President Showalter encourages students to develop meaningful philosophy of life in opening fall address

GOSHEN, Ind. — The first day of classes at Goshen College for 2004-05 academic year on Aug. 25 opened with President Shirley H. Showalter’s welcoming address to campus. Titled “The Meaning of Life,” she called students to develop a meaningful personal philosophy.

The speech marks her final address to a new school year and a new student body as Showalter had earlier in the month announced her resignation. She will be finishing her tenure on Sept. 30. Current GC Provost John D. Yordy will then assume the position of interim president.

Addressing a crowd of more than 800 students, faculty and staff members in the Church-Chapel, Showalter began by noting that Goshen College students are more interested in a meaningful philosophy of life than their peers, and that the interest grows stronger over their four years at GC, based on the Cooperative Institutional Research Program test that all college/university students in the United States take.

Showalter then offered students three suggestions for developing a meaningful philosophy on life, including to study, to write down a personal mission statement and to find a “circle of truth.”

Studying – the reason students are in college – is the first step Showalter pointed to in developing their meaningful philosophy on life. “Every course you take at Goshen College holds potential to contribute to your understanding of the meaning of life. But whether or not you find it is up to you,” she said. “Meaning was, and often is today, supplied by the teachings and rituals of the church and by the tasks of daily living necessary for survival. However, the deepest thinkers of all ages and all cultures sometimes pulled back from daily life long enough to face hidden fears and to doubt whether life has meaning.”

Showalter said her own times of doubting and facing fears have “taught her more than many of the sunnier parts of my journey,” she said. “The way out is to keep searching for meaning, or to let go of the search for awhile until it finds you. It will eventually come, and when it does, it will bring you a special gift meant to be shared with others.”

Showalter noted that writing down a personal mission statement has been helpful for her to focus. “Make your deepest desires conscious desires, or you risk being ruled by your unconscious fears,” she said. “Find words to express your own longing for love, beauty, peace, community and joy.”

Showalter encouraged students to find a “circle of truth,” a term she borrowed from author Parker Palmer. “Find other people who want to search with you for a meaningful philosophy on life. Listen to each other’s mission statement. Read the Bible, poetry, philosophy, pray and laugh together,” she said. “Life does not get any better than this.”

Showalter noted that “all journeys include transitions and change,” and that students would have the opportunity to experience at least three important events in the coming year: the national election, a college presidential leadership change in a community of Christ and the once-a-decade visit by the North Central Accrediting Association (NCA) to Goshen College.

“One of the most profound ways we learn at GC is that we sing. We sing out loud. We sing a song that lasts a whole life long,” Showalter said. Then Associate Professor of Bible, Religion and Philosophy Paul Keim, and campus humorist, who wrote a song “that takes the serious lightly through comedy” about the NCA visit and the college’s core values, performed it with assistance from Lisa Guedea Carreño, head librarian, and Skip Barnett, associate professor of English and international student adviser.

Showalter then invited everyone to join in an “applause avenue” and told the new students, “We have been waiting all of your life to welcome you to your own circle of truth. We love you. Let’s get started on the journey of joy together.”

In what has become an annual tradition, the GC “applause avenue,” initiated by Showalter four years ago, created a joyful noise and energy of new beginnings with hand clapping and welcoming each other to campus. Faculty, staff and students paraded past their peers, then joined and extended the lines and continued the applause until the sanctuary was empty and the lines stretched far into the heart of campus by its conclusion.

Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit http://www.goshen.edu/.

Editors: For more information, contact News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.

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