In the fall of 2010, Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown of the Hope College psychology faculty was the first professor to address the members of the newly arrived Class of 2014 as they prepared to begin their college years.
On Sunday, May 4, she spoke with them as their time at Hope drew to a close, presenting the address “What are Your Intentions?” during the college’s 149th Commencement, held at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium.
Four years earlier, Trent-Brown had delivered the college’s Opening Convocation address, “A Multi-‘tude’ ofOpportunity,” encouraging the then-freshmen to make the most of the multi-faceted education ahead of them. As the students prepared to graduate on Sunday, she advised them to pursue all the years ahead with the same deliberate spirit.
“I challenge you, Class of 2014, to be salt and light in the world; to be the servant leaders you have been called to be and have been prepared to be,” said Trent-Brown, an associate professor of psychology, as she presented “What are Your Intentions?” “Strive to meticulously cultivate intentionality in all that you do, in all that you say, in all that you teach, wherever you may follow, and wherever you lead.”
Nearly 700 seniors participated in the ceremony. The class consisted of students from throughout the United States as well as foreign nations including Bolivia, Brazil, China, Germany, Honduras, Japan, Kenya, Poland, South Korea and Taiwan.
It was the first Commencement in the presidency of Dr. John C. Knapp, who became the college’s 12th president on July 1, 2013.
Prior to the Commencement address, the graduating class presented the 50th “Hope Outstanding Professor Educator” (H.O.P.E.) Award to Stein Slette, assistant professor of kinesiology. The award, first given in 1965, is presented by the graduating class to the professor who they feel epitomizes the best qualities of theHopeCollege educator.
Intentionality, Trent-Brown noted, should be approached holistically, built on the cornerstones of integrity, inference, investment and impact.
“It means that we give active, conscious thought to every decision and undertaking; that we give prior consideration to our underlying motivations for the endeavors and choices we are planning to make; that we first inform ourselves and seek understanding before drawing inferences and conclusions and before finalizing the approach that will be the best fit for our enterprise,” she said. “It means that we consider the impact that our actions might have on others, on our community, and on our environment, and weigh the risks, benefits and probabilities for successful outcomes for all constituencies.”
Intentionality is assisted, Trent-Brown said, by three additional considerations: a clear vision for what the goal is and why; commitment to the goal and being accountable for the choices made in pursuing it; and a clear goal and perseverance. The graduates will find guidance, she noted, in the word of God.
“To be intentional, we must begin from a place of authenticity, first knowing who we are, and knowing whose we are,” she said.
“We are members of the body of Christ and, as such, are guided by God’s word,” Trent-Brown said. “Let the word of God abide in you and be your guide and when asked ‘What are your intentions?’—they will be beyond reproach.”
Her hope, she noted, was that the graduates would look back on their lives with the same sense of time well spent to which she had encouraged them to aspire four years before.
“Four years ago I said to you, ‘Wouldn’t it be fabulous if on Commencement day 2014, instead of saying, “I wish I had,” you’ll be able say, “I’m glad I did,” ’ ” Trent-Brown said. “After today, when looking back over the years yet to come, I hope you’ll be able to say, ‘I’m glad I was intentional about the choices I’ve made in my life.’”
The college’s graduation activities began in the morning with the Baccalaureate service in Dimnent Memorial Chapel, during which the Rev. Dr. Gregg Mast, president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, delivered the sermon “For God so loved the world…” He explored the all-encompassing nature of God’s love as including all of creation and all people, and the way that it serves as a model for how people of faith should live.
He focused his sermon on John 3:16, which also provided the foundation for its title. The passage reads: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
He based his message on the Greek word for world used by Jesus in the passage, “Kosmos,” which Mast noted refers to all of creation: the earth and all that’s on it, and the universe beyond.
God’s love for the entirety of creation, Mast said, provides a guide to humankind in relating to the environment.
“We are part of that world, and everything we do, good and bad, makes the web of life tremble,” he said. “The pollution of air, water, outer space, the disappearance of thousands of unique species every year, make the web tremble, and we live in the web.”
Crucially, Mast said, “Kosmos” also means “every human being that God has ever created or will ever create.” Further, he said, God’s love for the world refers to—and calls for special attention to—“those who live outside the lines that we have drawn. They are the invisible ones—the voiceless ones, the last and the least.”
“For in God’s eyes and in God’s heart, the birth and death of each child is cause for equal joy and equal sorrow,” he said. “It is for this reason that I am convinced that one of the most important challenges of the 21st century, Class of 2014, your century, is to commit to true dialogue and service with people of every faith and no faith. They, the people who don’t look like us, and live like us, and talk like us, and believe like us, can never be objects of our mission, but must always be subjects of our love—that is the heart of John 3:16.”
Mast also explored the context of the biblical verse, noting that it is part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, a well-known Pharisee leader and scholar who the passage says visited Jesus at night—at a time, Mast said, that he was not likely to be seen. Nicodemus, he explained, was subsequently transformed by the message, later even coming courageously with Joseph of Arimathea to collect Jesus’ crucified body. Mast noted that he hoped that the graduates would find their lives similarly touched.
“Imagine all of the difference one night made in his life,” Mast said. “Love waited for the one who always led, to follow; the one who always taught, to learn; the one who felt he had arrived, to finally seek. Love whispered and for Nicodemus, fear became faith, questions gave way to courage, and the darkness became light. As it was for Nicodemus, may it be for you, Class of 2014!”