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President's Message

A Future for This Good Spot

Dear alumni and friends,

Twenty years ago, Calvin Professor of English Emeritus Edward Ericson delivered a truly memorable Commencement speech at a Calvin College graduation.

Gaylen J. Byker, President
Gaylen J. Byker, President, Calvin College

He titled his address “A Good Spot of This Earth,” and through his remarks gave the Class of 1986 a brief history lesson about the land on which Calvin College now stands.

“Some people, they were American, though they called themselves Dutch, came to this land, looked at it, and declared that it r-r-really vas goot. Ja. They bought it,” Ericson said.

“And so terra agricultura became terra cultura. For what these Dutch people had built was a college campus,” he continued. “Where, before a man had tried to make cows grow to maturity, now men and women would try to make children grow to maturity.”

Ericson then challenged those graduating seniors to leave Calvin’s campus and redeem square inches of the world, making them “good spots”: the task of Christian reclamation.

Twenty more years have gone by — “just a tick and a tock on the geological clock,” according to Ericson — and the Knollcrest campus of Calvin College has celebrated its 50th anniversary.

What vision our college and church leaders had in 1956 — to see that farmland could be transformed into a place of Christian inquiry! I am grateful to those who made this faith-inspired decision, taking (what must have seemed at the time) a tremendous risk for the cause of Reformed Christian higher education.

In 1956, how could those leaders predict all that has followed in the history of Calvin College? If they reflected only on the statistics and events of the last academic year, those pioneers would be astounded at Calvin’s growth and impact:

  • 4,200 students from 48 countries.

  • 300 faculty members (82 percent with the highest degree in their field) who come from 16 countries.

  • Nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report and every major college guide.

  • Ranked in the top 10 nationally for accounting test scores.

  • Ranked first in the state in teacher certification test scores.

  • Ranked in the top 10 nationally for the number of students studying abroad.

  • Faculty members and students discover more than 60 asteroids using telescopes on campus and by remote in New Mexico.

  • More than 1,500 people from 20 countries attend the annual Symposium on Worship and the Arts.

  • The January Series draws an average of 1,400 persons a day for afternoon lectures.

  • A student-organized conference on faith and international development draws more than 300 college students from all over the United States.

  • More than 2,000 people attend the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing.

  • A record number of 91 science student researchers this summer.

The space limitation of this publication prevents me from continuing this list. Surely, the investment made by those visionary leaders in 1956 has resulted in many, many good things on this good spot of earth!

Today, on this good spot, Calvin pledges anew to develop young hearts and minds so that our graduates may serve as “agents of renewal” for God’s Kingdom. To do so, we rely on faculty members, leaders and donors who have faith-shaped vision like our predecessors 50 years ago.

It is a challenge to sustain an academic enterprise of this caliber. It takes Calvin Annual Fund donors who faithfully keep the budget from relying too heavily on tuition and allow Calvin to retain an excellent faculty, provide financial aid to students and maintain campus buildings.

It takes alumni and friends who understand that the needs of today’s students require Calvin to embark on major construction and renovation for a comprehensive wellness center and a new student union facility.

It takes far-seeing supporters to note that funds earmarked for sustainability will ensure that campus buildings that look so wonderful today will not become technologically and physically dated and fall into disrepair.

We are grateful; for throughout its entire 130-year history, Calvin has been blessed with men and women of insight and generosity who help make possible Calvin’s position at the forefront of Christian higher education.

To what end do we provide these resources? I refer to another memorable Commencement speech, delivered just a few months ago by Nicholas Wolterstorff, former Calvin professor of philosophy and distinguished alumnus, which was titled, “You Need Two Eyes.”

“What is the mind that for generations Calvin has sought to nourish in its students?” he asked.

He assured the Class of 2006 that Calvin alumni have the mind of competence. “You are well-trained in the skills of your future occupation. People can count on you to do things right and do them well,” Wolterstorff said.

But a Calvin graduate also asks questions and tests moral implications, a trait Wolterstorff called “critical engagement.”

He said: “You engage the world of nursing, of business, of law, of art, of medicine, of education, of politics, of recreation, whatever; you don’t pull out, not unless integrity requires you to do so, as it sometimes does. But you engage it with critical discernment; you don’t just run with the crowd.”

He also reminded the graduates that in addition to the eye of knowledge and discernment, there is a vital need for “the eye of the heart,” for people who see “the pain of the world and the hope for a new day.”

In my opinion, one would be hard-pressed to find a more important cause than making certain the next generation of Christian leaders has all of the qualities of which Wolterstorff spoke. Although meeting immediate world needs is critical, who will be the persons leading the churches, businesses and organizations that tend to the world’s needs in future generations? If not those described in Wolterstorff’s address, our labors on the current challenges will inevitably fall short.

“Maybe there are not enough Calvin graduates to redeem every one of [the Lord’s] square inches,” Ericson said in 1986. “But there are enough of them to do a whole lot.”

That there are — and they have done a lot. In a mind-boggling array of professions, in every corner of the world, good spots of earth have been revealed by Calvin alumni who were given skills and a vision for renewal at this institution. This May, 900 more graduates were commissioned to do the same. It is one of my most cherished moments of the year to be on the stage at Commencement, looking over that sea of young faces and pondering the ways God will use their diverse gifts.

I thank you for joining us in redeeming a good spot of earth on the corner of Burton and the East Beltline. I ask you to help us keep this good spot relevant to a new generation of learners. And I pray, along with you, that our graduates will boldly plant new flags to reclaim territory for the Kingdom of Christ everywhere and anywhere God leads them.


Gaylen J. Byker

Gaylen J. Byker

See for the full text of Edward Ericson’s 1986 Commencement address, “A Good Spot of This Earth,” and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s 2006 Commencement address, “You Need Two Eyes.”

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