Archived Voice Articles

Grads will do the talking in Jubilee video

By James C. Schaap

Honestly, the person who is likely most responsible for the shape and vision of the 2005 Jubilee multi-media presentation is Michelle Wynia, a 1996 grad who has taught middle school language arts in Ontario, California, ever since she graduated. Whenever I speak to her-or read her e-mails-she asks about her students, the ones who come to Dordt, even though they've been out of her classroom for years. The fact is, she still thinks of them as hers.

A few years ago I was in Ontario for an alumni function when a woman came up to me and pointed at Michelle. "She's your best PR," that woman said. "You send us grads like Michelle, and we won't be able to thank you enough."

That comment-that testimonial-stayed with me.

But I'd heard it before. In the last twenty years I've done more than my share of gallivanting around Dordt's constituency, and I've frequently been blessed by the unsolicited comments of people-Dordt people, Calvin people, all kinds of people-that insist Dordt grads contribute wonderfully to their communities. When they graduate, they not only take jobs, they take positions in schools, neighborhoods, churches, and organizations, and they are a blessing.

When we first began to talk about the shape of Dordt's traveling celebration, some thought it would be nice if we could create a show akin to the Christian Reformed Church's Our Family Album, a musical review that featured a gang of Dordt grads who sang and acted their way through the history of the Christian Reformed Church of North America in a presentation that was warmly received from coast to coast.

I backed off. Didn't seem possible to me. After all, the history of Dordt College does not include a century full of rugged immigrant stories. Dordt hasn't been a part of two world wars, a depression, and some horribly divisive church splits. While Dordt has a history, that history does not include the essential quality of a good story-conflict.

Some of you know that we suffered something of an identity crisis in the early 70s, but that story isn't really stage-able for a ton of reasons.

Which is not to say Dordt's very existence isn't a good story. When the chapel was built, I remember taking the Dutch-American novelist Frederick Manfred to see it. The two of us were alone beneath those huge organ pipes. He stood on the stage, looked around the empty spaces, and shook his head. "If you would have told me that someday my people would build this kind of place here in Siouxland," he told me, "I wouldn't have believed it."

That's a story-no doubt about it. What was a third-rate mink ranch is now the spacious home to 1200 students (give or take a few) who work and play on a gloriously endowed campus.

But I'm not sure how to stage that story either, really, how to document the dogged persistence that created the place and incredible generosity that has blessed it.

That's why we settled on Michelle Wynia, one of the hundreds who graduate from this ex-mink ranch annually, one of those who march out from the chapel to take a place in churches and schools and institutions that create community.

Here's the theory: for this celebration, we're going to let our grads do the talking. Let our grads spread the joy. Let our alums shine. Let them tell their stories. Let them talk, not only about what they might owe to Dordt College, but more importantly, what they do-now-in those places where they live.

So we chose eight stories in a pattern that was meant to create something of a quilt, a bit of this (an athlete, a singer, an engineer, a businessman, a teacher), and a bit of that (someone from the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, etc.). And we wanted some geographic distribution-alums from the Midwest, the west coast, and "out east" (as we say). Different ages, different occupations, different lives.

We think that woman in the California had it right: our alums are our best public relations.

But we're adding this. Those grads are not just good PR, they're also our greatest reason to celebrate fifty years out here on God's spacious prairie ground.

I've been at the job now for most of this year. Got a ton of work in front of me before the whole show gets some feet beneath it. Pressure's on. I better deliver.

But let me go out on a limb here. When the celebration itself-or some part of it-shows up in your area, you're not going to want to miss it.

It'll be good. Some of our students will tell stories and sing, and a whole bundle of our alums will tell you what they're up to, smiles on their faces, joy in their hearts, praise on their lips.

Don't miss it.

Michelle-from Ontario and Sioux Center.