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Follow example of Dutch leader

President Bush reminds Calvin College commencement of Kuyper’s lectures

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – There is life after Professor Van den Bosch and English 101, President George W. Bush told a crowd of 5,000, amid laughter, at the commencement ceremony for the 2005 graduating class of Calvin College. According to Bush, mastery of the English language is important, noting to where it got him. Congratulating the class of 900, he called on them to take their place in society and contribute to ’to the story of American freedom.’

In a 14-minute address, one of two such commencement speeches planned for this year, Bush gave a bipartisan overview of the roots and story of American society. "In a free and compassionate society, the public good depends on private character," which is formed and shaped in institutions like family, faith and social and civic organizations, he told the standing-room only crowd. ”Government cannot create character, but it can and should respect the institutions that do.”

The president went on to stress the importance of keeping power close to the people, saying that the heart and soul of America is in the local communities. It is there that the needs are determined and priorities set. He hoped that the graduates would consider joining the groups that serve those communities.

Humanizing influence

In serving communities, Bush urged his audience to ”move beyond narrow interests” and never to turn ”away from any citizen who feels isolated from the opportunities of America. Our faith-based and community groups provide the armies of compassion that help people who wonder if the American Dream is meant for them….”

Among those serving associations, Bush named abolition groups and suffrage movements, immigrant aid societies and prison reform ministries as examples of serving fellow citizens – welcomed as brothers and sisters - in need. According to Bush, no one understood this better ”than another 19th century visitor to America whose name is well known to Calvin College: Abraham Kuyper.” The Dutch theologian and statesman who in 1898 gave the Stone Lectures at Princeton, founded many associations, two newspapers, a political party (ARP), and a university (VU). ”Kuyper contrasted the humanizing influence of independent social institutions” with the ’mechanical character of government.’ Kuyper, Bush told his audience, had advocated in a famous speech, ’right here in Grand Rapids,’ for Dutch immigrants to resist the temptation to retreat behind their own walls – ”he told them to go out into their adopted America and make a difference as true Christian citizens.”

Best adoption agency

The American government, Bush said, is encouraging all Americans to make a difference through ”our faith-based and community initiative.” He asked the graduates to make a choice, whether they would be a spectator or become a citizen. He then referred to another initiative Calvin College supporters are involved in, America’s best adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services, also Grand Rapids-based, and to former Calvin professor, U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers. The American agenda for action is a responsibility based on the greatest commandment, to serve and love others. With the help of the graduates, Bush concluded, they could uphold the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and transform the nation ”one person and one community at a time.”

The Calvin College commencement address has generated widespread coverage for the Christian Reformed Church-supported institution. Major news agencies such as The Associated Press, Reuters and CNN gave it global coverage while the Grand Rapids Press, the local daily, published the speech in full.


The visit also generated a protracted public debate as many of Calvin’s faculty feared the politicization of the ceremony and the college, taking out an advertisement in which they critiqued a number of the policies of the Bush administration, including the Iraq campaign. A much harsher tone was set in a full-page advertisement with over 800 signees (alumni members and friends), an effort by a graduate who later was identified by an annoyed Calvin supporter as a consultant of pro-choice agencies.

In a guest column in the daily, Calvin College president Gaylen Byker played down the dissenting alumni initiative by stating that Calvin Alumni Association has over 53,000 members. In the weeks prior to Calvin’s historic commencement, its faculty and students intensely debated Bush’s participation but when the day arrived most of the strong feelings and emotions ”found civil avenues for expression, disagreements notwithstanding,” according to Byker. ”The event was positive occasion for all who heard the president speak.”