Dordt College News

From the president

January 15, 2010

Who is perched on your shoulder?

In September, as one of this year’s Distinguished Alumni was receiving his desk clock in recognition of the honor, he made a comment that has stuck with me for the past several weeks.

Dr. Carl E. ZylstraHe noted that the most important part of his Dordt College education was the people who perched on his shoulders during his time on campus—and those who are still there decades later, whispering in his ear, forming his thoughts, and shaping his decisions. As he put it, “So often I wonder ‘why did I say that or think like that?’ And then I remember the housemother at Dordt, the fellow player on my soccer team, the professor in my music class, the guys in the dorm, and the instructors in my classes. They’re all still right there with me, sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, and forming the rest of my life.”

I think this alumnus was correct. No matter where you receive your education, you’re going to leave school with a host of folks on your shoulder. Who will they be? Parents, have you wondered, when your daughter comes home from college for the first visit at Christmas, “Who will be sitting on her shoulder?” Or as your son walks across the stage to receive his diploma, “Who will be the people perched on his shoulder?”

I think this may be the most important question anyone can ask when deciding which college or university to attend. Prospective students, when you make a campus visit, take measure of the professors. After all, it’s not just that you’ll be listening to them for the next four years; you’ll be listening to them for the rest of your life. When you spend a night in the dorms, ask whether the folks you’re meeting are the ones you want to have whispering in your ear for as long as you live. When you meet people in the dining hall or at an evening recreational event, take a look around and decide whether these are the young women and men you want to have glued to your shoulders for the remainder of your days. 

Maybe all parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, pastors, teachers, and family friends should also ask this question. After all, a typical high school student doesn’t always think long term. Those of us with a little more longevity under our belts know the importance of life-shaping relationships and the difference they make in our lives. 

So why don’t we all take a look at each young person we love and for whom we are praying. It may be a grandchild or it may be a Sunday school student. It may be a part-time employee in your business or the child of family friends. Take a long look at those young children of God and, when they discuss possible college choices, try to picture what that decision will mean about who will be sitting on their shoulders when they graduate.

Try to picture who will teach their classes, who will be singing with them in the choir, who will be on their intramural team, and who will be sharing a study table with them. After all, those are the folks who will touch their lives far beyond the four-year college experience. Those are the voices they will carry with them for as long as they live.

And, then, why not also take the opportunity to perch ourselves on their shoulders now and whisper in their ears our own words of advice and encouragement as they make their college choice. In so doing, we too will be able to make a lifetime of difference for that young child of God whom we truly love and about whom we really do care.

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