Director's Desk • "Home"
By Michael Van Denend '78

Review this equation: Calvin = home.

The new five-year plan of the Calvin Alumni Association is titled "Calvin as Home: A Good Spot of This Earth."

The latter part of that title is taken from a famous 1986 Calvin Commencement speech by English professor emeritus Edward Ericson, in which he traced the physical history of the Knollcrest farmland from creation through its use as, well, Calvin College. He said to the Class of 1986 (and to all of us):

And so terra agricultura became terra cultura. For what these Dutch people had built was a college campus. Naturally, they named it after a Frenchman. This decision made perfect sense to Dutchmen. They moved their little college on this new campus. "O earth, what changes has thou seen." Where the corn and timothy and clover had been, they planted grass for a campus green. They preserved many trees and planted many new ones. They laid sidewalks crisscrossing the old pasture. They dotted the campus with electric lights. Where, before, a man had tried to make cows grow to maturity, now men and women would try to make children grow to maturity.

The first part of the strategic plan title is intended to spur us on to instill Calvin in the hearts and minds of students and alumni as one of the important places in their lives. What happened to many of us on this spot of terra cultura was life-changing. In the words of the plan:

The alumni association is committed to building a community for current and former students that inspires members to count Calvin as their lifelong "home"-their "alma mater"-for learning, spiritual growth, key relationships and ministry support.

Yes, this little corner of the kingdom at Burton and the East Beltline is "home." The classes, residence hall experiences, friendships, spiritual growth, lectures, concerts, athletic contests, time on the Commons green-God used all of it to shape us into persons who were commissioned to thoughtfully reclaim little square inches of the kingdom for Christ.

But just as the homes some of us grew up in before Calvin weren't always nurturing, so it is also true that Calvin College wasn't the perfect home for some who went here and for some who are here now. That's a challenging statement, and everyone in the Calvin community must work at changing the circumstances responsible. Most alumni I talk with say that today's Calvin is a better, more intentional place than when they were here. But there's more work yet to do.

In order to do this well, our memories of home need stimulation and our ideas of what home is like need to be updated. Professor Ericson reminded us of that pull on alumni to come back home:

I know that a college cannot be to you mother and father. But, perhaps, in some secondary way, you can always think back to this particular spot of earth as your piece of earth. We all know the sense in which, as Thomas Wolfe put it, you can't go home again. Alumni return and see few faces which they recognize. You, who today are being transmogrified from students into alumni right before our very eyes will, when you return, know that feeling. Yet alumni keep coming back, coming back home. We are not your mother or father, but we are your alma mater. In Latin, this term means nourishing mother, foster mother. In Spanish, alma means soul.

"Soul mother." Alumni allude to this kind of thing when they return. There's something about this place, this good spot of earth that reminds us about what we wanted to be all about. Alumni say that they can talk to virtually any person on campus and immediately feel a connection, a kinship. The same "renewal" language is spoken here-and by those who attended here.

There are many definitions of "home," but one that catches my attention is "a place where something began and flourished." That's what we'll be working toward, with you, in these years ahead: to remember this place of beginnings and to help it flourish ever more broadly in the future.

You can come home again. Welcome home.


Michael J. Van Denend
Executive Editor, Spark