Dear Alumni, Parents, and Friends of Hope College,
Warm weather has come to Holland, Michigan, and with it the excitement of our 150th commencement exercises, where degrees were awarded to 776 seniors — our largest graduating class to date. It was in 1866, two months after receiving its charter from the State of Michigan, when Hope College graduated its first class of eight seniors.
This year’s commencement ceremony marked the first sesquicentennial milestone for our college and the first of many events that will take place throughout the 2015–16 academic year to honor our 150th anniversary. Fall semester will feature a sesquicentennial homecoming celebration, as well as special festivities to open our beautiful new arts facilities, the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts and the Kruizenga Art Museum.
I am pleased to tell you that last month our Board of Trustees voted to begin construction of the Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center in the fall. This building will serve as a hub for campus life, with dedicated space for student organizations and programs, as well as a spacious “family room” with two-story windows overlooking the Pine Grove. It will be built on the site of the Nykerk Hall of Music, which will be razed when the new Miller Center opens.
Blueprint for Our Future
Also at its May meeting, the Board of Trustees unanimously affirmed a new strategic plan, Hope for the World: 2025, to guide the college for the decade to come. This document was developed through an 18-month planning process involving hundreds of faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni. Six overall goals, which I shared with you in my previous letter, are supported in the final document by a series of objectives and key performance indicators to ensure accountability for progress. Over the next two years I will devote a portion of each Presidential Perspective to a fuller explanation of key elements of this 10-year plan.
Our strategic vision calls us to “gain national and international stature as a premier liberal arts college and a leader in Christ-centered higher education.” This reaffirmation of our historic mission is significant at a time when many policymakers and media pundits say college education should be reduced solely to job training, arguing that a broad, liberal arts education is unnecessary for those seeking gainful employment today.
To the contrary, we are convinced that Hope College’s richly balanced curriculum and holistically formative student experience are more relevant than ever. Consider these facts:
A Hope education leads to employment success.
Our just-completed survey of the Class of 2014 found that 95 percent of its graduates were in the workforce or graduate school within six months of commencement. Eight in 10 of those employed full-time are working in their field of study. A key reason is that 92 percent participated in experiential learning as students, with 57 percent of the class having at least one internship experience.
Employers value liberal arts graduates.
An overwhelming majority of employers — 80 percent — surveyed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities agreed that, regardless of major, every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences. And nearly all employers — 93 percent — agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Hope graduates demonstrate these skills.
A first job, though an essential starting point, is not a sufficient college outcome.
Today’s graduates are expected to change jobs, and even careers, with unprecedented frequency during their lifetimes. Hope College students study in multiple disciplines and contexts, providing them with the learning agility to acquire new knowledge and adapt to future career opportunities that may not even exist today. The long- term benefits of this education are not limited to career success alone, but are found in a well-lived life of personal growth and informed engagement with the world.
The problems facing our global society require complex solutions.
It is clear that 21st-century challenges in security, public health, food supply, poverty, human rights and the environment do not lend themselves to simple solutions. Tomorrow’s leaders must understand complex systems and apply insights from science, politics, economics, technology, religion, history and other fields. They will require the skills developed by a liberal arts education, from critical analysis and negotiation to research and effective communication. At Hope College, we also expect graduates to bring Christian theological insights to bear on difficult moral questions.
Discernment of vocation requires more than an aptitude test.
Most colleges and universities offer services to help students identify jobs for which they may be well suited. We provide this support as well. But in today’s usage, vocation has lost much of its original meaning and is virtually synonymous with occupation and career. At Hope, we remember that vocation derives from call, which has far deeper implications for our students, beginning with a winsome invitation to learn about the God who calls each of us into a relationship through Jesus Christ. Hope’s statement of Philosophy of Education says it well: “A liberal education within the Christian tradition seeks to develop the whole person through infusing education with purpose and direction.”
Relationships with faculty mentors make a lifelong difference.
It was heartening to see our graduating seniors stand and applaud as our faculty processed onto the field for spring commencement. This is just one indication of the influence of professors who know their students by name and mentor them inside and outside the classroom. These relationships can make a difference for a lifetime; according to a recent Gallup study of 30,000 college graduates: “if [they] recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being.” Our faculty and staff are committed to the whole lives of our students, from academic success to faith development.
Speaking of Hope’s faculty, we bid farewell this year to four retiring professors whom many of you know and love: John D. Cox, the DuMez Professor of English, faculty member since 1979; Jack E. Holmes, Professor of Political Science, faculty member since 1969; John J. Shaughnessy, Professor of Psychology, faculty member since 1975; and James M. Gentile, Dean for Natural and Applied Sciences, who served Hope from 1976 to 2005, then returned in 2013. I am continually impressed by the number of highly talented teacher-scholars who choose to devote the whole of their careers to Hope College. Their dedication ensures continuity and quality in our academic program.
Just a week prior to commencement we hosted the annual Alumni Weekend, which included the 50-year reunion of the Class of 1965. The experiences shared by alumni of all ages hinted at what may lie ahead for our Class of 2015 — stories of accomplished scholars and physicians, dedicated missionaries and ministers, innovative educators and engineers, creative thinkers and performers, enterprising businesspeople and inventors. Many of this year’s graduates had jobs lined up before receiving their diplomas; others are pursuing graduate scholarship, traveling abroad to serve in the Peace Corps, or remaining here to “Teach for America.”
A busy summer has already begun. Staff and student leaders are preparing for our New Student Orientation welcoming the Class of 2019, and the campus is bustling with high school students attending summer camps in sports, music, science, dance and other interests. As in summers past, Hope undergraduates are working alongside many of our faculty on grant-funded research projects. I find it inspiring to walk the halls of Schaap Science Center and other academic facilities during the summer months to observe the caliber of this research, much of it on par with what one would typically see only in graduate programs.
In late May and early June, Kelly and I journeyed to Japan to visit the campuses of Meiji Gakuin University, International Christian University, Ferris University, and Seigakuin University. At these partner institutions I spoke at chapel services, gave lectures and explored future opportunities. Highlights included a gathering of more than 150 Hope alumni, families and friends in Tokyo, and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of a relationship with Meiji Gakuin that has involved more than 1,000 students and faculty from our two institutions.
Our new strategic plan makes an unprecedented commitment to global learning, both at home and abroad. As we work to strengthen our academic partnerships in strategic locations around the world, we are reminded that Hope College’s first international students came from Japan in the early 1870s. Indeed, within a few years our class valedictorian was a Japanese student who delivered the commencement address in both Latin and Japanese!
Finally, I remind you that while Hope College is currently blessed with record enrollment, we cannot take this for granted at a time when the number of high school graduates in America is declining annually. We rely on the referrals of our alumni, parents and friends. If you know a promising high school student who should get to know Hope College, I encourage you to take a moment to share this information with us at hope.edu/refer. This will be a service to both the student and the college.
Thank you for keeping us in your prayers, sharing your support and offering your encouragement. Kelly and I are grateful for this opportunity to serve such a wonderful community!
Spera in Deo,
John C. Knapp, Ph.D.
President & Professor