The enduring value of ‘Culture for Service’

This presidential column originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of The Bulletin.

BY REBECCA J. STOLTZFUS ’83President of Goshen College

WHEN I ATTENDED Goshen College, little did I understand the enduring value of my education, because it was not immediately apparent. Yes, I was accepted into several top graduate schools, and yes, I excelled academically in those programs. I am grateful to many good GC professors for that. But academic excellence was not the only enduring value.

Twenty-five years later, when I was in the midst of developing a global health experiential learning program at Cornell University, a close friend observed: “So, you are trying to make Cornell the Goshen College of the Ivy League?” We laughed aloud, but he was right. The enduring value of our motto, “Culture for Service,” surfaced these decades later.

What we learn at Cornell or at Goshen College is much bigger than ourselves. My career became about having deep understandings of the places where my knowledge and discovery can be useful. To listen really carefully to, “what are the needs of the world?” And, “how can we respond to that creatively?”

That happens when students are put in situations of relating and interacting with the world, and then are challenged to think deeply about it — whether global or local, through an internship, service project or some sort of creative project, research, policy engagement, entrepreneurship or working on sustainable development in a community. Learning that connects the world with the best of the academy is truly exciting and transformative for our students.

Former Goshen College President J. Lawrence Burkholder wrote: “College mottos are usually innocuous. But at Goshen, ‘Culture for Service’ is a reality and needs to be affirmed at a time when a materialistic, technically oriented culture pulls in other directions.”

This year we are renewing and deepening our commitment to “Culture for Service” through our new Center for Community Engagement (learn more on pages 5 and 14). True to Goshen College, this new center connects our liberal arts core curriculum with career networks and internships, summer camps for children with new programs for employed adults, and global education with local settings. It is an ambitious initiative that has already attracted significant funding.

What Goshen College distinctively adds to the educational equation is something that a public institution, or even a secular private university like Cornell, cannot: the mentorship and friendship of faculty rooted in the way of Jesus, in a learning environment shaped by the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. Where joy is cultivated and active love for God and neighbor is part of our mission.

That is our distinctive flavor, the saltiness that we persist in bringing to an increasingly materialistic and generic world of higher education, as well as to our local and global communities.