Reflecting on the experiences of his full career, Hope College biologist Dr. Harvey Blankespoor had this advice for the members of the new Class of 2010 as they began preparing for theirs: make the most of the opportunities presented by college.
Blankespoor was the featured speaker during the college's Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 27. Held in Dimnent Memorial Chapel, the event marked the beginning of the college's 145th academic year. The capacity audience of approximately 1,100 consisted primarily of new students and their parents.
Blankespoor described college education as a crucial preparation for all the years to follow.
"I chose the title 'The Shortest Distance Between the Past and the Future is Now' because you are about to begin a critical time in your life - college," he said. "It is a pivotal period for you. To be sure, there will be many challenges and disappointments with your life at Hope College, but you will enjoy unparalleled accomplishment if you take your education at Hope seriously."
He spoke from his perspective as a long-time educator with decades of experience with Hope. He was a member of the college's biology faculty from 1976 until retiring in 2002 and continues to lead Hope May Terms to Africa and the Galapagos Islands. His career included national recognition for teaching excellence: in 1991 he was named the national "Professor of the Year" by The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Hope students also honored him, presenting him with the "Hope Outstanding Professor Educator" Award in 1980.
Blankespoor encouraged the students to take advantage of both the mental flexibility offered by their youth and the chance their undergraduate years would give them to explore interests and ideas.
"Your minds are incredibly open to new ideas, thoughts and experiences. If you desire, you are able to learn with minimal effort," he said. "Your minds, at this stage, can comprehend and hold ideas and concepts like never before."
"My challenge to you is to get involved and if you have interests in other areas besides your major, stretch yourselves to those areas," Blankespoor said. "Rarely will you have the opportunity to do that, because once you get into graduate or professional schools, or when you begin an occupation, expanding your interests and intellect usually is much more difficult."
He focused on several aspects of college in general and life at Hope in particular as he recommended priorities for the students.
"One of the most important suggestions that I can make is for you to excel in the classroom and in whatever activity is associated with that academic setting, whether it is in the laboratory, the studio, the stage, the arena or the playing field," Blankespoor said. "In the future, your academic performance at Hope College will open or close a lot of 'doors' for you."
Emphasis on academics, Blankespoor said, ought to involve more than coursework. He cited examples of students who had enjoyed additional opportunities because they had become involved in faculty-student research, or who had found their interest in the discipline of biology invigorated by campus employment as a laboratory assistant.
Both examples illustrated another of his suggestions: the importance of getting to know their faculty mentors, providing role models, advocates and guides in their career journeys.
He also encouraged the students to look for lessons through involvement beyond their major academic program, including through participation in the arts, athletics and student activities - the latter of which also present many opportunities to help others. In the same way, he recommended that students attend to their spiritual growth by getting involved in the college's religious life. "This can be done in many ways, including attending chapel and The Gathering, getting involved in a Bible study, participating in spring and summer mission trips, and being Young Life leaders," he said.
He also stressed that the students should look beyond Hope during their undergraduate years, particularly to pursue study-abroad opportunities.
"So many of our world problems have resulted because of misunderstandings and intolerance of people from other cultures," Blankespoor said. "I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for all of us to become familiar with other cultures through the learning of foreign languages, having foreign students in our classrooms and laboratories, and by traveling." As a leader of study-abroad trips himself, he said, "For most (if not all) the students, the trips are life-changing."
All of the opportunities together, he said, can make for a memorable journey.
"In many ways, I am really envious of those of you who are about to begin one of the most exciting times of your life," Blankespoor said.