Some Things Don’t Change

President Robin Baker

The beginning of May is always an exciting time on the George Fox campus – graduation time. Parents, grandparents, spouses, friends and others join our undergraduate and graduate students in celebrating their achievement. Smiles, shouts of joy – even air horns – ring through the air.

For faculty and staff, it’s a time to reflect on the development of our students and the changes we’ve observed in them over their years at George Fox. I have a notebook on my desk that contains many of the letters and writings of longtime president Levi Pennington. Though he served more than 70 years ago, his thoughts still ring true today. Recently I read some of his observations on change and the mission of George Fox University:

“Johnnie,” said the boy’s teacher, “what is the shape of the earth?” Johnnie replied, “My pa says that the world is in about the worst shape it has ever been in.”

Well, whether Pa was right or not, the world is in a rapidly changing state, and the task of preparing young men and women for life in it is not an easy one. Living in the midst of this change, as we do, it is difficult for us to realize how great have been the changes even since the beginning of the 20th century. Riding in the train – they say it is still more emphatically true if one is riding in an airplane, but I wouldn’t know – one needs to look out at the passing landscape to realize the speed of travel.

The auto, the airplane, the radio, the thousand domestic uses of electricity, air conditioning – why go on? – have made our outward world a very different one from that of our own boyhood – or girlhood, though that is naturally not so far back, whatever the calendar may say.

And we who are educators must prepare young people for life in this rapidly changing world. What is to be our guiding principle? What shall determine our aim and method? Well, one thing we need to remember is that in this world of change, certain things remain stable.

Well, it is my personal conviction that the one most positive preparation for life is character. To develop industry, versatility, resourcefulness, dependability, alertness, honesty, straightforwardness, self-reliance, the power to give and to secure cooperation, a genuine love for humanity and loyalty to God and truth – if the teacher can succeed in developing character of this sort, his or her work cannot fail.”

Pacific College was founded in 1891 with a vision for its students to “dedicate their lives to the service of Christ.” Its mission included an emphasis on “the ideal of service rather than selfishness, and of character as well as scholarship.” Our culture often assumes that we live in the greatest time of change. As Pennington notes, that assessment is always a matter of perspective. Change has always been part of the human condition, and it has become more rapid as we’ve progressed into the 21st century. Whatever the changes we face in culture, certain aspects should remain constant. Although our world is very different from the one that was present in 1891 when the college was founded, its mission has remained constant and firm.

Standing on the stage during commencement, shaking the hands of hundreds of graduates, I was encouraged that our founders would be pleased that their vision was still at the forefront of the college they founded more than 120 years ago.

Robin Baker