Classmates share how their Calvin education has impacted their personal life and career goals.
Edith Benthem Bain
My attending Calvin continued a heritage that began with my mother who attended Calvin and became a teacher in McBain, Mich., and continued on as my two children were Calvin grads as well as were their spouses. The Lordship of Christ over all of life and the need to glorify God in all we do is the overarching theme that Calvin continues to present. I have used my liberal arts education to reach out into each setting in which God has placed me to try to positively affect His world and invest in what would give eternal results in lives of people. May God continue to use Calvin as His instrument for His glory!
My years at Calvin offered me the opportunity to examine, understand and internalize Christian faith. Because of formal classroom instruction and the example of gifted, interested faculty, the faith of my parents was made real and relevant to me. The result was that I entered medical school with a calling to serve those on the margins in this country and farther away. My work as a family physician has consistently reflected that passion, both in medical practice and in teaching young physicians. One other impact of Calvin was to sense the godly significance of living and working in a thoughtful manner. Stanley Wiersma, Ken Piers, Wayne Joosse, Henry Holstege, Rodger Rice and others modeled an incarnation of Christ’s presence that both invigorated and challenged me for my entire life.
Calvin helped to shape my Christian world and life view and gave me the tools to teach, which I have done in Christian schools for 40 years. I am grateful for godly professors and staff who guided, encouraged and challenged me to use my heart and hands in God’s Kingdom.
After practicing law in Chicago for 25 years and a subsequent three years helping set up the Faith-Based Initiative in the U.S. Department of Justice, I launched into a second career in large part because of my love for Christian education that developed at Calvin. Soon after I started as assistant dean in the School of Government at Regent University, the VP for academic affairs tasked me with setting up a cornerstone worldview course that served as a template for other cornerstone courses at Regent. I also developed the constitutional law course that intentionally prepared students for the rigors of law school. Finally, as my PhD dissertation topic, I chose to analyze and discuss the three top legal threats that Christian higher education would face in the next 20 years. So, for the past 10 years, my focus has been on worldview, integration of faith and learning, its application to law and government, and the future of Christian higher education. Sound familiar?
I have many fond memories of my time at Calvin during the turbulent years of 1969-1972. Not only did my time there keep me out of the Viet Nam war, but friendships were created that last to this day. I wish for Calvin’s continued success and feel confident future graduates will have a significant and positive impact upon the world.
Donna Kuiper Dykstra
My four years at Calvin College were life-shaping. The friendships I forged there remain the most significant in my life. I married Peter Dykstra, whom I met in 1970 in a sociology class. One day we happened to be wearing the same blue plaid flannel shirt, and that coincidence started a conversation that changed our lives. While at Calvin I studied with professors who demonstrated great teaching in its varied shapes and forms. Professors such as Tony Brouwer, Earl Strikwerda, Ron Wells, Dale VanKley, Frank Roberts, Leonard Sweetman, Herb Brinks, Ed VanKley, Edgar Boeve, Howard Slenk, Ken Kuipers, Nick Wolterstorff, George Marsden and others showed a love for the pursuit of knowledge. That was Calvin’s gift to me. The early 1970s was an exciting and momentous time to be in college. In our Calvin College micro-climate we brought changes that were important to us at the time. In our first year, a few activist women students refused to wear dresses to family-style dinner (we wore pants and put the dresses on our heads, as I recall), and demanded the end to women-only curfews in the dorms. Along with the nation we commemorated the first Earth Day, experiencing a teach-in to examine issues such as global warming, clean air and alternative energy. We sat together and listened in fear to the results of the draft lottery; some of our friends were facing service in Vietnam. Some of us protested against the Vietnam War, wearing black armbands as a response to the Kent State incident. In 1972 many of us voted in a national election for the first time. In our senior year Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, came to campus and brought the national press with him, including columnist Anthony Lewis of the New York Times who made us famous for a day. While at Calvin I had no career path in mind, which in retrospect seems quite strange. I was conscientiously writing papers, working on the Chimes staff, spending hours talking in the coffee shop and listening to music in the Cayvan Room. I don’t recall making use of any career services or receiving much guidance on this front. As I started my senior year my academic advisor, history professor Sam Greydanus, nudged me to think about teaching, even though I had vehemently rejected the idea of becoming a teacher during the previous three years. He asked if I had heard of the MAT program at Northwestern University. I checked it out and ended up following that path, falling in love with the process of teaching history. I began my career in a tough Chicago high school and ended it in a New Jersey leafy suburb; each experience was engaging and rewarding. Thank you, Sam, for the nudge. Thank you, Calvin, for a wonderful four years.
