How has Hope Forward Changed Your View of Generosity in Higher Education?

This blog post is part of a series. Read the introduction and Meet Some of Our Hope Forward Students, Why Apply to Hope Forward?, What Connections Are Hope Forward Students Making on Campus? and What Are Some Challenges to Being a Hope Forward Student?

Hope College — Hope College plays host to author and journalist Malcom Gladwell to speak about the Hope Forward project.

Jim: Before they cut me off, how has this experience, if at all, changed your view of investment in generosity, in higher education, in — to use the cliche — paying it forward? Has this experience changed your perceptions in any way from what they might have been? Anyone jump in.

Cora: Hope Forward has changed me because I’m more generous. I feel like I was generous before, but now I have even more of a reason to. And it’s also impacted my family. This scholarship has allowed me to go to college debt free, and my family’s also more generous. We are able to be more charitable with our time and our finances. And because I’m planning to give back to Hope Forward after I graduate, I started my retirement investments, and I’m ready.

Davi: For me, I think how it changed me is it made me see, I guess, we all keep saying how beautiful Hope Forward is. It’s love at its purest form, as well as generosity. And the way it changed for me is: If this has been given to me, why not give it back to someone else? And this beautiful cycle of love, of giving back … every day I wake up, and I’m just reminded and in awe of that. And I just really love that, you know?

Sydney: Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure how to follow that up.

Jim: Do your best.

Sydney: I just think of the donors who just so generously funded our education. And how could you not just be excited to fund the people and generations to come? College is way too expensive, and I think it takes a toll on so many families and dampers a lot of time. And I just think that being able to receive a scholarship through generosity like this is just something that’s really incredible and really innovative, and I’m just so excited to be a part of it.

Steven: I would not have thought that I would be in my freshman year going, ‘I can’t wait to graduate and have a job and give back.’ Like, you don’t usually do that in a freshman year. You’re usually like, ‘I gotta figure my stuff out.’ And I still have to do that, but I am outside focused already. And I think we talk about generosity, and it’s not just financial. We realize that it’s time, it’s listening to people. A lot of us have big goals that we want to achieve, but I think it’s the small day-to-day conversations that we have with people that we just want to be able to give back.…

Jim: That’s excellent. Anna?

Anna: Yeah, when I think of this question, it makes me think about how there’s so many different ways to be generous and no two people are gonna be generous in the same way. And kind of like the people sitting here, some wanna be doctors, some wanna work at nonprofits, others wanna be missionaries in our cohort. So what we can give will look different.

… Nothing is required. We just have signed a covenant to give what we can. And I think that’s the beautiful part of what this program is developing. It’s developing generous hearts at its core.

And it’s not about requirements or paying back a certain number. It’s about living into generosity and being generous with finances and your time and your talents.

Jim: YJ?

YJ: I feel like everybody has tough days. And for me, there’s days where I feel like I don’t belong or … I’m not supposed to be here, and I’m not worthy enough. But having this scholarship, and just having trust and Hope’s investment in me, it makes me go through those hard days and work harder.

And instead of just going to bed early, I work hard. And I feel like in everything I do, just the fact that Hope wants me to be here changes everything.

What Are Some Challenges to Being a Hope Forward Student?

This blog post is part of a series. Read the introduction and Meet Some of Our Hope Forward Students, Why Apply to Hope Forward? and What Connections Are Hope Forward Students Making on Campus?

Hope College hosted author and journalist Malcom Gladwell during the day-long “Catalyst Summit”. Subtitled “Access and Innovation in Higher Education,” the summit is bringing together thought leaders from a variety of fields to consider new ideas and spark meaningful conversations about how to fix higher education’s broken funding model.

Jim: Let me just jump in before I lose time. We were backstage getting ready to go on, and of course, there’s nerves and just excitement … and someone said organically, ‘Let’s pray.’ And we got in a circle and did a popcorn prayer. And I was just thinking to myself, ‘This is so cool because these guys are going out here in front of this audience and they’re nervous; but they know where their strength comes from, and they took the time to say: Let’s get in a circle and ask him to help us out here.’ And as you know, in the world outside of Hope College, that doesn’t often happen. And to get to see it in people of your age, is just remarkable. (audience applauding)

What have the challenges been in Hope Forward to this point? … I think you know the other Hope Forward students as well. I mean, these six brave souls came out here; but there are dozens of people, as you know, in the program over the course of a few semesters. So what have the challenges been? Anyone?

Sydney: Well, for me, I’m from a small town in Iowa. And as you can imagine, there’s not a lot of diversity there. … Hearing everyone’s stories and how different our lives are — I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge, but it’s almost a barrier in a sense. Like, how can you relate with these people if you have different experiences? But I think Hope Forward has brought us together and shown us you may have different backgrounds, but our hearts are the same. Our hearts are for Jesus. Our hearts are for generosity, and our hearts are for Hope.

So just having this program, it’s shown us a lot about how different backgrounds can form the closest relationships.

Jim: That’s great. Anyone else?

