A Perfect Fit, Convocation Encourages New Students: Photogallery

Convocation 2014 - PhotogalleryConvocation is a special time of fellowship and worship as the campus community gathers to celebrate the beginning of the academic year. On Wednesday, August 27, Interim President Liz Rudenga, Ph.D. welcomed students and faculty back to campus.

In her address “A Perfect Fit”, Professor of Business Dr. Lynn White shared details about her background growing up in the area and her initial feelings about fitting in when she first came to Trinity, a topic that resonated with many new students.

She said that gaining a deeper understanding of a Trinity education helped her to become integrated into the community. She used the analogy of a tent to help students understand how they, too, fit into a Christian liberal arts college in the Reformed tradition. Noting the ever-expanding “canvas” of disciplines and students and the need for the “support poles” of a strong curriculum, White assured students that “Trinity’s tent is strong, upright, and flourishing, with plenty of room for each of you to find your perfect fit.”

This year, in addition to faculty, many of Trinity’s staff members joined in the processing. Student Worship Scholar Jordan Ghiglia ’17 of Wenatchee, Washington, gave the invocation. Dr. Craig Mattson, professor of communication arts, and student Olivia Winkowitsch ’17 of Felch, Michigan, led the audience through the litany reading based on Psalm 50.

Prior to the benediction by Chaplain Willis Van Groningen, Ph.D., Interim Provost Sharon Robbert, Dean of Students Mark Hanna, and Student Association President Julian Garcia ’15 of Orland Park, Illinois, offered prayers of thanksgiving for faculty, staff, and students, respectively.

“A Perfect Fit”

Trinity Christian College Convocation Address

August 27, 2014


Lynn Spellman White, Ph.D.

President Rudenga, Provost Robbert, students, faculty and staff colleagues, thank you for this opportunity to participate in our celebration of the start of Trinity’s 56th year.  I thought it might be useful, as a way of introduction, to begin by sharing some descriptive statistics about myself.  I grew up in the southwest Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn and enjoyed a wonderful childhood raised by William, my Irish Catholic father and Ellen, my German Lutheran mother.  I am a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  All of my formal education occurred in large, public, secular institutions.   I am an accountant – a CPA.  And it is through my career at Trinity, a small, private, Christian liberal arts college in the Reformed tradition, that I have found my “perfect fit.”  In fact, I can only think of one descriptive statistic that Trinity and I have in common, and this shared trait is something that I find myself distancing from as the years go by, for you see we both started operations in October 1959. 

To be truthful, in the beginning things did not go so perfectly for me at the college.  I realize now that a large part of my uneasiness during my first few years stemmed from me not really understanding what it meant for Trinity to be a Liberal Arts college.  I knew, even in my unformed understanding of it, that I respected what a Liberal Arts education represented, that I wanted to be part of this community, and that Trinity was dedicated to this form of education.  So I, the CPA from the large public university, set about the task of becoming a member of this private Christian liberal arts college community.  At first I tried convincing myself that if I took the components of my formal education, which are a bachelor degree in the fine arts followed by two graduate business degrees, maybe they kind of “equal” a liberal arts education.  Imagine a formula like:  1/3 fine arts + 2/3 business = liberal arts.  So during my early years at Trinity I would try to match up the situation I found myself in with the applicable addend from my equation.  For example, if I was attending a business department or economics benefits meeting, then I could be the accountant.  If I was attending a campus-wide faculty forum, then I’d try to summons my 1/3 fine arts background.  This approach not only felt unnatural, but also created some awkward moments.  I particularly remember during my first year on the faculty, attending a forum where a guest art lecturer was discussing a painting that was projected on a screen.  In the image there were human figures on the left, in the middle a grey shadowy barrier, and on the right there was another figure.  The lecturer asked for our impressions of the painting;   I recognized this as an opportunity to show my colleagues that I did belong at this liberal arts college, so I studied the image, and summoning my 1/3 fine arts background I mentally prepared my answer.  I concluded that the barrier represented human sinfulness and how it can cause us to feel separated from God.  Just as I was raising my hand, ready to share my insightful answer with my colleagues, the lecturer apologized.  He said he was sorry his copy of the painting was so poor and that the copy had that grey smudge down the middle of the page.  I slowly lowered my hand.

I am happy to say that today I no longer labor under the myth of the 1/3 fine arts + 2/3 business = liberal arts formula.  Many factors have contributed to my learning what a Reformed Christian liberal arts education means to all who are involved with it.  My understanding has matured through conversations with colleagues, attending faculty forums, readings, and visits to colleagues’ classes.  It is not something I’ve accomplished on my own, in isolation.  It’s taken a while, but I now feel much more comfortable at Trinity, more integrated into the community as my authentic self, to the point that I can say my work at Trinity has been and continues to be one of God’s greatest blessings in my life.  But I worry about you, the students.  After all, you only have at most about four years here; you don’t have the luxury of decades like I have had to try and figure things out.  So, in an effort to expedite your learning experience, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the years, so that you too will find your perfect fit at Trinity.