Calvin well prepared me for the academic rigors of graduate school, but more importantly helped me develop a Christian worldview, with a Reformed accent. It was at Calvin that I learned to learn: to think critically when recalling what was taught, to analyze from a Christian perspective, and to act. It was at Calvin that I discovered the process and joy of investigating the unknown, the exhilaration of discovering the new and the capacity for accepting what I could not know. These, in addition to what came and still come from my family and church, allow me to work in a small area of God’s creation with a pleasure and joy that I would not have found on my own.
I know that I entered Calvin College without any goal on the horizon. Many of us newbies were quite wet behind the ears. My parents and teachers would certainly have been concerned if they had known how much time I was spending in social engagements such as card playing, entertaining at the piano in the inner lobby or just hanging out with friends. Somewhere along the line, through God’s providence, I realized that my social skills might be useful in an educational setting. (I’m sure my wife-to-be was a motivating factor!) The goal began to take shape, although I certainly didn’t see it all at once. Toward the end of my sophomore year, becoming a music teacher seemed to be the way that God had chosen for me. I cannot say that my Calvin professors taught me many facts, and not because of any fault of theirs. But what I do remember are the personal relationships that most of my professors were willing to have with me. Through their concern, discipline, encouragement, friendship and patience, they modeled what it is to be a Christian educator. Their mentoring shaped me into a teacher who loves and cares for students, who values the personal relationships with them. This June will mark the end of my 40th year of teaching. I praise God for the health and strength to endure being in the classroom those many years, for the many educators that he used to impact my life and work, and for the thousands of students whose lives I have had the opportunity to influence.
The education was great and the diploma wonderful to receive but, clearly, the greatest impact came from the many people I met and was able to build relationships with over my years on campus. I was fortunate to have, in my first year, several upperclassmen who, for some reason, took an interest in and helped guide me through that year and into constructive activites that became direction-setting in my life.
Faith Oppewal Lane
Despite, or maybe because of, the cloudy, rainy, snowy, cold weather, and despite, or maybe because of, the attempted tight controls on dress and behavior I encountered in my freshman year, I grew to appreciate the friendly nature of the college population, the love of scholarship and the dedication to a consistent God-centered world view. The late 1960s were a turbulent time and the administration, professors and staff faced great challenges, especially in balancing the concerns of the Christian Reformed Church about Calvin’s liberality with the students’ need to push the envelope and ask the hard questions. I remember the first Earth Day celebrated downtown at the Calder Plaza with professor George Monsma and his long beard (radical). I remember leaving the dorm after women’s curfew and protesting—not the war, but the unequal rules for men and women (our parents got the letter about our participation but rules at Calvin were stricter than those at home in those early days). I remember being able to participate in the KIDS program, tutoring in the city, and what an eye-opener it was and an inspiration to volunteer throughout adulthood. I remember the great professors and the joy of learning under them, especially George Harper, Richard Mouw, Peter Oppewall, John Primus, Leonard Sweetman, Henrietta Ten Harmsel, Richard Tiemersma, John Timmerman, Ernest VanVugt, Richard Wevers and Stanley Wiersma. A life-long desire for learning about God’s world and people was the product of my four-year experience at this great college.
When I graduated Calvin with an English major it was not obvious how that would prepare me for serving as a pastor and theology professor. But as the years have gone by I have become more aware that reading a text carefully and sensitively is exactly what Charlotte Otten and Stan Wiersma taught me to do, what I did as a pastor and is what I am teaching my theology students to do today.
Calvin College professors in the religion department did a good job training me to think and teach from a Christian perspective. After studying an event Dr. Louis Vos was often heard to ask, “So what?” This is the same technique I have often used when I teach students biblical facts. Both my wife and I and our three children appreciated our time at Calvin College.
The mentoring of Dr. Zuidema and the other physical education instructors helped me develop a philosophy of how PE fits into a Christian school curriculum and how it extends into a person’s way of life. The courses and instructors enabled me see how physical education fits into the Calvinist ideal of teaching the whole person: mind, body and soul.
