The following is an excerpt from a speech given by Nathan Plantinga ’94 at a dinner for Calvin scholarship donors and recipients. A graduate of Calvin College and the University of Michigan, Plantinga is a member of Miller Johnson, a law firm with offices in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Mich.
I have been asked to address how my Calvin education prepared me for the career I have now, and how through my chosen career, I act as an agent of renewal in God’s world.
The answer to the first question is plain. How did Calvin prepare me for my chosen career? It prepared me perfectly.
I recall sitting in a room with 300 members of my first-year law class at the University of Michigan. It was a hot September day, and the dean was introducing the group. He proudly shared that 75 percent of my first-year classmates had advanced degrees: master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, Ph.D.s in political science, M.D.s; you name it, our class had it. He told us 5 percent of the group hailed from Harvard, 6 percent from Yale, 3 percent from Stanford, and on and on. He told us 35 students had worked on the Hill in Washington, D.C., almost 100 were published, many were business owners, two had founded charitable organizations, and one — I kid you not — one had won the Pulitzer Prize.
When I returned to my small room in the law quad, I called my dad. I asked him what exactly he was thinking when he advised me to go to law school. “I don’t belong here,” I said. “I don’t have the credentials.”
Well, I stand here before you ashamed of myself. Having gone through the experience, I can say with unassailable conviction that if you can meet Calvin’s standards, you can meet anyone’s standards. I hope you don’t think this is exaggeration: I found law school to be less challenging than much of my undergraduate classwork. And the tools of the trade in my day-to-day job duties as an attorney — clarity of thought, precision of expression, confidence of conviction — these are skills that I learned long before I set foot on the University of Michigan campus.
The answer to the second question is not as plain. How does a labor and employment attorney at a corporate law firm act as an agent of renewal? Do corporate lawyers actually do some good in the world?
When I thought about this, I recalled something that I learned in my first year at Calvin; namely, that at the heart of God’s plan for renewal in the world is the redemption of human relationships. God seeks to use us as agents of renewal in our interactions with others as he works to create one universal body of Christ.
Let me share one example from my personal experience.
I remember being a first-year lawyer at Miller Johnson. Peter Kok, a Calvin grad and corner office partner in my firm, and I had just returned from a particularly difficult arbitration where the other side’s representative was obnoxious, aggressively confrontational and borderline underhanded.
Peter had remained professional, calm and respectful throughout the proceeding, to the point where I, as a young associate, became frustrated. Peter Kok was the best lawyer I had ever seen. Surely he was just waiting for a prime opportunity to step in and eviscerate this loud man. Anticipation gave way to puzzlement. Why was he taking this? How could he take this?
When we returned to the office, I asked him about it. Once again, I had cause to be ashamed of myself. Peter said this: “I remind myself, repeatedly, that this man is made in the image of God, just like you and me.” Then he said, simply: “A good thing to remember.”
That is a Calvin grad. That is an agent of renewal in God’s world. And, fortunately for me, he is also my mentor.
A job which revolves around human beings and their work is — believe me — fascinating. A Christian worldview of renewal is what makes that job important.
I want to thank all of you donors. Your generosity and continued dedication to Calvin and its students is simply glorious. Your gifts are concrete examples of the multiplying effect of God’s grace at work through His servants, enabling young redeemers to reach out and plant seeds of transformation in the world, seeds that take root, and grow, and spread, and overcome. We thank you, and we pledge our hearts and minds and strength to honoring your gifts.
Finally, I would like to say to the current scholarship students among us: Your intellect, your work ethic, your character and your faith are under construction at the finest Christian liberal arts college in the country. Your receipt of a scholarship is a wonderful and well-deserved achievement, but it is designed to recognize and reward not only what you have already accomplished, but also what you will go on to accomplish. Don’t ever let this construction project slow or stop. You are in college for four years (at least if all goes as planned). You are out in the world, God willing, much longer than that. The traits that led to your scholarship are traits Calvin College, and everyone here, hopes will lead to your roles as redeemers in the world. Go forth and use your gifts — your broad and diverse and unique gifts — to renew the face of the Earth.
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