Anna: I would say perhaps not a challenge, but something we’ve bonded over, is that most of us are not from Michigan.… One of the requirements when we applied was being out of the region and the surrounding states of Michigan. So coming to Hope College, which traditionally is made up of a lot of students from Michigan, we’ve definitely felt that and seen that. And we’ve bonded with one another over the distance from our homes and even the international students being in another country. So we definitely are a diverse group geographically coming from all over the world.

Cora: I can add. Yeah, speaking of bonding from being far away, we had a game night over winter break; and that was fun because Hope Forward students got together and we played games. Another challenge, even though I see it as an opportunity because we’ve received this scholarship, [is that] a lot of other students on campus — if they know that I’m a Hope Forward student, they’re like: ‘Oh, Cora, you don’t have to pay for school. You’re so lucky. I wish I could be you.’ And trying to explain what Hope Forward means to me, that has been something that has enriched my gratitude for the scholarship, but also allowed me to see other students and how student debt is really a problem and a burden.

Davi: And going off of that — I don’t know if other people can also relate — but I sometimes struggle with … imposter syndrome or something. I look at people around me and I see that there are so many other people that seem way more deserving or even worthy of this scholarship. And sometimes I look into my life and I tell myself, like, I don’t know…. this is something I wrestle with God sometimes.
… I see myself as just, you know, we’re all human … we all sin and stuff like that. But the things that God has done for me and my family, it’s just unimaginable. And to think that I’ve been receiving this… I know everything happens for a reason. And I know that I trusted in God before and now you can see where that led me. I know that I can continue trusting in God. I’m just so excited to see where he’ll take me. But I guess it’s just kind of those doubts that every person may have in a similar situation like this.

Steven: I think something that Nicole reminded us … is that we are people first, students second and then Hope Forward, and everything else third. And I think that has been helpful because I think we’re reminded that we are not the scholarship that we get. We are not just recipients of a scholarship and money that gets us through; but we are people first. And we want to be people that love first and people that are outward-focused. That’s been really helpful for us, and … whether they … can’t resonate with us being Hope Forward or we can’t resonate with them, I think it’s just been helpful to be outward-focused. And this has helped us not look at ourselves, I think, and look at others.

What Connections Are Hope Forward Students Making on Campus?

This blog post is part of a series. Read the introduction and Meet Some of Our Hope Forward Students and Why Apply to Hope Forward?

Hope College hosted author and journalist Malcom Gladwell during the day-long “Catalyst Summit”. Subtitled “Access and Innovation in Higher Education,” the summit is bringing together thought leaders from a variety of fields to consider new ideas and spark meaningful conversations about how to fix higher education’s broken funding model.

Jim: Tell me this, and anyone can answer this if you like, we don’t have to go down the aisle. Do you have a “Hope who?” And by that, I mean, is there someone or someones — let’s keep it to one if we can — who has really impacted you since you’ve been here at Hope?

For me, it was my freshman English professor, Jack Riddle, who I think inspired me to become a writer. I owe my career in part to his inspiration. We’re still friends to this day. The fact that I have a professor older than me who’s still alive is pretty amazing. But if someone asked me, ‘Who did I take away from this college?’ It would be that man. Do you have someone like that at this point in your educational journey?

Steven: I think it sounds cliche, but President Scogin. I think he just does such a good job. I know he’s an intelligent man and he’s very smart, but he also does such a good job at talking about Jesus every time he’s up here. And not in a way that’s exclusive, not in a way that compromises being intelligent or being welcoming or being open, but in a way that puts Jesus first and lets him do the work. And I admire that as a person who wants to go into medicine and knows that medicine is a field where you have to maybe just be intelligent and let your feelings not be a part of what you do. And I think there is always a space for Jesus, and Jesus should be the first. And I think that drives me wanting to excel in medicine. I see that in what President Scogin does. A model like [Hope Forward] that is made to be funded like a church … there’s just so much hope and so much just pointing to who Jesus is … not just this model but in what I want to do.

Jim: Amazing, anyone else?

YJ: I’ll go. For me, it’s everyone in the Center of Global Engagement: Amy, Kristen, Kendra, Katie, Jasmine, Habeeb. They were all so helpful in the beginning. And I feel like if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to settle into Hope as easily as I did. So, yeah.

Anyone else?

Anna: I feel like the professors here know us and see us. And being at Hope College, we’re able to develop those relationships with our professors. So I can’t name just one because there are so many that I’ve formed relationships with and who have impacted me in many meaningful ways. I think that’s also part of the Hope Forward vision — moving away from this transactional relationships with students and professors and moving towards transformational relationships amongst all people at the college.

Why Apply to Hope Forward?

This blog post is part of a series. Read the introduction and Meet Some of Our Hope Forward Students.

Hope College hosted author and journalist Malcom Gladwell during the day-long “Catalyst Summit”. Subtitled “Access and Innovation in Higher Education,” the summit is bringing together thought leaders from a variety of fields to consider new ideas and spark meaningful conversations about how to fix higher education’s broken funding model.

Jim: I think [people] might be interested to know how you each heard of Hope Forward and what motivated you to apply for this program. YJ, you start.

YJ: Oh man. I’m gonna be dead honest. I just needed the scholarship.

