Since the days of our founder, Houghton College presidents have touted Houghton as a place of impact - where students are transformed to go out and transform the world. This week, I had two tangible examples confirming that what we claim actually comes true!
Last Friday, one of my colleagues in Washington, D.C. met a Houghton graduate on an Uber trip. The young man had come to Houghton to play basketball. In the course of being here, he also got an education. According to him, Houghton College “took him from being a boy to being a man.” My colleague contacted me to tell me how well the graduate had represented Houghton.
On Thursday of this week, I met with a visiting speaker from the southern part of the country. He had met a Houghton alumna before ever hearing about Houghton College. The guest led by telling me how glad he was to be introduced to a college that could produce the kind of person he had found our alumna to be. He went on to reflect on the qualities that had impressed him: a deep and inviting ownership of her Christian faith; appreciation of the arts; desire to have her faith lived out in engagement with her community; concern for a wide range of moral and ethical issues that defied political categories of “right” and “left”; an openness to thinking in “out of the box” ways about solving real world issues; and a willingness to walk with hard questions rather than too readily offering simplistic answers.
His experience with our current students in a class discussion accorded with his previous experience of our alumna. He appreciated the range of opinions and the willingness to wrestle with the complexity of major real-world issues. He said how much his experience with Houghton had challenged and enlarged his previous understanding about Christian colleges, which he had always assumed to be fairly narrow, separatist, and monolithic in their approach to dealing with the world’s hard questions.
At the end of his public lecture, the speaker challenged our students to go out and be the kind of winsome and gracious presence in the world that he had encountered in meeting his first Houghton alum.
I found these stories both sobering and encouraging. It is sobering to be reminded that whatever people see in us as individual Houghton alumni, they will associate with the college as a whole – and sometimes even with the Christian faith itself. That is a responsibility that we might want to avoid, at least on some days.
It is encouraging to know that the impact of a Houghton education emerges in all shapes and sizes and in all kinds of surprising places – in taxis, at political events, and wherever a Houghton alumnus chooses to be a creative, competent, compassionate, and courageous presence for good.
As we head into our campaign for Houghton, it is easy to think about impact in terms of highly visible accomplishments associated with a fairly select group of alumni. What inspires me most today is the knowledge that each Houghton alumnus – of whatever age and occupation – has opportunities on a daily basis to show up in unexpected and surprising ways to make an impact on someone’s life.
I wish I could hear even half of these stories!
Grace and Peace to you today.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976