Connecting passionate and purposeful learning in a year of challenge

This presidential column originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of The Bulletin.

BY REBECCA J. STOLTZFUS ’83President of Goshen College

FORTY-TWO YEARS AGO, I was a first-year student at Goshen College, majoring in music. I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I enjoyed hanging out with musicians. I still do. I am very glad that Goshen College is making music in creative, rigorous, beautiful and safe ways this fall.

This year we are focusing on our core value of passionate learning. As I pondered what really stuck with me from my years of learning at Goshen, I honestly had trouble remembering most of the specific course material.

The eminent Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget said, “The principle goal of education should be creating [people] who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”

It is easy for me to see that my time here made me capable of doing new things.

At Goshen, I was in the midst of people who were passionate about the new things they wanted to do. People who would gather at all hours, talk for hours, and be unusually creative and courageous in their efforts to do new things.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” said anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Our core value is passionate learning. And no doubt, this is a world in need of change! Considering we are in the midst of a global pandemic, hard conversations about racial justice and a divisive political environment, at Goshen College, we are committed to making this passionate year a very good year.

Emotions are key to deep learning; they drive our attention and deepen our memories.

Deep learning happens when we connect coursework with our students’ passions and unique purpose in the world, and when we connect with each other: students with students, students with faculty, all of us with the community. Goshen is a place where mind, spirit and body can connect.

In the midst of all we face at this time, I am passionate about cultivating wellsprings of joy and vibrant faith. Now more than ever, we need to be nourished by worship, by music and art, by laughter and by each other. Fear is present, but let it not get the upper hand. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

We are all doing a lot of learning this unusual year. To the best of our abilities, let’s use our passionate emotions — sadness, anger, joy, love — to make this year of learning more relevant, more memorable, more connected.