I was looking for colleges. I was thinking I should go to Korea, and America was still a possibility, but it’s just too much money. …I was just praying that God will hopefully find the way. And I got an email from Mr. Crowley saying, ‘There’s a Hope Forward scholarship that’s brand new.’ And I was like, might as well apply, right? Might as well shoot my shot.

Anna: Yes, like Jim said earlier, my grandpa taught here in the ’60s and ’70s. So I’ve heard of Holland but I’d already applied to Hope, been accepted to Hope, and it was on my list of colleges to be considered.

But I received a postcard in the mail in January of my senior year inviting me to apply to this new program that I hadn’t known existed or it hadn’t existed. And then during COVID, we interviewed on Zoom; we wrote our essays; and here we are.

Steven: I think an admissions rep. came all the way to Maryland to a graduating class of 17 students to talk about Hope. And she was so good at her job. She was great. And I wanted to come to Hope before even … receiving anything or knowing what Hope Forward was because Hope was just very academically strong.

And just as someone that’s going into medicine and someone that wants to be involved in research and given opportunity, I wanted to come to Hope. My admissions rep. was like, ‘You should apply to this scholarship.’ And I was like, sure. …We stepped in knowing a little bit about Hope Forward; but I don’t think we realized that it was more than just a scholarship. … Being in it, you realize it’s like a program and it’s a community. And so that was refreshing even just going to the interviews and hearing what they’re looking for and why you’re there.

Jim: Did that change your opinion at all? Or … did you find yourself saying, ‘What am I getting into? I just want a scholarship, and now I’m doing this big thing?’ Did that change at all?

Steven: Yes, ’cause one of the questions I think that people might be thinking is: Well, if you’re getting tuition free, then do you not care about your education as much or do you not … give as much as you would otherwise? And I think it’s the other way around.

I think when we’re given the opportunity, we know we get as much as we put in. And we realize that it is part of something so much greater.

It’s others-focused, and I think that helps us be others-focused and [think about] how much we want to give. And I think it pushes us to do better in all aspects just because we love the vision and we want to give back.

Jim: Sydney, I want you to answer the question. I also want to ask you about your essay and maybe you could explain to these folks the process involved after you decided you wanted to be part of this. What did you have to do?

Sydney: Sure, yeah. So for me, I applied to like 40 schools. I was that person. I had my list. I applied to Hope, literally, two days before the deadline. 

So it was such a God thing for me … finding this place. Nothing just seemed right. And when I came to visit Hope and talked with Nicole and … my admissions counselor who would just send me pictures of the sunset every night, like, it’s just such a beautiful place. How could you just not love cute little Holland? I mean, really.

But once I applied to Hope, my admissions counselor was like, ‘Hope Forward, you’ve got to apply. You’re like a shoe-in.’ I’m like, ‘What? What’s Hope Forward?’ And I … wrote an essay. And the essay for me, it was just about …hope and … what does that mean to you. And I think my essay, and then later my presentation about hope and dark parts, they kind of worked hand in hand. My little sister was born with Down syndrome, so we spent lots of time in the hospitals and NICU [neonatal intensive care unit.] And just going from hospital to hospital, that just changes your view on who she is. And one place, they were so sorry … mourning the loss of what her life could have been. And at another place, it’s a celebration. She’s so beautiful, we love her. I just want to be that hope for families.

When they are mourning the loss of what could have been, I want to show them the other side. Look at this brand-new life that you never would’ve gotten to experience.

Jim: Wow.

Sydney: So that’s what my presentation was about. And, yeah, I think that’s just such a beautiful question for everyone to ponder: How can you bring hope into the darkness of the world?

Jim: Davi, in addition to the essay, there’s also the presentation. Walk us through that along with your answer.

Davi: So for me, there was one week in my school called College Week, and every day there would be a little fair of different universities from … around Thailand or Southeast Asia. But also the U.S. would come and would present about their university. And there was one special lunch that was a pizza lunch, and it was just Hope College.

And that’s how I found out about Hope College. And it was also when I heard about the Hope Forward program. At the time, honestly, I just thought, ‘Oh great, it’s just another essay I have to write now.’ Because every time I would get … an acceptance letter or something, although I would feel happy, it wasn’t anything. It was just a piece of paper because I knew that I couldn’t afford anything else.

So I had to just scavenger hunt through the university website like a madman, looking through all the little fine print just to see if there’s any available scholarships that I can possibly take. 

In the presentation aspect of the Hope Forward application, I presented on my parents being missionaries in Thailand. And it was also during the pandemic time, so a lot of things were shut down with my father’s ministry.

Everything was just down, nothing was going. In the area I was staying, there were a lot of people who were facing food insecurity.

I knew that God has a purpose for everyone. And I knew that at that moment — I don’t know how to explain it — but there was something in me that told me that maybe I have to do something in terms of food insecurity in my general area.

So I designed a project where I sponsored five families over a course of three months with food. Not only were these families given hope, they could save money and get another day. But through this program, my father’s ministry was able to reopen because it allowed an opportunity for the church in Thailand to step in once again into the community and help that. So, yeah, that was my presentation.

