In writing this blog post, I attempted a variety of introductions that would provide just the right words to reflect on the semester Hope students, parents, staff and faculty have endured this fall. I realized with each attempt, however, that there was no one perfect way to describe a semester that was unlike any other I had experienced as a Hope alum (’88), parent (Samuel, ’21), First Year Seminar instructor and staff member of 30 years. What I could describe though was the ways in which I witnessed the Hope community remain faithful to its mission of “preparing students for lives of leadership and service in a global society” even in the midst of a pandemic. Regardless of my vantage points or roles, I am grateful for the creativity and connection that has shone during this time and for what can be cultivated as we look to next semester.
From teaching and learning via Zoom to organizing the flow of dining hall traffic to live streaming Chapel and theater productions, creativity has been nurtured in ways that we never thought possible. Group work and presentations have had to look different as have social events. And yet, there has been a spirit of adaptability and resilience that has kept the students and the college moving forward. This was especially evident to me through the final projects of the 18 students in my First Year Seminar course, “Images: An Invitation to Our Everyday Lives.” Throughout the semester, they practiced contemplative photography and sacred seeing by submitting weekly images on themes such as What We Carried, Challenge, Strengths, Light, Shadow, Hope and Gratitude. Through the themes, we explored the difference between “taking” a photo and “receiving” a photo and how that mindset shift invites us to be more present and aware. In developing their projects, students used new technology, wrote poetry, provided feedback to one another and reflected on the process. I was genuinely inspired by their intentionality in highlighting the moments that made up their first semester and each project was truly a creative gallery of hope. This is just one of many ways the faculty and students of Hope continued their creative and educational adventures despite COVID.
What I could describe though was the ways in which I witnessed the Hope community remain faithful to its mission of “preparing students for lives of leadership and service in a global society” even in the midst of a pandemic.
According to author William Cronon in his article, “Only Connect” The Goals of a Liberal Arts Education, there are several qualities that position a student to connect with text, self, others and experiences. These qualities include, “ . . . listening, reading, talking, writing, puzzle solving, truth-seeking, seeing through other people’s eyes, leading, working in a community . . . ” which in turn can equip “ . . . one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways.” With or without a pandemic, Hope has maintained a steadfast commitment to offer learning experiences that create space for students to grow in these areas. What did that look like this semester? It looked like students analyzing readings in a course on The Beatnik Generation (a class my son was in), problem-solving in a lab, serving on the Executive Board of a student organization, attending a lecture on anti-racism, or perhaps viewing videos such as “The Danger of a Single Story” by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozo Adichie as in my course. Whether students were excited by or grappled with the new information or perspectives presented through these experiences, they were still making connections to the past, present and future, an exercise that is critical to preparing for lives of service. We are extremely proud of their hard work and honor all of the staff and faculty who offered their support and guidance along the way!
As we look forward, there may be a temptation for our students and us to focus on the unknown. As a parent and staff member, I can sometimes find myself in that space and then, I remember the wise words of my husband, “What can you control and what can’t you control?” While it may seem that there is more that falls into the “can’t control” category, I am grateful for the ways in which our students can access quality resources and support that cultivates their continued growth and well-being. This can include scheduling an appointment with a Boerigter Center staff member to explore majors or work on a résumé (shameless plug!) or a time to meet with CAPS or an academic advisor. It can also include a continued commitment to hold one another accountable to the COVID-19 safety guidelines so that everyone remains healthy and here. Cultivation implies work and process and when we have the opportunity to do that in community, the fruit produced benefits us all.
When my son was growing up, I eventually learned that asking about his school day required some creativity, connection and cultivating on my part. Shifting from “What did you learn today?” to “What questions did you ask today?” oftentimes yielded more interesting conversations. As we spend time with our students during this break, may we enjoy the gift of reflection by seeing this very different fall semester through their eyes.
What questions will you ask today?!
What went well this semester?
What might you do differently next semester?
What are you grateful for?
Where did you notice the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary?
What was a question you asked that led to a new perspective?
What was the most interesting thing you read or discussed?
What was a challenge you worked through and what did you learn about yourself through that experience?
What surprised you about virtual or hybrid learning?
In what ways did staff and faculty help you feel seen, heard and cared for?
What was one way you encouraged or supported someone else?
Also, check out the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career’s recent blog post “Five Ways to Have a Healthy and Productive Break” for great tips from our current career ambassador Lisbeth Franzon.
Thank you for sharing your students with the Hope community and the world!