do you turn it around and try to look at it from different angles and perspectives, to figure out what it is, what it does, to plumb its mysteries? Well, by analogy, as we gain perspective, that’s what we’re getting out of this multidisciplinary education. We are better able to understand our world. As we better comprehend the world in which we live—its intricacies, nuances, and subtleties—we are better prepared to meet its needs, to battle its ills, and to uplift its joys; making informed contributions and providing effective service. Robert Harris writes that:

“A thorough knowledge of a wide range of events, philosophies, procedures, and possibilities makes the phenomena of life appear coherent and understandable. No longer will unexpected or strange things be merely dazzling or confusing. How sad it is to see an uneducated mind or a mind educated in only one discipline completely overwhelmed by a simple phenomenon. How often have we all heard someone say, "I have no idea what this book is talking about" or "I just can't understand why anyone would do such a thing." A wide ranging education, covering everything from biology to history to human nature, will provide many tools for understanding (Harris, 1991).”

So, how does our "multi-'tude" guide us here? First, it suggests that we look upon a multidisciplinary education as a positive foundation for understanding—in various domains of life, because, after all, “life itself is a whole, not divided into majors. Most jobs, most endeavors, really require more knowledge than that of one field (Harris, 1991).” Second, our ‘tude suggests that we embrace the multidisciplinary experience and recognize it for the tremendous opportunity for growth that it is…and then don’t stop there just because you’ve met your GenEd requirements. I encourage you to go beyond—to find other courses outside your major that support and augment your studies in your discipline. With Hope’s multidisciplinary curriculum, you will get preparation not only for your career, but also for your life.

Next up is multicontextual focus. Multicontextual refers to the notion that each of us participates in various contexts in our lives. One of Hope’s Core Values is to “foster development of the whole person—intellectually, spiritually, socially, physically.” Development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is, necessarily, nested within the contexts of our lives. At Hope, we identify three primary contexts within which we want students to grow—the academic, the cocurricular, and the spiritual. Fostering development of the whole person requires attention to each of these. Hope strives to be a place where the integration across these multiple contexts forges interconnections that produce more substantial learning outcomes for students than could any of the single contexts alone.

There is no question that academic success will make your time here more rewarding. Your hard work gives you a sense of accomplishment, affirms your belief in yourself and your capabilities, and reassures you that you have effectively grasped the concepts about which you are learning. However, attending only to your studies may actually prove to be a detriment to your overall learning during your tenure at Hope. There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that students who become involved in campus life in addition to their classroom studies benefit greatly from having done so. According to Huang and Chang (2004) “the more involved that college students are in the academic and social aspects of campus life, the more they benefit in terms of learning and personal development” (p. 391). Their results indicate that students who are involved in campus life pursuits alongside their academic endeavors score higher on measures of cognitive growth, communication growth, self-confidence, and interpersonal skills.

I cannot stress enough the importance of the spiritual context in your ongoing development. Braskamp writes (2007) that:

“Students come to campus not yet tested in their faith, and experience considerable challenges to their prior religious perspectives, which are often greatly influenced by their parents’ views. They are exposed to new information, differing values and religious perspectives, and meet and relate to different types of people, with faculty members often expressing different perspectives from what the student experienced during high school. […] In a national survey of 1,200 students, seven in ten of the college students agreed that “religion plays an important role in their lives” and one in four have “become more spiritual since entering college,” […] Students express a strong desire to become more engaged in their religious/spiritual journey (p. 1).”

At Hope, there are endless opportunities for spiritual growth. Inside and outside the classroom, your prior understanding of your faith will be challenged, you will be presented with new ideas, and you will interact with friends who come from different worship traditions within the Christian faith. For example, my own worship tradition is different from many of yours. The African “call and response” pattern of participation is integral to our worship services…can I get an “Amen?” When you walk into a traditional African American church, you’re likely to see women wearing elaborate hats. In their book entitled, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, Cunningham and Marberry present this custom stemming from the African tradition of adorning the head for worship. Marberry states, "it’s rooted in the African tradition that says that when one presents oneself before God… that you should be at your best—that you should present excellence before the Almighty.”

At Hope you will participate in Bible studies, faith in film series, our most AWESOME Chapel services, and The Gathering on Sunday nights. These experiences will serve to better help you understand why you believe what you believe. They will also help you to articulate your faith effectively to others, that they, too, might understand and gain access to their own faith journey. Your spiritual participation will help you to discern which student organizations are right for you, and will serve as a scaffold to support your academic study. Our "multi-'tude" guides us here to fully explore the academic, cocurricular, and spiritual contexts, and to seek both balance and integration. It encourages us to be open to new ideas, to be willing to participate, to have humility to listen, and to have the patience to understand.

Our third “multi” is multidirectional pedagogy, referring to multiple approaches to instruction and learning. We all have different learning styles and I assure you, Hope’s faculty has a wide range of talents and techniques to direct your learning and meet your needs. Many of your classes will meet in traditional classrooms, while in others, you may find yourself outdoors, gazing into the heavens at the night sky. Some of you will find that you thrive in laboratory sessions where you conduct hands-on activities. Other courses may have field placements or service learning projects in the community. There will be opportunities for internships, research experiences, studio work, performances, independent studies, fieldwork, and a host of instructional technologies will be employed. These are all successful approaches, but not all of them will appeal equally to you. Some of you will prefer lectures—others may favor discussions or teaching strategies that incorporate movement. So, what guidance will our "multi-'tude" provide here? First, it encourages us to be open to learning in ways that may be very different from what we have been accustomed to, because, you know, it may turn out that it works for you—even if it seemed really weird when your professor first explained it. Second, our "multi-'tude" encourages us to jump right in with full willingness to participate. If we only give something a weak, half-attempt, we’re already putting ourselves at a disadvantage for reaping maximum benefit from the experience.

