On Wednesday, August 29, President Steve Timmermans, Ph.D. welcomed students and faculty back to campus, adding a special welcome to 10 new faculty members, 12 new staff members, and more than 400 new students.
Student Worship Scholar Brian Haak ’15 of Zeeland, Michigan, gave the invocation.
Professor of the Year Dr. Bob Rice, now in his 30th year of teaching history at Trinity, was met at the podium by the enthusiastic applause of the more than 600 who had gathered to reconnect, worship, and hear Rice’s message “The Year before Us.”
Rice posed the question, “How do we approach the academic year?” He encouraged all to “take up the year together” in their responses to God, in their anticipation of the wonder of a Christian liberal arts education, and in their public profession and engagement as they “raise questions, discuss, imagine, and act to renew God’s world.”
Dr. Craig Mattson, professor of communication arts, and Heather Hernandez ’14 of Mokena, Illinois, led the audience through the litany reading based on Psalm 50.
Prior to the benediction by Chaplain Willis Van Groningen, Ph.D., Provost Liz Rudenga, Ph.D., Dean of Students Mark Hanna, and Student Association President Kathryn Woodside ’15 of Kearney, Nebraska, offered prayers of thanksgiving for faculty, staff, and students.
Convocation Address by Bob Rice (August 29, 2012):
“The Year before Us”
How do we take up the academic year before us? With our longings, our expectations, our prayers and the prayers of others – how do we approach this academic year?
In her recent book, The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson portrays the migration of six million African Americans from the southern states of the United States to the North (with destinations like Chicago) and from some southern states to the West Coast of America. She tells the story of “the Great Migration,” which occurred from about 1915 to 1970 and which brought so many thousands of people from settings of pervasive injustice and terror to places of relatively greater possibilities to gain freedom for American citizens in our civil society. But Wilkerson also states that, compared to other migrations and immigrations in American history, this “Great Migration” has been underreported and insufficiently studied. Even though this migration was so important to those people who undertook the journey and had such positive effects upon American culture, it has not been prominent in the portrait of American life in the twentieth century. Wilkerson writes about a people, with all of its diversity from within, who encountered American culture and who brought about significant change in American life.
There is a second movement of people which has persisted for the last 60 years. Every year in late August or early September, thousands of students, faculty, and staff come together on college and university campuses across America. Many of them wonder: How do we become a people or a campus community? Should we confront the cultural commitments and directions in which we live? How can we connect our mission statements with our present reality?
Although we must continue to ask these questions and seek partial answers, I believe that at Trinity, we can find a place to stand and hope at the beginning of the academic year. I suggest first that we take up the academic year in response to God. Listen to the words of Psalm 96, verses 1-6:
1Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
3Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
4For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
6Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
The psalmist asserts that God reigns and that we are called to respond to Him. Our responses are affirmations of God’s goodness as we sing, tell, bless, and declare His love for His world. Our responses also declare God’s renewing presence in His world, which give meaning to the days, weeks, and academic semesters before us. As co-workers with Christ, we anticipate through our responses the old becoming new and the long unfolding presence of His kingdom.
We stand before God also as we anticipate the wonder of Christian liberal arts education. Liberal arts education has a long, rich history with humankind offering philosophical treatises, eloquent poetry, artistic expression, institutional development, and all kinds of engagement with creation. God offers us ways for us to center this liberal arts education through our courses, our disciplines, and our emerging habits of life and learning, through which God shows us that all of life can be redeemed and that peace and justice can embrace. Christian liberal arts education will continue to surprise us and to show us the fullness of God’s work in His creation.
Finally, we take up this academic year in response to God, with Christian liberal arts education, and we do so publicly. We use many images in higher education that remind us that learning is private, individual, and inward. But we also learn publicly in the library, in the laboratory, in the studio, and in the practice room. We take up this learning publicly as we connect classroom, residence hall, chapel, cafeteria, athletic field, and internship site. This is a public profession and a public engagement as we raise questions, discuss, imagine, and act to renew God’s world.
So we take up this year together as we respond to God, enjoy a Christian liberal arts education, and act publicly. May God guide us as we seek to be faithful in making all things new.