My Calvin education was very formative, both intellectually and spiritually. A solid foundation in physics prepared me well for graduate school. The example and encouragement of my physics professors showed me that I could be a modern scientist and a Christian with an integrated faith and worldview. For example, I didn’t have to dismiss or explain away all the evidence for the big bang model of how the cosmos developed while still believing in God as the creator and sustainer of it all. As I now teach physics and astronomy here at Calvin, I can bring these lessons directly into the classroom. Beyond physics, I particularly enjoyed the music opportunities I had. I still draw on knowledge and insights from my history of music class with Howard Slenk. Experiences in Capella, Oratorio Society and a small (now defunct) student ensemble called “The Chamber Singers” all helped hone my knowledge and skills in music and singing that have been valuable throughout my life. The breadth and depth of the liberal arts curriculum has given me a broader perspective on the world at large beyond the scope of my discipline alone.
Karen Jepkema Stevens
I discovered after doing my teacher aiding that I didn’t want to teach art, so I got a job in business, where I stayed for 29 years and then retired in 2001. Art in one form or another was always a hobby. Now, I’m designing and making one-of-a-kind jewelry, and that art and design background is front and center once again. I love what I do—creating something beautiful and unique is fun!
Calvin gave me a solid foundation in the liberal arts and an invitation to think hard and honestly about the relation of the Christian faith to an academic vocation. It gave me chances to succeed (and occasionally fail) in the very public realm of student journalism. It gave me mentors—Rich Mouw, Nick Wolterstorff, Len Sweetman, David Holwerda, Richard Tiemersma and Del Nykamp, among others—who invested in my intellectual development and social maturation. And it gave me a circle of friends who together could begin to live out what we were learning in projects such as Logan Street Covenant House.
I graduated from high school more aware of things I would never do than things I would do. Since my dad was a teacher, I felt I should not do that. However, a Calvin professor and family friend gently persuaded me to turn in that direction. The rest is history, as they say. Not only that, but my education at Calvin superbly prepared me to do just that to this day, 40 years later. Liberal arts, respect for learning, love for reading, keeping an open mind, learning from those whose views are different from your own and seeing all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ—these are important values for successful teaching and for meaningful discipleship in general. More than that, since Joan and I are both Calvin grads, and since so many of our family (siblings, our children, cousins, uncles and aunts, nephews, nieces) are Calvin grads, we have a common vocabulary and a common shape to our faith. Calvin helps to build our communal life. Finally, Calvin continues to enrich our lives. There are concerts, sporting events, speakers, preachers, teachers and publications that continue to inspire, educate and stretch us. Perhaps the greatest tribute we can express is this: we sincerely hope our grandchildren will have the opportunity to attend Calvin College.
When I lamented to my father that my BA in philosophy was not going to allow me to work in my field, his reply was priceless: “I’ve listened to your logic and been amazed by your communication skills and understanding of people. I don’t think there exists work outside of your field.” He was right. My Calvin education taught me to think; to analyze the world around me; to appreciate and enjoy God’s creation; to realize there are more flavors out there than white bread, and I should try them all.
Evert Van Der Heide
My Calvin degree in economics was excellent preparation for my graduate work which eventually led to a master’s and a doctorate in economics. I currently teach economics at Calvin. The greatest personal impact of my Calvin experience came from my professors who taught and modelled how my faith can be and should be related to my career endeavors. What stands out most specifically in my mind is the empathy I developed for people who don’t have sufficient economic resources or who are adversely affected by economic conditions.
Dirk Vander Wall
I found that my Calvin education prepared me extremely well for my career. The rigors of the education sharpened my skills and allowed me to carry out career responsibilites most successfully. But more importantly, Calvin helped to shape my world and life view and greatly contributed to my desire to contribute to society and serve our Lord.
When I entered graduate school at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., to study education of the deaf, I found that my education degree from Calvin had prepared me well. I had a very solid base from which to build, and I felt I had an advantage over many of the other students in the program. I taught deaf children for six years at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf and trained teachers for the deaf in Kingston, Jamaica, for three years before entering the Episcopal monastery to which I now belong, the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Mass. I still do a fair amount of teaching, but now mostly around prayer and spirituality. I remain very grateful for my upbringing in the Christian Reformed Church and for the excellent education I received in the Grand Rapids Christian schools and at Calvin College. I’m grateful for this chance to express my thanks.