I think a helpful place to start is to explore how Trinity the institution situates itself on the landscape of higher education.   The first sentence of Trinity’s Mission states that “The mission of Trinity Christian College is to provide biblically informed liberal arts education in the Reformed tradition.”  Perhaps some of you who have been here for a while share my guilt in reciting and receiving these words as a cold, impassionate, statement of fact.   However, reading Professor emeritus of Theology Don Sinnema’s book If We Begin With Christ The Founding of Trinity Christian College, made me realize that these words from the mission statement, which I have read and heard many times, reflect not a sterile statement of fact but rather a very conscious and passionate decision made by a courageous group of visionaries.   Consider the phrase “Reformed tradition.”  How does this tradition frame the education you are receiving at Trinity and why was this tradition selected?  You might be wondering if perhaps this “Reformed tradition” fits some students better than others.   For guidance in this area the words of Rev. Arthur De Kruyter, who gave Trinity’s first Convocation address in October 1959, are helpful. He shared that a hallmark of the Reformed tradition is cultural engagement with the broader society.  Rev. De Kruyter asserted that the philosophical and theological moorings of Trinity are far from a mindset of social passivity.  Instead, Trinity is called to confront the world with a “full-orbed world and life point of view.”  Trinity must “actively witness to the truth of our Creator by exploring and explaining every area of life in terms of the purposes of God.”  That Trinity’s vision of education must be as broad as God’s creation (Sinnema, p. 142).    I believe the words chosen by Rev. De Kruyter are purposefully expansive and meant to lay the foundation of a Reformed education that is inclusive, engaging, and relevant in a way that each of us fits into.  

Next, consider the phrase “liberal arts education.”   Today I cannot imagine a Trinity education in any other form than a liberal arts education, but the founders wrestled with many concerns over the structure that Trinity should adopt.   Some of the issues they considered included should the original two year curriculum be liberal arts focused or a terminal degree program.  Another topic of discussion was whether Trinity’s curriculum would be only liberal arts oriented or also include vocational courses?   Perhaps similar to the founders some of you might be struggling with the relationship between liberal arts and vocations and how they relate to you.  I also think these concerns can run in two directions.  On the one hand you might wonder if you can receive an authentically liberal education at an institution that offers professional programs, and on the other hand you might question if you can receive an excellent education in a professional area at a liberal arts college.   I believe Trinity’s founders were very forward thinking when they recognized that both aspects of an education can not only co-exist, but find strength in one another.   They recognized that today’s liberal education encompasses far more than the medieval university’s trivium and quadrivium.  In 1959 Trinity’s Board of Trustees endorsed a Statement of Purposes and Aims which declared that the College:  “was founded on the principle that the education of the students can best be accomplished through the study of the liberal arts, because such studies provide the best possible materials for thinking, and therefore prepare for any type of subsequent professional activity.  The well-trained, God-directed mind is considered to be of primary importance both for the pursuit of a vocation, and for the effective Christian witness.”   It is also affirming that support for the liberal arts does not just come from liberal arts institutions themselves.  Peter Drucker, who has been called the founding father of the science of management, believed that management is a liberal art.  “Liberal” because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; “art” because it is both practice and application.  Drucker believed that by restoring the historical connection between management and the liberal arts disciplines new life can be injected into both areas.

To their credit, Trinity’s founders recognized how futile it is to put up manufactured boundaries between a liberal arts education and vocation and that this false antagonism can cause us to lose sight of the truth.  Author Os Guinness noted that a legacy of the Reformed tradition was its passionate desire to return to the New Testament requirement  of the Lordship of Christ — the commitment to the unity of truth and thus to the integration of faith and learning.  All of these things are under the lordship of Christ.  Each is part of its own sphere and calling.  None is to be isolated or treated as a favored part of truth.  A Christian Liberal Arts education in the reformed tradition celebrates this truth of the unity of knowledge by emphasizing in its curriculum the role that traditional, foundational studies have on the enduring and contemporary issues of our human experience.  We understand that it is folly to be conformed by the transient desires of our world and we instead seek to increase our understanding of the world by valuing the distinct contributions that different disciplines with different vantage points, offer us.

I would like to suggest that when you consider how you will fit into this Christian liberal arts college in the Reformed tradition, the image of a tent might be useful.   When you were little, maybe you had a small tent, or even a card table tent; the type with a plastic cover that fits over a card table.  Because the tent is small, the support poles don’t need to be very strong, even spindly card table legs can hold the tent up.  Now think of larger tents – the skyline stage tent on Navy Pier, or the tent Trinity sets up for Opus in the Commons.  As the canvas becomes larger the support poles become more significant, stronger and taller.  The same holds true for your education at Trinity.  The curriculum has expanded tremendously since the first convocation in 1959.  As the canvas expands to serve more disciplines and more students our liberal arts curriculum must be strengthened; fortified for the task of upholding the ever growing canvas.   If the support poles are not up to the task, then the canvas crashes to the ground, unable to serve those placed under its care.  Likewise, support poles without a canvas are also unable to serve those placed under its care. The apostle Paul understood the value of integration – he continued his work as a tentmaker even while he worked tirelessly ministering the Word of God.   

As we lean forward together into the 2014-15 academic year, I can say with confidence that today Trinity’s tent is strong, upright, and flourishing, with plenty of room for each of you to find your perfect fit.