Growing Together in the Garden of Hope

“Who am I?” is a fundamental and ageless question, but is particularly relevant for college students. It’s even more particularly relevant at Hope, where helping students identify and prepare for their calling is baked into the mission (nudging the inquiry to “Who do I want to be?” leavened by “How should I be?”).

The concept is both amplified and supported by Hope Forward. The initiative not only seeks to remove the cost of college from the equation — enabling students to choose to pursue impact rather than chase income to pay off debt — but also to enhance their exploration of purpose.

The process took a visual turn in January as the 22 members of the inaugural cohort participated in a workshop at CultureWorks Transformative Art + Design Academy in downtown Holland. The faith-inspired nonprofit provides accessible, meaningful arts programming to 6th-12th grade youth from all backgrounds with a pay-what-you-can-afford program mode, access to transportation, and classes taught by professional artists and designers. CultureWorks also fosters a number of community partnerships, like this one with Hope College. Guided by Erin Drews ’14, who is the program developer at CultureWorks, the students considered their lives and dreams and their time at Hope through the imagery of plants, drawing not only on the concept of growth but also on a variety of ways around the world that specific species have been understood metaphorically.

“It just seemed like this natural theme for what the Hope Forward meaning is,” Drews said. “It’s a beautiful way, too, to tell the story visually.”

The students chose plants with which they identified, and then, in addition to developing an illustration, crafted a brief written description relating self to the motif. Using linoleum blocks, the students carved individual stamps which were then run through a printing press to create a unified collage that reflects that they are making their journeys together.

“All of them came to Hope with different experiences and backgrounds,” Drews said. “The collaboration is this beautiful harvesting of growing together the next four years.”

“None of them are art students, but they did stunning, stunning work,” she said. “It was just so lovely, and it’s such a great way for Hope Forward to tell the story in a very personal way.”


“Some of the describing phrases for what the dahlia represents are grace under pressure, strength in adversity, and the move toward major life changes. This resonated with me because what I hope for myself in the future is that I can move through life with strength and grace, trusting in God’s plan for me no matter what challenges are thrown my way.”

Willow Branch

“Willows symbolize hope, a sense of belonging, and safety which is what I hope to give to people when they are around me now and in the future as a social worker. It also represents the ability to let go of pain and suffering, to grow strong and new, which is something I want to be able to do better as I encounter obstacles ahead. I want my future self to be full of hope and resilience.”


“The sunflower always faces the sun. I want to face the Lord no matter what. The sunflower also has many positive meanings across the world, and I hope to live a life that reflects positivity across the world.”


“The rose represents love, respect, courage, and passion. In the future, I want to learn how to love people to the best of my ability. I want the courage to make connections with those around me. I want to be better at respecting everyone, no matter what their story, and I hope for passion to pursue the goal of spreading hope relentlessly.”


“I am a radical like the lily. I see what could be and I fight for better realities. My influence on humanity stems from empathy. I am healthy in mind, emotion, body, and spirit.”


“I chose bamboo because it symbolizes strength and resilience. My future is really uncertain — I still don’t know what it looks like. However, what I am certain of is that I know that I want to be resilient and push through whatever hardships may come my way. I want to be flexible and adapt to the world around me. I need to be comfortable with things not going according to plan, and stay the course.”

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