Goshen College president opens school year with a call to live out core values

“We have power to shape who we are by choosing what core values we place at the center of our being. At Goshen College we want to offer you a story to consider that we believe could transform your life forever.”
— Dr. James E. Brenneman, President.
» Read Dr. Brenneman’s sermon.

GOSHEN, Ind. — Goshen College President James E. Brenneman opened the new academic year Sept. 3 by challenging students to live the college’s five core values, which he described as ideal for navigating life and nurturing body and soul.”The story we will tell throughout the time you are with us — in classes, in our co-curriculars, in small groups, on Study-Service Term, in worship, and in our fun — is a story shaped by five core values. They are woven together like a web — a web of belief at the center of who we are and hope to become: compassionate peacemakers, passionate learners, servant leaders, global citizens, centered in the life and teachings of Christ,” Brenneman said.

“There are, of course, other great values to live by. But, we believe these five core values — the Goshen Core — can invite a sense of calling, inspire a vocation, help integrate a healthy identity, offer you grace and salvation and help you succeed here and for the rest of your life.”

Brenneman, speaking Sept. 3 at the first all-campus convocation of the 2008-2009 academic year, offered guidance for thriving in a fast-changing world during his speech titled “Living the Core.” His message — offered with a mixture of scholarship, humor and humility — resonated with students, faculty and staff members, who cheered his introduction, laughed at the president’s jokes and loudly applauded the conclusion of his 11-minute presentation.

Brenneman, a 1977 graduate of Goshen College who is starting his third year as president, offered a warm welcome and led the audience in cheering for faculty members, staff and new and returning students before discussing the pressures of life, the nature of human existence and the college’s transformative core values.

“Did you know that almost everything you learn in the first year will be outdated by the time you are juniors?” he told more than 800 people in the Music Center’s Sauder Concert Hall. “We live in such a rapidly changing world that it’s almost impossible to keep up with the data flow. Did you know, for example, that the number of text messages sent and received each day exceeds the total population of the planet?”

Brenneman went on to point out that there are about five times as many words in the English language today as there were in the time of Shakespeare and that a week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to know in their entire lifetime in the 18th century.

“No doubt, some of you have felt or feel overwhelmed about leaving your families, about grades, relationships, time-management, majors, body image, identity, the job market, spiritual commitments,” he said. “Sometimes college life can be a bit overwhelming. For that matter, all of life can be.

He conceded that Goshen College cannot shield students from many of life’s pressures or deep questions — nor would it want to do so. “The exciting part about college, in general, and Goshen College, in particular, is we do promise to offer to provide you with the sacred space to explore the very areas of life that may seem overwhelming to you. And we promise to do so in a caring, learning community that very much wants for you to succeed in college and in life.”

Brenneman said the college’s teaching and learning is influenced by varying beliefs — from ancient to contemporary scholars— about the core of human existence. “The problem with all such quests that set out to find the core of life, the core of the universe, the core of the self, the core of anything really, has been a bit like peeling the layers of an onion and finding that the core of the onion is simply just another layer,” he said.

“Whether you are a Christian, an atheist, a person of another religious faith, a would-be doctor, teacher, artist, you are the tale that you tell. You are the combination of pieces of truth, multiple selves, bundles of nerve fibers, atoms, and elements, nerve endings, anxieties, anticipations, fears and hopes — all pulled together in bundles of complexity and coherence by biological and life processes. But when it comes to meaning in life, identity in life, you are pulled together by sheer acts of imagination,” he said.

“We have power to shape who we are by choosing what core values we place at the center of our being. At Goshen College we want to offer you a story to consider that we believe could transform your life forever.”

Faculty, staff and students walked past their peers to sustained applause, in what has become an annual tradition since 2000 known as the Goshen College “Tunnel of Welcome” or “Applause Avenue”.

» View photos from opening convo and “Applause Avenue”

Brenneman told the students that keeping the college’s core values at the center of their lives and their systems of belief would offer a structure for analyzing ideas and facts and navigating through overwhelming amounts of information.”Having these core values centered in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ will remind all of us that the most fundamental building-block of life, that spiritual atom indivisible by any force, that primal reality undergirding existence itself, were we to name it the core of life and death, itself, would be this truth: we are, each and everyone of us, loved unconditionally by God,” Brenneman told the hushed audience. “May you always know that you are loved by God unconditionally and loved by all of us who lead, teach and serve in these sacred halls of learning.”

Before Brenneman’s remarks, Professor of Music Debra Brubaker led the audience in the singing of the college’s alma mater as well as “Teach me thy truth,” a hymn written more than 70 years ago by two Goshen College faculty members. Audience members also enjoyed a slide and music presentation on the 2007-2008 academic year.

As they left Sauder Hall, ushers handed each attendee a gift from President Brenneman — an ink pen with a small retractable color banner that was emblazoned with the college’s core values, mission and alma mater.

Afterward, and in what has become an annual tradition since 2000, the Goshen College “Tunnel of Welcome” or “Applause Avenue” formed outside the convocation. Faculty, staff and students walked past their peers to sustained applause, and then joined and extended the lines for seniors, juniors, sophomores and first-year students to pass by. The applause of welcome continued until Sauder Concert Hall was empty and the line stretched west nearly to the railroad tracks and toward the center of campus.

—Written by Richard R. Aguirre

Editors: For more information about this release, contact Goshen College Director of Public Relations Richard R. Aguirre at (574) 535-7571 or rraguirre@goshen.edu or News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.


 Goshen College, established in 1894, is a 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 www.goshen.edu.