Cora: I wanted to go to a school that would change my life, and Hope College is on the “Colleges that Change Lives” list, so I was intrigued. And I also applied to probably 25  colleges, and I wrote a lot of essays and had a lot of interviews. But Hope Forward was amazing. The interview process was beautiful because it looked at my heart.

So it didn’t matter my test scores and my GPA, though I’m sure those were factored in. I was really able to be myself. I didn’t have to try to be super academic and make a really long essay. Instead, I got to share what I was passionate about, what I cared about, and to whom I wanted to impart my positivity and happiness …

And for the presentation, for the interview, I wanted to make Holland a blue zone. And a blue zone is a place where the instances of chronic disease are lower from lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and promoting a healthy community.

And when I visited Holland, I was here in the summer and it was beautiful. There’s people walking outside and there’s the farmer’s market. … I wanted to be a part of that community, and I think that’s where I could make an impact.

Jim: You guys are doing great. One thing I was concerned about is your integration into the campus life because — not that you’re necessarily set apart — but you’ve got a mission along with your educational process.

Anna has conquered that in spades. Anna is the president of Green Hope on campus and she’s also the chapter lead of the Student’s Demand Action for Gun Sense organization.

Anna, would you tell us about either or both of those organizations?

Anna: Yeah, definitely.

I came to Hope with a lot of passion and I really wanted to get involved. And it can be overwhelming the first week to go to the club fair and see hundreds of clubs that you want to be a part of. But, I knew my passion for sustainability. I wanted to be a part of Green Hope.

And the leaders were transitioning, so I was offered a position to help lead the club. And … that’s what I did my Hope Forward essay and presentation on. I knew that that was where my heart was and how I wanted to serve the Hope community.

And then we recently got approved for a Student’s Demand Action for Gun Sense chapter. So I really also was passionate about the prevention of gun violence and wanted to be a part of changing the culture around campus of how we talk about these issues and how we can prevent future instances of gun violence.

Jim: Outstanding.

Meet Some of Our Hope Forward Students

This blog post is part of a series. Read the introduction here.

Let’s meet the students and our wonderful moderator, Jim McFarlin.

Jim McFarlin ’74 and the Hope Forward Student Panel at the Catalyst Summit on the campus of Hope College in Holland, Michigan – March 2023

If you haven’t met Jim yet, you’re in for a treat. Jim is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, media coordinator and marketing consultant. He’s a proud Hope alum and a trustee. And he is the most recent member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame where he will be inducted next month. So, please join me in welcoming Jim and our students.

Jim McFarlin: Thank you, Nicole. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re out of time, so thank you for coming. (audience laughing)

Ladies and gentlemen, flying Dutch people, boys and girls of all ages, thank you so much for being here.

I have been looking forward to this moment for many weeks since I got a chance to meet several of these young people in a virtual meeting.

Malcolm and I were talking to, well … actually, Mr. Gladwell and I were chatting the other day, and he said to me that he told Matt Scogin: ‘You’re doing this all wrong. Don’t go out and solicit money.’

‘Send these people because they’re so outstanding. They’ll sell Hope Forward for you.’

And in getting to know them individually, in a group, I cannot agree more. They have brightened my heart and spirit as to the future of young people at Hope College. They’re amazing to know, and I want you to get to know them now.

Hope College hosted author and journalist Malcom Gladwell during the day-long “Catalyst Summit”. Subtitled “Access and Innovation in Higher Education,” the summit is bringing together thought leaders from a variety of fields to consider new ideas and spark meaningful conversations about how to fix higher education’s broken funding model.

Cora Adam is a freshman at Hope. She’s from Minneapolis and she’s planning to study biology and classics. And she’s interested in pursuing medicine, especially in public health and preventative care research. She’s engaged in the Pre-Health Professionals Club, Hope Catholics and the annual Pull on campus.

Anna Whittle is a sophomore from Louisville, Kentucky, an environmental studies major with minors in peace and justice studies, and women and gender studies. Her grandfather was a professor at Hope in the ’70s, and she grew up hearing stories about Hope College, how wonderful it was in Holland, Michigan. She’s so thankful to be a part of the inaugural Hope Forward cohort.

Sydney Miller is a freshman at Hope, pursuing a degree in nursing. Her dream is to help families and babies in the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] so she may provide the same hope to them that other medical providers gave to her family.

Yoon-ji “YJ” Lee is a sophomore at Hope studying health and physical education. He’s from Seoul, South Korea, but grew up as a missionary kid in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He hopes to change and impact high schoolers and share the gospel as a teacher and coach. He believes that he is part of Hope Forward and understands that God is the one who led him here to Hope.

Steven Awad is a freshman at Hope, studying biology on the pre-med track. He was born in New Jersey. His parents are Egyptian. He lived in Dubai, moved to Maryland, and now, at the pinnacle, lives in Holland, Michigan. He is also pursuing a career in medicine as a neurologist and sees the importance of having Christian doctors who excel in science by holding firm to their faith.

Davi Araujo is a freshman at Hope College studying biology. He’s from Brazil, but grew up as a missionary kid in Bangkok, Thailand. He wants to pursue a career in biomedical research and use his gifts and talents to help others because he sees that it is the least he can do for everything God has done for him.

