President’s Speech: “Try this!”

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, President Rebecca Stoltzfus spoke to the campus community for the first time during a welcome convocation. The following is the video of the full event and President Stoltzfus’ prepared remarks. 

What brought me to Goshen College

All lives are a journey, and my journey has brought me here. One of the people who journeyed with me here is my husband, Kevin Miller. Get to know him. He’s an exceptional person, and also a Goshen College grad, a double major in biology and nursing.

This morning, there is no place I would rather be than right here with you. I am honored and glad to return to Goshen College because I am optimistic about its future and want to be a part of creating it.

Last week I sent a lengthy email to all the staff and faculty of the college. This morning I want to speak especially to the students.

As I think about the future we create together, I want to ensure that Goshen College continues to provide an excellent liberal arts education, grounded in Anabaptist-Mennonite values. An education that liberates students—liberates you to explore ideas, the world, relationships, your own souls, to express yourselves through writing, discovery, action and the arts, and ultimately to live a meaningful creative life with a community and a job you love.

Notice that this is all about you. You are the reason that Goshen College exists. Sure, we faculty and staff and administrators have our own personal and professional goals, but together, as a college, we are here for you and for who you are becoming. When we admit you, and welcome you to our student body, we become for you. As your president, I am here for you.

So what do I want for you?

Throughout our history, Goshen faculty have written a great deal about transformative education—which I stand behind. And here’s a simple definition. I want you to have an education that does not ask you to believe or disbelieve in any theories or doctrines or dogmas. Rather, I want your time at Goshen to challenge you to “Try this!” Then you will know something to be true or false for yourself.

I know that Goshen is asking you to “try this!” in many ways, from throwing a pot on the potter’s wheel, to solving a computer programming challenge, to writing a poem, to finding a vein with a needle or improving your serve.

But at an even higher level, I want to suggest today that Goshen College offers your four big propositions, four overarching opportunities to “Try this!”

President Stoltzfus answers questions from students Dez Lopez (center) and Abby King following her welcome convocation speech.

The first Goshen proposition is to try thisLearn way more than you thought you could.

At Goshen College we take our academics seriously, and your professors, mentors, and coaches expect a lot from you. I hope that at the end of your first semester, or after several years here, you will look back at yourself as you entered this place, and say: “I can’t believe how much I have learned!”

And I want to emphasize that learning a whole lot is a different thing than working super hard and getting stressed out. It’s November, and if you are feeling stressed out and are having difficulties, you are not alone.

College is meant to be challenging. But your stress level is not the definition of academic rigor. Your learning is. Sometimes you work really hard and you don’t learn much. Other times, your work is so fun or you are so in-the-flow that you learn a ton without feeling burned out! Pay attention to what gets you in that flow.

A focus on learning is also very different from proving to yourself or anyone else that you are smart. Trust your intelligence. Discover how much you can learn.

My second Goshen proposition is: Become part of this trustworthy community.

Humans are meant to live in community. We’re kind of like ants or dolphins or elephants in that way. Often we are part of multiple communities: family, neighborhood, school, perhaps a faith community.

Goshen College is a community, and I hope you will feel that it is your community. Try belonging to it. And I will do my part to help make and keep Goshen College a trustworthy community. Which is different from a perfect community. You will hear Goshen College make all sorts of bold statements about herself, because we are an idealistic community. And I am well aware that we do not always live up to our ideals. But we will be trustworthy when we are honestly and openly striving, and if are able to correct ourselves when things go awry. If, when we are hurt, we are able to speak up about it. We are trustworthy when are able to engage in dialogue and reconciliation, intense competition and crazy healthy fun, to show kindness and caring. We cultivate these capacities by practicing them. At our best, our community is not perfect, but has a self-correcting quality; the capacity to learn, to stretch, to heal and be healed.

So try this: show up, be yourself. Be your whole self. Don’t check your identities at the door. Bring them into the room. Speak up if you are hurt, or if you see someone else getting hurt. Make yourself and your ideas known. Help to make and keep this a trustworthy community.

My third Goshen proposition is: You are a spiritual being. Let your soul shine.

You don’t need to become a spiritual person; you were born that way. We are all spiritual people. But I hope that your years at Goshen College invite you to explore deeply what that means, to claim faith, try out new spiritual practices or deepen familiar ones, and to explore ideas about God, what is Sacred, and who you are in relationship to that.

As you know, Goshen College names Christ-Centered as one of our core values. And we are also pluralistic and Anabaptist, which means that you decide. You choose. Your spiritual journey is yours. I will honor that.

Wherever you are on your journey, I hope that your Goshen College experience will be full of soul.

One of my favorite writers is Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She writes: “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.”

And this is made more possible in a community like ours, a community that invites and supports that:

Estes continues: “Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

I hope that you will experience Goshen College as a community of souls fully lit and willing to show it. Every day I will try to be one of those souls for you and with you.

My fourth Goshen proposition is: Act to make this world a better place. The world needs you. Goshen College needs you.

I often to turn to these words from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.”

“The person who is actually in the arena.”

One of my goals as I begin at Goshen is to strengthen leadership development at all levels of the institution, including student leadership. Even before my start date, I met with Gilberto Perez, our Dean of Students, and other staff and faculty who are involved with student leaders on campus to talk about what we are doing with regard to student leadership development. I will strive in support of student leadership that is continually more inviting, inclusive, and empowered.

This year, I want to engage all of us in thinking about the areas and directions in which we would like Goshen College to grow. Growth in the value that we offer to the world and especially to you. To generate conversation about our desired growth, I am hosting a series of dinner conversations in my home. I am calling these Soup Talks, because we will eat soup and we will talk together. I have planned dinners to accommodate all of the teaching faculty 30 administrative staff, and 30 students–before the Christmas holiday. Students were nominated to these conversations by the Student Senate. I respect your leadership, and I want to hear your perspectives.

The poet Mary Oliver asks, “What do you want to do with this one wild and precious life?”

Or, as I would paraphrase this morning, “What do you want to do with this one wild and precious Goshen College experience?”

Try this! Enter the arena. That’s where I’ll be.