The Voice: Spring 2003
Just Be Who You Are
By: Dr. Carl E. Zylstra
Sometimes you just have to be who you are. I dont remember quite
saying it that way but if the student wanted to commend me for
having said it, that was fine with me.
Our trustees were having one of their periodic luncheons with representatives of student
government. One member of Student Forum was relating an earlier conversation I had
had with a committee of students who wanted to discuss a college policy.
They wanted to know why Dordt College insisted on maintaining what they thought
was a strange policy that, as far as they knew, no other Christian
Apparently, I had talked about how the history and heritage of Dordt College
has made this a unique place. I pointed out that the policy they
were questioning was, for good or ill, designed to help maintain Dordt College
as a particular sort of college, whether that meant others thought us odd
or not. And it must have been at that point that I said,
So no matter what others think about you or even whether you would
do everything the same if you had to do it all over again,
that is the kind of place Dordt College has becomeand sometimes you just
have to be who you are.
Being who you are presents a particularly intriguing challenge for an institution of
Dordt Colleges vintage. Weve only been around for about fifty years so we
have many opportunities to grow and mature in ways yet to be determined.
As such its easy to get carried away and decide to toss out
the old baggage of our youth, envisioning ourselves, like a blossoming adolescent, proudly
striding onto center stage in American higher education.
Yet it seems to me that whatever Dordt College does become in the
days ahead, it cannot and need not escape its past, even if it
would want to do so. What Dordt is today is the result of
prayers, dreams, hopes, and efforts of founders and builders who have, again for
good or ill, shaped Dordt College into an identity of quality, Reformed, biblical
education carried out in a residential community of Christian camaraderie. That does limit
our possibilities for the future.
Of course, like a teenager who wishes he or she had eaten more
vegetables, lifted more weights, run laps more faithfully, studied harder, or been blessed
with different genetics, we might wish that our future choices were limitless. But
in fact, our choices are always limited by the choices of the past
and by the characteristics we have developed up to the present. I dont
think thats bad. Im convinced that problems arise only when, either out of
embarrassment or self-consciousness, we set out to become something for which our past
has not prepared us.
As Dordt College moves forward, there are options left open before us. For
instance, we could polish our heritage, put it in our trophy case, and
revere it as a sign of our respect for our past even while
we move on to a quite different future. In this instance, Dordt College
could be known as a traditionally Reformed college but one that has discovered
a different course to follow for the future.
Or, we could keep our heritage prominent in our campus life while also
broadening our campus to include faculty who promote other points of view and
students who profess religions other than Christianity. We could be known, in that
case, as a predominantly Reformed college but one that now looks to mix
its traditional understanding with a variety of other perspectives.
Or, as I suggested to our students, in the future Dordt College can
continue simply to be who we are. That is, we can consciously recommit
ourselves to being a pervasively Reformed college, determined to strengthen our own identity
as a learning community that lives together and carries out its academic work
within a Reformed biblical perspective.
Another student put it this way as he talked with me about the
frustrations he sometimes felt on our campus as an evangelical protestant who was
not from the Reformed tradition. He really hoped that Dordt College could become
more sensitive to those who, like him, came from other experiences and Christian
traditions. But, he said, whatever you do, dont make Dordt any less Reformed
than it is today. Thats who you are. Thats why I came here
in the first place. And thats why I love it here enough to
add another major and stay an extra year.
I think thats a good lesson to keep in mind as Dordt College
nears the half-century mark. Our past does point us to our future. We
dont have to be embarrassed about that. Quite the contrary, its the uniqueness
of our past that guarantees our future will be truly special too. Its
probably true: Sometimes you do just have to be who you are.