Wiebe Boer Delivers Inaugural Address
On Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, more than 2,000 people gathered in Van Noord Arena for the inauguration of Calvin’s 12th president, Dr. Wiebe Boer. The event included a Scripture reading in 11 different languages, a commissioned poem, prayers, charges of encouragement, and multiple sung and performed songs, including two submitted by students in the Calvin Prison Initiative program at Handlon Correctional Facility, Ionia, Mich.
Danladi Verheijen, a close friend of Boer’s, provided a formal introduction of the new president. The two have known each other since grade school in Nigeria, and they attended Calvin together. Verheijen rattled off Boer’s record of innovation and career accomplishments; then he also spent as much time or more stressing Boer’s desire to help elevate others.
“I’ve yet to meet someone who gives so freely of his time to others and is always trying to connect people with opportunities. Wiebe lives to help people,” said Verheijen.
Nain Miranda, the university’s student body president, said that in his brief time of knowing Boer, he has already witnessed that desire to help others succeed. Miranda animated his point in these words of encouragement to the president:
“Since the day we met, you have always sought student opinion and have focused on ways to improve the student experience. And not only have you sought for the opinion, but you have consciously taken action by providing solutions.”
For example, said Miranda, “When Student Senate mentioned that it would be great to have more student org funding, you decided to double it for the year!”
Other speakers included Zachary King, general secretary of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and Carol Bremer-Bennett, director of World Renew-U.S.
Verheijen noted that while Boer is still getting his feet wet in higher-education administration, having come from outside the space, this is actually not unfamiliar territory for him:
“Before his role at All-On [an off-grid energy impact investment company in Lagos, Nigeria] he had never worked in the energy sector. But he humbly immersed himself in that community and learned from experts around him until All-On became a leading off-grid impact fund in the region. Wiebe thrives on confronting challenges head-on and solving complex problems. In every challenge, he sees the opportunity to build and/or transform.”
Boer indicated similarly that he sees an opportunity for Calvin to build on its strengths – “because what we have here, and even more importantly who we have here, are assuredly promising,” he said.
Looking out on a crowd of over 2,000 people that included family from near and far, dozens of delegates, hundreds of faculty, staff, and students, invested alumni and friends of the university, and West Michigan community members, Boer expressed his gratitude for all in attendance and his appreciation for the Calvin community, the Christian Reformed Church, the West Michigan community, and the university’s many partners around the corner and across the globe.
He then delivered his inaugural address: “The Greatest Generation Is Now.”
In his talk, Boer discussed his vision for Calvin to be a welcoming place for all to experience the powerful transformational impact of the university’s mission. He told the story of his parents, Jan and Frances, coming to Calvin as immigrants, and he shared that he and Joanna (now his wife) came to Calvin from overseas with little legacy and little money – and he talked about how all of them found a place to belong at Calvin. He emphasized Calvin’s continuing to strive to be a welcoming place for its neighbors near and far.
“There are more Jans and Franceses starting this year, as there are every year. There are more Wiebes and Joannas too. And there will be for many years to come. Calvin is now appealing to more communities who face challenges to integration and social elevation in American society and beyond,” said Boer.
He continued, “Whether you are from Holland, Michigan; South Holland, Illinois; or Nord Holland, the Netherlands – and whether you are from Grand Rapids, the Grand Canyon, or the Grand Inga Dam [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], Calvin is a place that can be yours, and it can prepare you for excellence.”
The university’s current enrollment shows, for example, that in 2022, Calvin’s 3,200 students hail from nearly every U.S. state, five Canadian provinces, and 55 countries around the world. Calvin also continues to reach new learners of all ages and in all spaces, expanding its offerings to graduate-level and certificate-seeking students, and extending its programming online and behind bars.
After recognizing some of the current challenges facing higher education and the elevated polarization in recent years, Boer emphasized the strength of Calvin’s mission not only to weather but also to boldly push for renewal in these polarizing times: “Calvin must define our own place in the world, and not let the world define us with their labels.
“Calvin has always played a role in society in what we have called the messy middle, and that I would instead like us to call ‘the missing middle,’” he said. “This is a place that is getting harder and harder to hold in our current local and global political context.”
He talked about the terms liberal and conservative and said, “These are just monolithic labels that society tries to put on us.”
“What Calvin needs to focus on,” he said, “is what author Jim Collins calls ‘the genius of and instead of the tyranny of or.’”
He then listed some of the things Calvin can find the genius of: “As a committed Christian university and community, why can’t we be Dutch and Diverse; Excellent and Exciting; Conservative and Controversial; Progressive and Pious; Gritty and Grace-Filled; Orthodox and Original; Renewed and Renewable?”
“We should leverage these tensions as bridges to one another—to be the institution that influences the world by calling us back from division and calling us together through dialogue,” said Boer.
While this work is hard, he said, it is missional, and it is central to creating students who will be equipped as Christ’s agents of renewal, who will be equipped to do good now.
“Because this mission produces alumni who are taught how to think rather than what to think. How to reach hearts rather than break them. How to seek and elevate goodness rather than counterfeit or bury it. How to lift each other up rather than hold each other down.”
Boer called Calvin to renew its call to global good by learning from and esteeming the many cultures represented in its midst and through reaching out in deeper engagement with Calvin’s local and global communities for mutual flourishing. He also challenged the community to renew its commitment to engaging with the church, “showing that our mission is not just abstract but put into action for the welfare of the CRC, the city of Grand Rapids, and communities around the globe.”
Boer urged Calvin to be innovative in its approach to the future of higher education, to be flexible in meeting challenges, to be unwavering in its Christian and academic commitments, and to do better at telling the Calvin story, “sharing what unites us all.”
He said that all of this work focuses on equipping agents of renewal and that this generation of mission bearers is ready to go.
“Talk to a Calvin student today, and you’ll see they are eager to make this world a better place, and to do that now—as radical agents of renewal. They are not going to wait for it to happen,” said Boer. “I would argue that with a Calvin education they have all it takes to be an even greater generation than that of my parents.”
Boer then recalled the words of Jesus in John 14:12: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”
And, in concluding, he said, “The greatest generation is now!”
“Today’s Calvin students are a part of the greatest generation, and they will go on to do even more world-shattering things than their predecessors. So it is our role here to make them ready.”
“For the chance to serve this university, I am overwhelmed and humbled,” added Boer. “Let me close by saying thank-you for the opportunity to be the 12th president of Calvin University. Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and get started.”