Our final “multi” is multicultural encounter. Multiculturalism stresses the importance of different cultures, races, and ethnicities, and at Hope, we care about multiculturalism in at least two ways: one, moving toward harmonious co-existence in our society by acknowledging, respecting, and valuing different ethnic, racial, or cultural groups; and two, in broadening the range of cultures that we study. We’ve heard about the necessities of globalization and being able to participate effectively in the changing world, in effect, becoming adept global citizens. So, yes, this will be important for your careers, but more importantly, for your lives. Berger (2008) tells us “the evidence suggests that the greater diversity on college campuses today helps students develop deeper, more flexible thinking.” Multicultural encounter also facilitates greater understanding of others, builds perspective-taking skills, creates cohesion in both the classroom and the school, and reduces hostility toward ethnic minorities (Wyans, 2008).

Hope College offers many prospects for multicultural encounter. You will take courses in cultural heritage and courses that have a cultural diversity focus. You will have the opportunity for off-campus study, domestic or overseas, both providing access to multicultural interaction. You might take a mission trip and have the chance to see how others live, and to learn about their culture, traditions, struggles, and joys. Hope has resources in place to support your cultural exploration, such as the offices of International Education and Multicultural Education. There are student organizations that focus on various aspects of multicultural encounter. And look around you right now. There are folks who look different from you. There are also folks who look similar, but who may have very different cultural experiences. Right here, right now, you are sitting amidst multiple opportunities for multicultural encounter. Don’t let them pass you by.

Our "multi-'tude" here encourages openness, hospitality, patience, honesty, humility, and compassion. It also undergirds courage—it can be scary moving outside your comfort zone, making “first contact,” not knowing what you might find and how it may change your life…change you. Our ‘tude protects us against fear, ignorance, and dis-ownership—meaning, making it “their” problem—not mine (Wilson, 1995).

Now, in the midst of all these “multis” I want to make it clear that I’m not encouraging you to be scattered or unfocused. On the contrary—the most effective application of the
"multi-'tude" takes advantage of the multitude of opportunity available here at Hope while yet requiring that we be thoughtful, intentional, and prayerful in discerning amongst the choices. And, while you’re putting your “multi-‘tude’” approach into practice, remember that amid all of the “multi" pursuits, we also have a “‘unifying’ reality that brings all the multi-dynamics together” (Johnson, 2010). This explorative “multi” approach is encompassed within the overarching attitude that guides us daily—the attitude of Christ. In St. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he implores,

“1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4).

Here, Paul “emphasizes sharing the mind of Christ—but also looking to the interests of others—with all humility.” We are encouraged to “embrace the multitude of opportunity' around us, while at the same time keeping our identity located in a unifying reality of Christ (Johnson, 2010). The scripture goes on to tell us that our superordinate “attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians, 2:5).
It has been said that “it is your attitude…that determines your altitude,” meaning that you can achieve new heights in your life if you are intentional about your attitude. Class of 2014, there is no limit to the heights you might achieve sharing the attitude of Christ, and adopting a “multi-‘tude approach to your education, you just have to rise to the occasion.

Parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, all those attending here today in support of your student and their classmates, thank you. Thank you for allowing us the honor of sharing with them for these few years. We recognize that they are precious to you and that you are entrusting us with their care. We do not take this lightly.

Class of 2014, you can do this. Will it always be easy? No. Absolutely, positively, unequivocally, not. If it is easy, well, then, we’re doing you a disservice. We must challenge you—it is an imperative.

So, Class of 2014, I challenge you to share the attitude of Christ and to adopt a “multi-‘tude’”—multidisciplinary, multicontextual, multidirectional, multicultural. Adopting this approach to your time here will enable you to take advantage of all that Hope College has to offer. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if on commencement day 2014, instead of saying, “I wish I had,” you’ll be able to say, “I’m glad I did.”

I challenge you, Class of 2014, to knock our socks off. You’ve got what it takes! We know it, you’ve just got to believe it. My hat’s off to you.

References

Berger, K. (2008). The Developing Person: Through the Lifespan, 7th Ed. Worth Publishers: New York.

Braskamp, L. (2007). Fostering Religious and Spiritual Development of Students during College. Social Science Research Council. Retrieved from http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Braskamp.pdf.

Churchill, W. (1874-1965).

Cunningham, M. & Marberry, C. (2000). Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Harris, R. (1991). On the Purpose of a Liberal Arts Education. Virtual Salt. Retrieved from
http://www.virtualsalt.com/libarted.htm.

Huang, Y. & Chang, S. (2004). Academic and Cocurricular Involvement: Their Relationship and the Best Combinations for Student Growth. Journal of College Student Development 45(4), 391-406.

James, W. (1842 - 1910).

Johnson, T. (2006). A Vision for Hope College Campus Ministry: Growing World Christians in the soil of Hope. Campus Ministries. Retrieved from http://grow.hope.edu/vision/index.html

Johnson, T. (2010). Personal communication, August 10, 2010.

NPR, (2010). Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats: Play Based on Photo Anthology Celebrates a Festive Tradition. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/
story.php?storyId=876404.

Wilson, K. (1995). Multicultural Education. Critical Multicultural Pavilion: Research Room. Retrieved from http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/ papers/keith.html.

Wyans, J. (2008). The Pros and Cons of Multicultural Education. Retrieved from http://www.associated
content.com/article/1099223/the_pros_and_cons_of_multicultural.html?cat=4.