Jim: So are you guys familiar with the term “elevator pitch?” Okay. The richest man in the world is in the elevator with you. You can’t believe it, but there he is. You’ve got the time from the ground floor to the top floor to tell him about Hope Forward. That’s the pitch. So, Cora, let’s start with you. What would you tell this guy about Hope Forward? Sell it.

Cora: Okay, here I go. Hope Forward is more than a scholarship because it’s funding education for a student, but also students in the future. And what’s beautiful about Hope Forward is that it’s more about giving than receiving. Anyone can get a scholarship that the school is willing to give, but not everyone can have the opportunity to receive a scholarship with tremendous gratitude that they’re willing to push it forward to generations to come.

Jim: David, can you add, augment to that?

David: … I think what I would say also is that, yeah, it’s way more than just a financial model. It’s generosity at its purest form. Basically, you’re receiving something that is, coming from me, something that I never thought I would be able to receive. But now that I have it, I can’t wait but give it back to other students who may be in the same shoes as I am. And more than that, what you put in is what you get out of it, and I can’t wait to see what this will become in the future.

Sydney: Yeah, I think for me the biggest thing about Hope Forward is just hope. Like, you’re giving all these families the hope that maybe they didn’t think they would get. Like, for me, you know, college is expensive. Like, I didn’t think I’d end up from Iowa to Michigan, and I didn’t know I was going to get out of my home. But I think for a lot of people that hope, this is a new journey God’s providing for you. And, just like being able to give that back to people the way these generous donors have given it to me is just really incredible.

Steven: I think it’s also, and Cora kind of touched on this, it’s a character scholarship. It’s not one that’s just based on a checkbox or that we’re saying, ‘Well, I have this GPA and this number, and so I want money and a scholarship.’ And I think we get this education, and we can give out of an overflow of not just being financially able to do that but of heart and of generosity and of receiving and giving…rather than just an out of an obligation — that we just have to give to get something, but rather we give because we want to. We give because we’ve been given.

Anna: Yeah, I think when I think of Hope Forward, I think of community and the community we are able to form with one another and the larger community of Hope — and just being a part of a community that wants to all seek positive impact after college and not be burdened by student debt. So we are in this together as a family almost, and we have each other’s back.

YJ: I would tell the richest guy in the world that this is something, it’s like the biggest investment and trust a college can give to a student. And when a 17 or 18 year old is given that much investment, is invested by that much, I feel like it changes your daily life. It really does.

Why Hope Forward and Why Now?

Hope College — Hope College plays host to author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell to speak about the Hope Forward project.

An Introduction to the Hope Forward Student Panel at the Catalyst Summit on the campus of Hope College, March 9, 2023.

We are all here today to learn from the true stars and experts, our students, so I want to maximize our time with them today, but I’d first like to share just a little bit about the Hope Forward vision and the student cohort experience.

As you heard time and time again today, higher education has a problem. So right now, 48 million Americans share a student debt load of $1.75 trillion, and it’s only trending worse.

We see financial barriers and the rising tuition costs not only influencing a student’s decision of where they attend college, but should they even attend at all.

A recent study from the Gates Foundation found that 40 percent of students who choose not to attend college do so solely because of the cost. This is millions of young talent.

We then also see this impact on college enrollment that is steadily declining, causing colleges and universities that have been around more than a hundred years, to close their doors at the fastest rate to date.

We have a problem. And if we want a different outcome, then we need to do something differently. And Hope College is raising their hand and saying: We have this idea. We want to do something different; and that something different is Hope Forward.

Hope Forward is a pay-it-forward — or as I like to call it, a give-it-forward tuition model. And, we’re piloting this right now on our campus.

We have 58 Hope Forward students who are receiving their education fully funded through the generosity of others.

They’re spending their years preparing for a life of impact rooted in gratitude and generosity. And then they, in turn, have committed to annual generous giving back to Hope after they graduate so that future generations can have the same transformational opportunity.

Something that I love about the Hope Forward application process is that it’s not based on merit and it’s not based on financial need. Instead, students are invited to describe an area of hopelessness that they see in their life, their community or the world, and then tell how they would want to bring it hope.

The interview prompt asks students to consider hopelessness and the hope that they want to bring.

So just a few examples:
– One of our sophomores has an idea to develop affordable housing in our nation’s capital with hopes to attract and retain diverse populations and government.
– Another has an idea for an easy-to-use app for children in the foster care system to privately and securely report their well-being.
-And another, he wants to be a chiropractor to care for those in labor-intensive positions without easy access to affordable healthcare.

Our 58 amazing students represent 11 different countries and 19 U.S. states. They’re a diverse group in every sense: various identities, experiences, perspectives, passions, goals and ambitions. They’re studying to be physicians, physicists, social workers, researchers, nurses, teachers, therapists, artists, nurses, business leaders and accountants, and so much more. Our students are shaping our future. They are our future. And can I tell you? Our future looks bright.

What if our colleges and our universities not only provided an accessible education for these students and countless others just like them, but also prepared them to run fearlessly and uninhibited toward a hurting world? Hope Forward breaks the cycle of debt and loans, and instead prepares students for a lifetime of giving.

