the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956
Photo of Shirley H. Showalter

The end is the beginning: The Goshen College Difference

By President Shirley H. Showalter

One of the many pleasures of my work is listening to people tell me how Goshen College makes a difference in the world. One such story came to me from Elizabeth Walker, a local resident who graduated from DePauw University. Elizabeth’s husband Max was a member of the Goshen College Advisory Board in the 1980s. During Max’s illness at the end of his life, Elizabeth got to know a lot of medical staff of Elkhart General Hospital. She especially appreciated the nurses and noticed that a few of them were particularly friendly, competent, compassionate and efficient – all at once. She began to play a secret game. As she got to know each one, she tried to guess where they had gotten their training. The best ones, she said, had true character, and all of them had graduated from Goshen College. “It makes a big difference,” Elizabeth said, “to be truly cared for.”

When I talk with principals of both public and church schools in our region and around the country, they tell me how much they want to recruit and retain teachers from our education department. They mention qualities like dedication, commitment, high standards and deep concern for the individual student’s mind, heart and spirit. In January we held a special memorial service for Mary Royer, one of the stalwarts of the education department, who died on Nov. 28, 2001. Gathered in the Koinonia Room of the Church-Chapel were many colleagues and several generations of former students all giving testimony to a pioneering woman professor who made a mark on the college, her professional peers outside the college, the church, and, through her students, the whole world. When a program is shaped by people of character, perception and depth, it retains that shape and draws others into it. Faculty teaching today are keeping the tradition and the faith. They seek and find excellence. The legacy of difference is strong.

I hear the same about social work and business, our other professional programs. Beyond those alumni, there are hundreds of doctors, scores of lawyers, social activists, accountants, homemakers, volunteers, ministers and missionaries. There are professors, almost 600 of these since 1925! That number places Goshen College at number 75 among the 250 best liberal arts colleges in the country – right after Sarah Lawrence College. I believe Goshen graduates excel in graduate school because they have witnessed in their own professors the highest levels of what historian Jean LeClerq has called “the love of learning and the desire for God.”

When we try to describe in our publications the Goshen College “points of difference” from other liberal arts colleges and other Christian colleges, we use words like “social justice” or “reconciliation,” “international education” and “service.” We include all of these in our understanding of “excellence.”

From where does the Goshen College difference come? It comes from an education centered on the best of the liberal arts and on Jesus Christ, the one in whom all things hold together. Most particularly, the difference is the fruit of the Spirit as evidenced in our best selves awakened by a transformation of our minds and hearts. This kind of education cannot be injected. It happens gradually rather than suddenly. It grows out of deep encounters with difference on the Study-Service Term or on campus. It responds to loving challenge. It deepens rather than hardens with age.

We recently invited retired faculty, current faculty, staff and students to a two-hour all-campus celebration of mission. Student Senate President Sasha Dyck later told me, “It was great to look around at all those people with gray hair. All I could think was ‘the college is in so many good hands.’ It felt good to know how many people cared.”

A staff member spoke of how moved she was to enter the full fellowship hall as the community sang songs. “How many other colleges in America gather everyone up?” she wondered. “And how many of them come together with song?” Interim director of admissions (and program director of our new music building) Brian Wiebe, describes this difference from his perspective as a Christian, a musician and an educator: “We want our students to live out the mission. We want them to be different. We want to put a song in each one’s heart. And then we want other people to experience joy as our graduates enter the world ‘ever singing.’”

Top of page