As Hope College began its 138th academic year, speaker Charles Green offered the incoming Class of 2003 some advice: define educational success as developing the ability to handle a complex world, and then take steps to achieve it.
"Somehow, in our culture of pragmatism and specialization, we have come to see education as only the stuff you know, or only the stuff you can use in a job to make yourself some money," he said. "But education does not--and can not--work like that."
"An education is a transformation from being one kind of person to another: The kind of person who acknowledges complexity but works through it to reasoned, thoughtful and principled commitments," he said. "If you have been successful in college, your education will endure because the habits of mind and heart that you form here will continue to shape the way you think for the rest of your life."
Green, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Philip Phelps Scholars Program, presented the address "Achieving Success in College: An Education that Endures" during the college's Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 29, at 2 p.m. in Dimnent Memorial Chapel.
Approximately 1,000 people, primarily new students and their families, attended the event, which marked the beginning of the first school year in the presidency of Dr. James E. Bultman. Fall semester classes at Hope will begin on Tuesday, Aug. 31, at 8 a.m.
According to Green, studies on student intellectual, social and personal growth in college consistently emphasize the ability to accept and deal with complexity.
"This is more important than it may seem at first glance, for lots of people are either too lazy or too scared to acknowledge that the world is convoluted and can be downright perplexing," he said. "But other people wallow in complexity, and, as a result, they believe no one can really understand anything."
"Success in college involves acknowledging complexity without surrendering to it," he said. "It means working through confusing issues and deciding what you think about them."
"It means taking a thoughtful and principled stand on the tough questions. It means being open to changing your mind in response to evidence and reason as well as acknowledging when you just plain don't know," Green said. "It also means respecting those who differ from you, being charitable in your characterization of their viewpoints, and speaking the truth in love when you disagree."
Green presented three research-based suggestions for students seeking to develop the ability to handle complexity: work hard, develop relationships with others interested in such growth and seek out diverse experiences.
"Your mother could have told you to work hard in college without having a boatload of social scientists do all these research studies," he said. "But there you have it. Quality and quantity of effort are the best predictors of success in college."
Concerning relationships, Green encouraged students to connect with faculty and other students who are intellectually engaged. "Successful students are more likely than others to know their professors and to have conversations with them outside of class," he said.
"In particular, they talk with their professors about course-related material." "Even more important than interacting with your professors, however, is establishing deep and meaningful relationships with your fellow students," he said. "People who are growing and maturing in college seek out others who are doing the same thing."
Finally, he noted, students should seek new experiences and get to know people whose backgrounds differ from their own. "Contrary to the assertions of some that learning about different perspectives and different cultures somehow waters down one's education, researchers are finding that students who encounter and learn about diverse groups of people are more likely to do well on traditional measures of success in college," Green said.
"When we talk with people whose life experiences are different from ours--when we come to understand what life looks like from a different perspective--we gain new insights into ourselves and we learn new ways of thinking about things," he said. "That kind of intellectual stretching--of dealing with complexity and thinking through difficult issues--is what success in college is all about."