Giving their talent, giving it forward, so that future generations can have the same opportunity. In a nutshell, it’s a move from scarcity to abundance.

We are almost two years into this pilot and we’re learning a lot. The headlines are: We’re seeing interest; we’re seeing impact; and we’re seeing investment.

We’re seeing the interest in this model from students and their families alike. We’re also seeing the impact that it’s having on learning. Instead of working countless jobs over the nights and weekends and summers, our students get to learn.

In fact, 95 percent of our students are involved in co-curriculars like leading student organizations, meaningful internships in and around the community, and/or conducting research with faculty — all of which are high-impact practices that elevate classroom learning.

And we’re seeing investment from the students.

The cohort came in with an average or about slightly below average GPA compared to their peers; and yet, after one year of Hope Forward, their GPAs have risen above the rest. And all of our 58 students who started Hope have stayed at Hope, giving us a hundred percent persistence and retention rate.

With excellent academics here at Hope and strong campus partnerships, we (many of whom are in this room today) are all-in on our mission to prepare students for lives of leadership and service in a global society. And Hope Forward elevates this mission.

What better way to lead and to serve globally than to give and impact generations to come? See, Hope Forward makes us more of who we already are. And generous hearts and generous minds change people, and people change the world.

I know I speak for my colleagues when I say that this vision gets us out of bed every single day. All of us work together alongside Erin and our integrative learning team led by Casey Stevens, and then our Hope Forward Program Advisory Board, both current and former members.

See, we get to help students develop virtues like gratitude and generosity, curiosity and hope. We do this through integrated and applied learning paired with habitual practice.

If you know me, I often refer to virtue development like a muscle. So, the cohort student experience is not a crash diet or a crash course. Instead, it’s practiced over and again through habitual practice.

This is so that students get to graduate being generous, grateful and hopeful as they enter their workplaces, their neighborhoods, their families, their places of worship and their communities. So without further ado, let’s get to the magic.

A Transformative Movement

At a time when society feels like it’s more about taking than giving, and culture appears to normalize hatred, Hope Forward is Hope College’s way of showing that there is a better way. Hope Forward wasn’t created because Hope College had leftover money. Hope College intentionally made the decision to be generous and plant seeds in students. This vision is rooted in the core beliefs of the Bible, which makes Hope Forward the epitome of generosity when it comes to college scholarships. 

As a missionary kid from the age of three, I have grown up solely through the generosity of others. While financial generosity was important, it was the concept of generosity itself that truly impacted me. Understanding that every item and opportunity in my life was made possible by others changed my perspective from selfishness to gratitude, even in difficult times. Sadly, many people my age fail to recognize the generosity that has enabled their lives, resulting in a self-centered outlook. The biggest reason I believe in Hope Forward is that it empowers college students to recognize the abundance of generosity they have received from others throughout their lives. If they have not yet recognized the generosity around them, Hope Forward makes it clear as it is generous in an area where no other colleges are. When generosity of this magnitude is given to college students, it instills a sense of gratitude in them and alters the trajectory of their daily lives.

In my opinion, Hope Forward represents one of Hope College’s greatest assets, as it addresses an area where the college may have previously been lacking. With America being the melting pot of different cultures, I expected people here to be more cultured than in any other country. Yet throughout my time here, I’ve found Americans to be more insular and lacking in cultural exposure. While schools are making progress in integrating various cultures and promoting diversity, many places still struggle with a lack of student representation. For a school like Hope College, which is over 80% white, Hope Forward brings the stories of international and third-culture students to campus. As a result, despite the previous lack of diversity, local students can now anticipate a broader range of cultural experiences and exposure to diverse perspectives. And of course, looking at it from the other perspective, any student now across the world has an opportunity to be at a place like Hope College. Students like me who couldn’t even dream of college in America can now know that there is an opportunity. There is beauty in diversity and the impact will become clearer in Hope students as Hope Forward continues to give opportunities to international students. 

As I explained what Hope Forward was to my father, he said that only those who have been loved have the capacity to reciprocate it, just as those who have been the beneficiaries of generosity have the ability to extend it. Hope Forward, far from being a mere financial scholarship, has elevated generosity to the forefront of my life, empowering me to give back to others. As an international student, this program has instilled in me a sense of belonging and a feeling of trust in the college.

Without a doubt, Hope Forward has been the most transformative movement I have been privileged to be a part of, and my life has changed as I am reminded daily of what I have been given.

– Hope Forward Student, Class of 2025

Water and Grace: Studying Abroad as a Hope Forward Student

Living in Jordan has completely changed my relationship with water.

How does this relate to Hope Forward? Let me explain. It’s a bit of a long story — a bit of a journey, even. I hope you’ll take it with me.

First off, some background information: Jordan is an arid country, and water is a precious resource. During my semester, I’ve had to adjust to taking fewer showers and washing my clothes less frequently. My program center and host family’s house even ran out of running water a few times, and we had to make do without for a couple hours until we could buy more. In addition, tap water in Jordan is not safe to drink. Water fountains are nonexistent — I’ve learned to always fill up my water bottle from my host family’s jug before I leave the house so that I’m not forced to buy bottled water if I become thirsty. The fact that water is scarce also means that it becomes more precious. In fact, some of the most meaningful moments I’ve experienced in Jordan have been centered around water.

