Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends of Hope College,
Hope College’s 150th anniversary celebration is off to a marvelous start. Amidst the colorful leaves of autumn, campus lampposts are adorned with sesquicentennial banners heralding a yearlong commemoration of our storied past and bright future.
It was a blessing again to welcome a class of approximately 800 freshman to begin the academic year. Within a few weeks of our first day of class, we had broken ground for the Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center on the site formerly occupied by old Nykerk Hall; dedicated the new, nationally accredited Kruizenga Art Museum; and opened the sparkling Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts. In late October we celebrated the successful conclusion of A Greater Hope, a campaign that raised more than $200 million to fund new facilities, student scholarships, academic programs and other projects that add substantial value to a Hope education. We are humbled by the generosity of thousands of alumni and friends who contributed to this historic endeavor.
If you have not yet had the opportunity to see our newest buildings, the Kruizenga Art Museum and the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, please plan a visit soon. The museum is featuring its inaugural exhibit, “Past Present East West: Highlights from the Permanent Collection,” which includes about 70 works from the founding collection. Classes and performances are being held in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts. The center’s 800-seat concert hall will open February 5–6, 2016, with Musical Showcase, a performance that shares the talent of all Hope College’s major musical groups, along with soloists, chamber groups and small ensembles.
If you are a Hope graduate, I encourage you to mark your calendar for Alumni Weekend, April 29–30, 2016. The weekend will feature a special performance in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts of an original piece commissioned by Tommye Leenhouts ’66 in honor of our sesquicentennial. Join the celebration!
Commitment to Christian Faith Formation
In my last letter to you, I wrote about our new strategic plan, Hope for The World: 2025, and shared some of the innovations that will strengthen our academic program over the next decade. Now I will turn to another key element of the plan: a commitment to better support our students and employees as they seek to explore and grow in the Christian faith. To this end, Goal Two of the strategic plan states:
Hope College will be an ecumenical Christian community, welcoming students, faculty and staff into a vibrant experience of faith formation and intellectual engagement with the historic Christian faith.
In late September, I convened a Presidential Colloquium on the value and relevance of Christian liberal arts education in the 21st century. The campus community was invited to reflect on this theme in light of a changing world and our unchanging commitment to the mission given us by our founders 150 years ago. Through special programs, faculty reading groups, First-Year Seminars and Senior Seminars, we discussed how our approach to undergraduate education prepares students to lead and serve faithfully in today’s global society. I hosted a public dialogue with three other college presidents, and we heard an inspiring keynote address by author and New York Times columnist David Brooks. If you are interested in seeing some or all of the Presidential Colloquium activities, three videos are available for viewing at hope.edu/brooksathope: my brief interview with Mr. Brooks, the presidential panel discussion and Mr. Brooks’ keynote presentation.
Hope is a winsomely inviting Christian community. Three mornings a week, Dimnent Chapel welcomes a capacity crowd. Attendance is neither required nor recorded, yet more than 1,000 students fill the pews, overflowing into the side aisles. The Gathering draws a similarly enthusiastic crowd of worshippers on Sunday evenings. Our professors bring to the classroom not just a high level of expertise in their fields, but also a commitment to mentoring students in the Christian faith. From Residence Life to Student Life organizations, our Christian mission is integral to co-curricular programming throughout the year.
Serving the New Generations
We live in a time when young adults are less likely to come to college confident of their beliefs. Earlier this year, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released a study, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” which carried the subhead “Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population.” This was one of several surveys indicating that the United States adult population is becoming less Christian, and that this is especially true of younger generations. Meanwhile, corresponding increases are seen in the percentages of Americans who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated, as atheists or agnostics, and who say they believe “nothing in particular.”
What does this imply for Hope College? The Pew research tells us that 25 percent of millenials (Americans born between roughly 1982 and 2002) say they are not religious, up from 16 percent who said this in 2007. This contrasts with 11 percent of baby boomers and just 7 percent of the generation born between 1928 and 1945. Studies also indicate that 18-year-olds are entering their college years with far less knowledge of the Christian faith.
Our strategic plan was developed with these trends in mind. We have strengthened our commitment to meeting our new students wherever they may be in their faith lives, even if all they bring to college are big questions. We will ensure that each has the opportunity to encounter and critically explore the intellectual content of the historic Christian faith. Inside the classroom and out, we will cultivate an awareness of Christian theological perspectives as one dimension of critical thinking about complex issues.
We also are committed to being a campus that increasingly reflects the diversity of Christ’s global body. In the spirit of Christian ecumenism, we are developing ways to better serve students, staff and faculty from differing backgrounds and traditions. This effort is undergirded by formal partnerships with local congregations, Protestant and Catholic.
Additionally, we are providing new opportunities, support and resources to encourage purposeful and charitable discourse about issues that might otherwise divide us. It is our firmly held belief that courageous conversations will enrich our understanding of the Gospel, and of each other, in an ecumenically diverse community.
Hope’s distinctive, invitational approach to Christ-centered education remains a compelling reason that many students choose to pursue an undergraduate degree here. While it is our heartfelt desire for our students to encounter the Christian faith in a life-changing way, we do not require them to be Christians or to participate in worship or other faith practices. We do, however, expect their years in college to be a time of earnest discernment.
At many American colleges and universities, one hears concerns about “mission drift.” The pressures on higher education are great in a time of declining college enrollment nationwide. We are blessed at Hope College to be as firmly anchored as ever in our mission.
Renewing Traditions, Old and New
Fall semester is a time for renewing some of the greatest Hope College traditions. The Pull and Nykerk Cup build camaraderie among new students and tie them to generations who have shared these unique moments. It is always a joy to see alumni attending these events to relive their own college days — alumni like the two ladies at the Pull who were eager to tell Kelly and me about experiences as “moralers” in the late 1940s!
We have also begun some new first-semester traditions in the last few years. At freshman orientation, Kelly and I gather all the parents in the chapel and invite them to write letters to their sons or daughters expressing their hopes for their years at Hope College. We provide special paper and envelopes, along with plenty of tissues for tears. The letters are sealed and stored, to be given to the students at graduation.
We now are preparing for the third annual President’s Christmas Tree Lighting, a festive evening of caroling and refreshments around a great fir tree planted beside our home. The tree is decorated with a large number of ornaments (in four colors, one for each class year) signed personally by Hope students.
As Thanksgiving approaches, Kelly and I wish to express our gratitude to the entire Hope family for the countless ways you contribute to our mission through prayer, financial support and encouragement. The Hope College community is blessed in so many ways, calling to mind Paul’s words in his first letter to Timothy:
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)
As we celebrate this sesquicentennial year, let us give thanks for our rich heritage and for our promising future.
Spera in Deo,
John C. Knapp, Ph.D.
President & Professor