When I graduated from Houghton College in the Spring of 1976—45 years ago, to be exact—I assumed that I was completing the “Houghton chapter” of my life. Imagining a second “Houghton chapter” in the corner office of Luckey Building would have been absolutely impossible! The two are nevertheless inextricably linked. The first “Houghton chapter” not only prepared me for the professional and personal journey that would lead to the surprising and quite unexpected invitation to consider returning as Houghton’s president but ultimately explains my saying “yes” to this opportunity. I came back to say “Thank you.”
Today, I want to say “Thank you” once again. It has been a priceless gift to have a second “Houghton chapter” in my own personal story. I have been privileged to serve the extraordinary faculty and students who are drawn to this equally extraordinary Christian learning community—an aspect of the gift I might have anticipated. In this chapter, I also met and married Dr. Paul Mills, whose contagious exuberance for life has enriched my own for the past 11 years and will continue to do so for years to come—definitely an aspect of the gift of this second “Houghton chapter” I could not have anticipated!
But what is most important in this moment is not what this “Houghton chapter” has meant in my personal story but what it has meant in the larger story of Houghton College that we as the Houghton community—Board of Trustees, administrative team, faculty, staff, students and alumni—have written together over the past 15 years.
We have sought together to prepare Houghton College to carry on its timeless Mission in the context of the ever-accelerating pace of change in our 21st-century world. Amid turbulent demographic, technological, economic, regulatory and cultural change, the world more than ever needs Houghton graduates prepared to be the Daniels, Esthers and Josephs of their generation—individuals grounded in their character; developed in the enduring capacities of critical thinking, creativity, communication and community building; and trained in the wide-ranging problem-solving skills of the arts and sciences.
We have sought together to imagine what it means to remain true to the longstanding trademarks of a Houghton education—deeply Christian, richly liberal arts, firmly Wesleyan, uncompromisingly high-quality, global in scope, always affordable to those who wish to come and accessible to those who need it most—in a world where the trademarks themselves can be in tension and where they are certainly not always well understood in an increasingly polarized and pluralistic world.
In this chapter of Houghton’s story, as you will learn in this magazine, we have created new programs, learned new pedagogies, reached new populations and forged new partnerships. Writing this chapter has not been easy for our community. It has meant accepting change as a necessary part of pursuing our Mission in a changing world. It has meant exchanging certain assumptions about what Houghton “has always been” in order to accept the challenge of being most distinctively Houghton for this time in history.
Writing this chapter has been an act of faith. But then, each chapter in Houghton’s story has been an act of faith. It took faith in 1883 for Willard J. Houghton to imagine a school that could transform students from Western New York to “fix up the world” for Jesus Christ. It took faith for the faculty and staff of Houghton under James S. Luckey to pursue accreditation as a Christian liberal arts college in the 1920s. It took faith for the beleaguered remnant of faculty, staff and students here during the dark days of World War II to imagine that God could bring new life for Houghton from the very veterans of that conflict. It took faith in the midst of the economic downturn of 2008 to imagine an enlarged “One Houghton” that offered to students well beyond the confines of our residential campus the rich treasure of a Houghton education.
We await today a more complete understanding of the meaning of this chapter as the subsequent chapters of Houghton’s story unfold in the days ahead. We share with all those who have been privileged to be part of God’s project in this place for nearly 140 years the full confidence that God will continue to accomplish His purposes for Houghton College and bring this work to final completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976