Together, we inaugurate

Michael Le Roy becomes Calvin’s tenth president

by Michael Van Denend '78
Winter 2012

Every 20 years or so, something special happens at Calvin College.

Thanks to God’s provision for the college, presidential leadership is a lengthy commitment. Twenty-five years for William Spoelhof; 20 for Anthony Diekema; and 17 for Gaylen Byker.

On Saturday, Oct. 20, Michael Le Roy officially became Calvin’s tenth president under the chosen theme “Together we offer our hearts to you, Lord”—a phrase taken from the college motto. Le Roy started his work at Calvin already on July 2, but the inaugural is the formal ceremony that marks the beginning of a new academic leader’s tenure.

During the week leading up to the Saturday inaugural, a variety of campus events took place, all with the unifying word of “Together,” whether that activity was worship at LOFT services, laughter at the Student Showcase, visionary dialogue at lectures or celebratory sounds at the Calvin Music Festival.

Two lectures highlighted the week, “Educating for Shalom: A Theology of Citizenship for a Complex World,” by Whitworth professor Julia Stronks and “The Bible in the Calvin College and Reformed Past and Worldwide Future” by Notre Dame professor Mark Noll.

Calvin alumni Moses Chung ’93 and David Schutt ’87 responded to the Stronks address, and alumni Willie Jennings ’84 and Bethany Keeley-Jonker ’05 spoke to the Noll lecture.

At the inaugural itself, held in Van Noord Arena, glorious music filled the space, thanks to all of the student music ensembles and led by the various music department conductors.

Assistant professor of English Jane Zwart penned an inaugural poem titled Field Notes for a Psalm of Ascent. The final passage was as follows:

Mimic the Christ, who must have thought our constellations
Backward but who stayed anyway, peeling death
from lepers, dusting Palestine off his disciples’ ankles.

Mimic the Christ, who must have scanned the sky
he meant to cross, then put on a cross. It was rooted where
no stars could dangle. Mimic him, the Christ.

The leaders of the board of trustees, chair Scott Spoelhof ’87 and vice chair Michelle Van Dyke ’86, took part in the investiture, presenting Le Roy with the presidential medallion.

Then the inaugural address. Le Roy chose Matthew 7:24-29 as his text, the story of the wise and foolish builders from the Sermon on the Mount—the portion of scripture that the entire campus is studying this fall under the auspices of the campus ministry team.

With a bright smile, the new president’s first words from the podium were, “Wow, Calvin College. It is an amazing place, isn’t it?” After thanking his children—Dana, Hannah and Astrid—and his wife, Andrea, for their support and sacrifice, Le Roy expressed his relief at getting through that part of his talk with a bit of emotion. “It’s not very Dutch, I know,” he joked. “I’ll work on it.”

His speech used the closing parable of the Sermon on the Mount, the “tale of the two houses,” an illustration Jesus used to be sure that his followers who hear his words that day—and all of us today—would have their lives changed by them.

He said that the parable was particularly relevant to colleges “seeking to be faithful to Christ” and especially to those of us “who think we already know everything that Jesus had to teach because we heard it all before.”

Le Roy recounted his experiences as a student in Guatemala, observing firsthand the forced draft of young men and being challenged to tell and to teach about the justice of Jesus Christ and the necessity for the entire world to be changed by his message.

“On that January day on the steps of the Antigua prison station, I received a commission to build my house on the rock,” he said.

For Calvin College, the rock “is the Word made flesh that has come to dwell among us,” the rich tradition of the Reformed confessions and the years of faithful teaching by Christ-centers faculty that build a firm foundation.

The house is one of learning, “under construction and under renovation since 1876 … Reformed and always reforming … and open to every culture and hospitable to every person who enters its doors.”

And what is the house for? “We know some of the answers to this question already. We know it is not a fortress for keeping and holding, but it is for sending agents of renewal to brokenness around the corner and around the world,” said Le Roy.

Jesus predicts that storms will come—and there are storms on the horizon in higher education and for Calvin, too. But, he said, “I have every confidence that Calvin can and will” meet these challenges.

“I believe in the transforming power of Christ-centered education and scholarship,” he concluded, “and when I look into the faces of our students, you can’t help—and I can’t help—to have great hope for the future.”

Words of encouragement were given to the new president from a variety of individuals, each person also giving a gift that symbolized their part of the Calvin community.

The alumni association gift to the president was a Calvin music box (that plays the alma mater, of course), once owned by Dr. William Spoelhof, the seventh president of the college.

As he gave Le Roy the gift, Perrin Rynders ’82, president of the association, said, “Calvin alumni are thoughtful men and women who remember clearly their commissioning as agents of renewal at Commencement—whether that special day was last year or more than 50 years ago. They are grateful to God that He has led you to Calvin and are eager to join you in sustaining the college’s mission and in sharpening the college’s vision for the future.”

The evening gala occurred downtown Grand Rapids, and those assembled had the chance to hear stories from family members and friends about the new president, including a delightful and humorous tale of Le Roy’s first visit to the home of Andrea’s family, the Nelsons, winsomely told by Andrea’s brother, Westmont College philosophy professor, Mark Nelson.

As the conclusion of a long and celebrative inaugural day, Le Roy reflected with these words: “I feel that all of this has clearly transpired under the sovereignty of God, and that God has been intimately involved in our family’s story. I think that’s true for all of us, but there are times you see it more clearly, and there are times you may not notice it as much.

“These past 13 months has been one of those times and today was the pinnacle of that, when you experience the thin places between our earthly existence and God’s heavenly activity. So we are blessed by all of this and are blessed by all of you.”