As Hope College began its 140th academic year, Opening Convocation speaker Dr. Orlando L. Taylor considered issues that higher education must address as the world experiences "watershed" change in the information age.
Taylor, who is dean of the Graduate School and a graduate professor in the School of Communication at Howard University in Washington, D.C., presented "Looking Back as We Plan Ahead: Preserving Legacies as We Prepare for a New Century and a New America" during the college's Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 26, in Dimnent Memorial Chapel. Hope also presented Taylor with an honorary degree, a doctor of letters (Litt.D.).
Approximately 1,200 people, mostly new students and their families, attended the event. Classes begin on Tuesday, Aug. 28.
"We are privileged--each one of us--to be engaged in the academic enterprise at a time of great societal transition from an industrial age to an information and technology-based society," Taylor said. "And now, as the torch has been passed to our generation of students, faculty, alumni and friends, we are challenged to provide intellectual leadership for the midst of this great transition. And we are challenged to provide this leadership within the context of a much smaller world."
Such leadership, Taylor noted, should emphasize the search for truth while at the same time recognizing that most truth is subjective.
"Truth is not a static concept," he said. "It often changes from generation to generation, from culture to culture and often from person to person."
"Hope College, like all colleges, must be the type of learning community which provides the freedom and the encouragement for all of its citizens to tell their stories (or at least their perceptions of truth) in a way that reflects their views of truth based upon their perspectives as a male, or a female, or a white person, or a person of color, or a person of a particular age or from any other category of life," he said.
The on-going search for truth, Taylor said, should be conducted with sensitivity to least four emerging issues: changing demographics, new technologies, increased information and globalization.
Concerning demographics, Taylor noted that by the middle of the 21st century, people of color will comprise more than 50 percent of the population of the United States--up from about one third currently.
"What does this mean for Hope? It means first of all that we must teach our students how to live and work in a diverse world--a world where terms like majority and minority will take on new meaning if any meaning at all," he said.
Taylor also considered the way technology has made the world smaller.
"One has only to travel to examine the situation in much of the developing world where a generation ago a domestic telephone call was a challenge," he said. "Today, however, almost everyone in these countries is walking around with a cell phone that connects them to people in their local communities and others throughout the world."
Because of such technological changes, he said, today's college students have grown up in a world that has always offered computers, e-mail and the Internet. "This means, of course, that they are oriented to totally different ways and expectations for learning, for accessing new information, and for sharing their ideas with others."
One effect of new information technology, Taylor said, has been a dramatic increase in the amount of information to learn--and to filter.
"This information explosion means that all of our nation's colleges and universities must develop curricula that maximize students' knowledge of how to access information and, most important, how to discriminate between truth and propaganda," he said. "And of course, the proliferation means that all of us must commit to a lifelong learning mentality and to a lifetime of being a student."
In addition, he said, students and faculty at Hope and elsewhere must keep a global perspective as they consider life's questions.
"All of us are citizens of the world and we must educate our students and ourselves--as faculty members, and parents, and friends, and alumni--to live in the world--not just Michigan, not just Holland, but the world--and to be concerned about and connected to world issues," Taylor said. Such issues, he said, include how to effectively educate all children; how to enhance people's communication skills; how to cure devastating diseases such as cancer and AIDS; and how to produce a society in which all can live in harmony.
Taylor also stressed the importance of pursuing truth within a historical context, and with an ethical center.
"Clearly, old baggage, especially old negative values, or old and outdated ideas do not bode well for us as we position ourselves and our students for leadership in the modern world," he said. "Yet, there is much old baggage that we should not want to lose."
Taylor cited honesty, integrity, truthfulness, love of God and service to humankind as traditional values that should be preserved at Hope. "We must make certain that our students do not lose sight of these standards and these values," he said.
As he closed, Taylor encouraged the audience members to add dreaming into the mix as well.
"I hope that we will dream about how we will use our education to make this a better world," he said.
"Just think of it," he said. "Suppose the entire Hope community had big dreams and then worked to make this collectively come true--just imagine how much of a better place this community, this state, this nation, and this world could be!"