The Voice: Spring 2002

The Voice

President's Convocation begins second semester

Sikkema, Zylstra, and Pearcey after the dinner and discussion
By Sally Jongsma

A new tradition started this year. The President’s Convocation was inaugurated as a way to celebrate and begin the second semester. The first speaker was writer and scholar Nancy Pearcey who spoke on “Why Worldview Matters.”

“Second semester really is a new beginning,” says President Carl Zylstra. “Increasingly the campus population changes between semesters.” Zylstra is referring to the 100 or more students who have spent a semester off-campus student teaching or participating in an off-campus program as well as those who are new transfer students or high school graduates.

“We don’t all get together that often as a college community. This is a good time to do it,” he says. “We need more formal ways to celebrate and focus on our mission, and formal events reaffirm the institution’s identity and calling. Having faculty robed puts us in touch with our history and that of higher education.”

It also provides an opportunity to bring in outside speakers who share Dordt’s Christian perspective. Historically at Dordt College, the president has given the fall convocation address, a tradition Zylstra appreciates and considers important. Commencement speakers are usually faculty members who try to send graduates off with a challenge that stems from their four years of education at Dordt. Zylstra applauds that tradition too. But he also sees the need to bring in Christian scholars and authors that students study and read. The new convocation presents a perfect opportunity.

“I think it is valuable for students and faculty to hear and be encouraged by someone who shares their perspective but is not right in the middle of this institution’s daily work,” says Zylstra. He says that he and those who work with him to choose speakers have made a conscious decision to look for people who can help students develop Christian perspective in their academic work.

Nancy Pearcey was an excellent first President’s Convocation speaker, Zylstra believes. “What she said about worldview fit so well with the central themes and mission of our curriculum and reminds us how important that view is for the broader world. She was inspirational and helped us focus on the task we have before us.”

Future speakers will be chosen by the same criteria. Zylstra plans to look for someone with a reputation for leadership in an academic setting, someone with a scholarly reputation and a track record of giving leadership in Reformed biblical perspective, someone who can help us better understand who we are and what our impact can be, and someone who can speak to the range of people on campus.

Next year’s speaker is already selected—Ruth Tucker, who presently teaches at Calvin Theological Seminary. Many students have read her books for courses, and Zylstra is confident that she will help students understand how to live their faith in a variety of contexts.

Response to the first President’s Convocation has been positive. In addition to giving a well-received presentation, Pearcey presented a model of a woman scholar and demonstrated an activism and a personal warmth that students and faculty appreciated.

“Why Worldview Matters” didn’t propose such new ideas, but allowed students to hear foundational ideas in a fresh way from someone outside of the college. “Being validated by someone who is recognized in the broader Christian community is reaffirming,” says Zylstra.

“It reminds me of experiences preachers have,” Zylstra says. “Some of the central themes you try to stress get said by a guest minister or speaker and people buzz about them for days. This wasn’t so new, but it was fresh. That’s what Pearcey did for us.”

Students who attended agreed. David Hjelle, a junior engineering major from Fergus Falls, Minnesota, says that it wasn’t so new but that he was reminded of the importance of worldview and how it affects kids’ books, movies, and so many other things that surround us. Senior Amy Vroom, a political science major from Orland Park, Illinois, says Pearcey gave her insight into how to analyze everyday things by seeing the worldview that shapes them, and it encouraged her to see the influence Christians can have in society.

“Convocation is a good thing,” says Jenny Berkompas, a junior English major from Sunnyside, Washington. “We really need to start the semester with something thought-provoking. I never get tired of hearing about worldview. I never actually realized how special a worldview type of thought is.”

“She encouraged us as Reformed Christians to get out there and rub elbows with people,” says Gerrit Wieringa, a freshman history major from McCook, Illinois. “We need to engage culture. She reminded us of that.”