Opening convocation of the 2007-2008 academic year, delivered by Dr. James E. Brenneman, president of Goshen College, on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007 at the Music Center’s Sauder Concert Hall.
“When I was very young, I had a neighbor who convinced me that if I didn’t hold my breath when I passed a cemetery, I would either die or become “demon possessed.” And I believed him. For a while anyway. I would hold my breath when I passed a cemetery. Kids sometimes believe the darndest things. When I first heard the term “euthanasia,” for example, I believed literally that it meant “Youth in Asia” and told another kid so. And he believed me. As children, we may have once believed in Santa or the tooth fairy or that our toys woke up at night while we slept. For a number of years, every time we did something truly wonderful as a family, like visit my grandparents and cousins in Iowa or ride the incline railway on Lookout Mountain, I was sure that I would simply wake up, and it would turn out to be just a dream. Later, I found out that believing life was but a dream was a thought experiment used in philosophical arguments about what we can or can’t know for sure. What we believe can affect how we live, how we feel about ourselves, how we think or how we understand reality.
As we continue to grow and mature, some of our beliefs fall by the wayside, thankfully. Other beliefs, when thrown up against the wall of life and experience, they stick. A couple of years ago, National Public Radio revived a 1950s radio program called “This I Believe,” originally hosted by the acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. The program invites people from all walks of life to share an essay that describes their core values — those values that guide their daily lives. Last year, three Goshen College students were selected to share their essays on the local NPR station in Elkhart (WVPE-88.1) — David Martinez (a senior communications major), Kathryn Birky (a junior communications major) and Georgette Oduor (a sophomore nursing major). I wish you could have heard their essays. Each one offered profound insight into deeply held values shaped by their family, by personal experience, by nature and by faith.
The values that stick are those tested and proven over time, sort of like proverbs are. Core values bear with them the wisdom of the ages even though we tend to learn them fresh with each new generation. Core values help us make difficult decisions, select majors, choose where to live or work, raise a child — and the possibilities are endless. Core values can even help us find common ground with someone with whom we disagree. Core values determine our tastes, our way of life, our entertainment, our social, political and religious interactions.
Martin Luther King, Jr. insisted that if progress on matters of race or war or justice was ever to made, if we ever hoped to move forward from where we are to where God wants us to be, then he said “We got to go back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we’ve left behind.” He said, “That’s the only way that we will be able to make of our world a better world.”
At Goshen College, we have some “mighty precious values” that have stood the test of time. These core values have been tested and tried for millennia. In turn, they have been refined during the last 113-year history of Goshen College. We believe that these precious values can help us make our world a better world. We believe that it would be a noble achievement, indeed, for every Goshen College student, faculty, and staff person to rediscover these mighty precious values for ourselves each school year and every year for the rest of our lives.
This we believe . . . that we are servant leaders. “We believe servant-leadership is reflected perfectly in the life of Jesus Christ.” Rather than claim his divine prerogatives, Christ humbled himself, set aside his self-interest, his dreams and hopes for the interests, and dreams and hopes of others. Homer Simpson knows this value well, at least once. He stated it so well. He said, “I guess I’ll have to give up my hopes and dreams and settle for being a decent husband and father.” Homer, that’s good enough. In service, Jesus led the world and can still lead the world through you. So, imagine yourselves as future leaders in science, industry, medicine, education, sports and the arts. Imagine yourselves as Nobel Prize winners, as best-selling authors, as diplomats, as world-changers as protesters. But also contemplate using those gifts to serve the weak, the powerless, the poor, the prisoner, the infirm, the world’s children. Stay true to our motto: “Culture for Service.”
This we believe. . . that we are global citizens. Goshen College this year was listed 23 out of more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States as among the very best in international education. You cannot escape this deeply held core value; it is the one that most radically changes the lives of most students who have come through these doors. We believe that a truly Christian liberal arts education in the 21st century must prepare students like yourselves to live, work, and relate across cultures period. We at Goshen College believe we can cross any cultural divide if we put our mind to it.