The desert.

Holy Days Collide
I was walking back to my homestay the evening of Good Friday. This year, Christian Holy Week took place during the month of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam when observant Muslims fast during the day. In Jordan, Islam and Christianity coexist within a predominantly Muslim society. As a Christian living in Jordan, I was immersed in both religions, choosing to fast for Ramadan in solidarity with my Muslim host family, but also attending a church service the evening of Good Friday to practice my own faith.

On this particular day, I had miscalculated how long the walk home would take me. As I walked, I noticed that the sidewalks were emptying and the sun was dipping low in the sky. It was almost time to break the fast. I sped up my walk, hungry, and feeling irritated that I would not be home in time to eat iftar with my family.

Just then a car pulled up next to me. I stole a sideways glance and saw it was full of young men.

“Excuse me!” one called from the backseat. “Excuse me, miss!”

This is weird. I kept my gaze straight ahead, hoping they would drive away. I ran through a mental list of people in Amman I could call if the car kept following me.

“Excuse me!” he yelled again. I grabbed my phone out of my pocket, still pretending not to hear.

“Do you not want water?”

Wait, is he offering me water? I finally looked up. The man had opened the back door of the car. His arm was extended out, and in his hand was a small plastic bag with a cup of water, some candy and a date. The men in the car had never wanted to harass me; they were simply offering me food and water to break my fast.

 “Ramadan kareem!” (generous Ramadan!) the man said, handing me the bag. Generous indeed.

The Dead Sea and Letting Go
I never thought I would visit the Dead Sea.

You know, the Dead Sea. The one so salty that it’s impossible for one’s body to sink. The one mentioned in the Bible. The famous one.

I had never traveled outside of the U.S. until I studied abroad. I dreamed about getting on a plane and flying across the Atlantic Ocean, about seeing places I had only ever read about in books. Facts about other countries sounded like fantasies. A sea that was impossible to sink in? There’s no way that could be true.

The Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea was the destination of my study abroad program’s first excursion. It took place just a few weeks after I had found out I would be studying abroad in Jordan. My original location was Kigali, Rwanda. But about a week before I was supposed to leave, my admissions counselor called and told me that my program was being canceled. Instead of studying post-genocide restoration, she told me, I could choose a new program in an entirely different region.

Which led me, in a few rapid weeks, to buying a plane ticket to the Middle East. I spent a few days repeatedly reminding myself to not flush the toilet paper, and then, somehow, ended up bobbing on the surface of the bluest, saltiest water imaginable. 

And it was even better than the books and pictures make it seem. Imagine pushing your body into water that pushes right back. The ground is sheets of salt that scratch your feet as you walk in.  Once you are submerged past your hips, the water picks you up and carries you. It’s a little terrifying — even if you’re a good swimmer. It’s impossible to control your body in water this buoyant. But if you surrender control, the water lifts you into the warm sun and keeps your head above the surface. It’s magical.

Hope Forward and Grace

Okay, back to Hope Forward. Here is what I am trying to say with both of these stories: I am continually the recipient of gifts that I do not deserve and have no way to repay. I wasn’t financially able to pay for my college tuition or for a semester abroad without the help of Hope Forward. This is the most basic generosity. But above and beyond that, Hope Forward gave me the opportunity to receive these gifts and to see them for what they are: grace. 

I had no reason to believe that I would ever get to swim in the Dead Sea or touch the Jordan River or hike in Petra or have any of the other amazing experiences that I have had during my time here. I never deserved any of these things, and I can never repay anyone for them. I will not be able to trace down the kind men who gave me water when I was thirsty during Ramadan to tell them thank you. I have no way of rewarding the Dead Sea for helping me to understand trust. This is the nature of water: it gives itself without expecting anything in return. It is all grace, only grace.

After I got home that night during Ramadan, my host dad told me that the people who distribute water in the streets before iftar are often Christians. Since they do not have an obligation to fast during the day, Christians have the energy and time to help Muslims break their fast and get home safely. I think this is beautiful: Christians are uniquely equipped to identify a need that exists for their Muslim brothers and sisters and step up to help.

I want to take this attitude with me when I arrive back in the United States. I want to see the needs that exist in my community and step up to help, knowing that I have been blessed with more generosity than I could ever imagine. Not expecting repayment, but hoping to spread more light in the world, since I have been the beneficiary of so much grace.

Taking (and Giving) Time: Why I Give to Hope Forward

When I think about my time at Hope, I remember everything through conversations. In my freshman year, I got nicknamed “the black hole” because my floormates would get trapped outside my door talking about everything from their homework to Peppa Pig cakes to the mid-2000s classic television series One Tree Hill. My beloved, long-suffering Hope friends are still putting up with me calling them for advice to this day! Let’s just say, I love a good talk, and I firmly believe that to listen to another’s story is to see the face of Christ. Conversation is transformative.

Aine O’Connor (center) presents her research as a student on campus.

