Quote Unquote: Convocation 2023

Quote, unquote is an eclectic sampling of things said at and about Hope College.

Even a welcome, sought-after change can lead to anxious moments. As Hope formally launched its 162nd academic year with its Opening Convocation, featured speaker Rebekah L. Starkenburg provided tools to help the members of the incoming Class of 2027 navigate those moments and make the most of their time as college students.

Starkenburg, who is vice president for student formation and dean of students at Hope, presented “A College Life that is Truly Life” during the traditional event, held on Sunday, Aug. 27, at the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse. The audience included the approximately 820 new students as well as their families and friends, and members of the faculty and staff. Fall semester classes began on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

“[A] college life that is rooted in joy is a college life that is truly life. And I think we all want a life in full color, three dimensions, in person,” Starkenburg said. “This is a life that I think we are called to together as a learning community.”

Having worked with students for more than 25 years at multiple colleges and universities — and as the parent of a second-year college student herself — she also noted that the students shouldn’t be discouraged if they don’t feel that sense of joy right away.

“[W]hen you start something new, all kinds of feelings are kicked up,” she said, sharing reflections from her son about his adjustment: “‘When you are ending high school and starting college, most of your mental energy is focused on looking backwards. Backwards at high school and all of the memories. You miss your friends. You are leaving your family.’”

“Finding joy is a process,” Starkenburg said. “It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some patience.”

To assist the students, she reflected on an excerpt from Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” With its foundation in the historic Christian faith, she noted, Hope provides an opportunity to find joy that is meaningful and sustaining.

“A life of joy allows us to see the gifts that despair misses,” Starkenburg said.

“A life of joy allows us to see the gifts that despair misses”

“Joy is not happiness. Joy isn’t toxic positivity. Joy is not ignoring our mental health, it’s not hiding from our pain, it’s not ignoring conflict with others,” she said. “Scholar-theologian Karl Barth said that ‘Joy is the simplest form of gratitude. To be joyful is to expect that life will reveal itself as God’s gift of grace.’ Joy is an orientation that allows us to see that the world runs on gift. That the real truth about the world is that God has created a world of abundance and generosity. And joy is living as if that is real.”

To help the students with their discernment, Starkenburg outlined 10 concrete practices that she said experience has shown will make a difference in their lives: Leave your phone in your room and go to the library; go to Chapel; care for your body; find friends in different communities; enjoy the beauty of Michigan; eat three meals a day; get seven hours of sleep a night; get your stuff done during the week; communicate with grace; and learn with courage.

“[Y]ou can’t manufacture joy. It is a gift that comes to you,” she said as she explicated each of the 10. “But I do think there are things you can do even now to create the conditions in which you’ll be able to see the joy when it comes. And it will come.”