It was through conversations that Hope transformed me. My history and English faculty (including Jeanne Petit, Wayne Tan and Natalie Dykstra) were probably pretty tired of me bursting into their classes with weird research ideas, which ranged from Russian orphans, natural birth rhetoric and (seriously) Hawaiian princesses. But every time they talked with me and let me run wild, it sparked a love of creative research. My supervisors, especially Mark Brice and Geoff Reynolds, celebrated who I was while challenging me to bring my voice into more conversations, keeping those pernicious inner whispers of “you will never be good enough” away. My librarian (well, she’s helped a lot of people, but especially me), Tori Longfield, single-handedly inspired me to join her profession and let me monopolize her time every Friday afternoon my senior year, just to answer my questions.

I include names here, and could include the names of so many others, because these people knew me. Beyond Aine the student or Aine the employee or Aine the intern, they took the time to know me as a whole person and invest in my personal growth. Those conversations convinced me I was known, that I belonged, and that these people of Hope willed my good.

Looking back on these conversations now, I recognize even more acutely how they happened. I had time. I could talk about everything from One Tree Hill to Peppa Pig cakes with my friends until 3:00 a.m. because I didn’t have to get up to go to work the next morning. I could be pretty bad at a job for an entire year (God bless you, those RAs I supervised in 2018) because my ability to afford housing wasn’t dependent on it. My life could be fundamentally changed by summer research and an unpaid library internship because I didn’t have to worry about being crushed by student loan debt. I had time to pour into just being known. What a privilege that is.

Now, much of my life takes place in the academic world. As a reference librarian at South Dakota State University, I meet with students with a wide variety of interests, needs and desires. But what comes through clearly for so many of them is a desire to be known, a desire to be recognized as more than just a student. They also want their struggles to be known and not minimized. We owe it to every one of them to validate that college, and the life changes that come with it, are hard. There are times when it will feel like a transaction.

The reason why I give to Hope Forward . . . is because I see making that opportunity possible as the best way to honor all the people who loved and talked me into who I am.

To be honest, I think it’s okay to see college as transactional; I think it’s okay that some students will always feel that way. But what is crucial is that those students who want more, who want to be known, have that opportunity. And the reason why I give to Hope Forward—even though I’m young, even though I’m a recent graduate, even though I most certainly do not “have my life together”— is because I see making that opportunity possible as the best way to honor all the people who loved and talked me into who I am.

I want those students to have time, precious time, to develop relationships where they are known, where they belong, where someone wills their good. I want those students to see the face of Christ in a professor’s mentorship or a supervisor’s challenge or a friend’s laughter. I want them to be bowled over by their research and collaborate with classmates to solve difficult problems, without concern for the financial cost that time takes. I want those students—OUR students—to learn in a place of encounter, a place of wonder, a place of challenge, and a place of inclusion. I want them to learn, of course, in a place of hope.

Freed to Steward and Serve

A gift must not only be given, it must also be received. One that is given freely in love is stewarded, kept and appreciated deeply. When we give gifts to those whom we love, often the meaning and value lies in where the gift is coming from and what the gift is pointing to. It is meant to be an outward-focused expression of an internal desire to give and serve. Unfortunately, we are so easily wired to work for rewards and earn status, which breeds a culture of receiving that is self-centered rather than one that liberates us to freely give as we have been given.  

What we have is not ours to keep . . .

As believers looking ahead to celebrating Easter soon, we celebrate the ultimate gift that takes our eyes off ourselves: the gift of Jesus. The gift of Jesus places our gaze on Him. In His life, death and resurrection, we are given the opportunity to receive the everlasting joy that will continue to overflow in our hearts in order to be poured out into others. Similarly, this dream of Hope Forward is one that is meant to emulate characteristics of the gospel. Hope Forward works to take our eyes off ourselves and point them towards others — an acknowledgment that what we have is not ours to keep and hold on to, but to give. It is not a program or scholarship that is looking for people who solely excel academically, have an impressive résumé or meet a tangible list of qualifications. Rather, Hope Forward focuses on those who seek to lead by serving and live to love in order to point to something greater. It is a scholarship based on character and love for a vision that is rooted in scripture. 

As a follower of Jesus, I walk and accept a life that allows me to think less about myself wherein I am saved and covered because of what He has done for me. I am now freely walking in and working to glorify Jesus from that salvation and not for it. Likewise, I am given Hope Forward as a gift to think of myself less, both financially and mentally, as I steward my education well so that I can pour back into others who would continue to do the same. I go to college with an assurance that I am covered along with a glad responsibility to give back by passionately pursuing my dream to be a doctor who cares for his patients as much as he cares for the sciences. President Scogin once described this mission of Hope Forward as functioning like a church, wherein it is free for all to access and enter because of the gratitude and generosity of those who have received and open-heartedly give back. The beauty in this is that Hope Forward is not a momentary project but rather a continuously unfolding story. We see this in the reality of Easter that is easily forgotten. Easter is not limited to one day of the year. We continue to celebrate it and walk in its redemption day by day. Hope Forward is not meant to end after four years of college, it is one that extends for a lifetime.