Campus News & Resources

2021 Opening Chapel Talk – President Stogner

Full Transcript:

Welcome back for the spring semester, 2021! The year 2020 was tough on everyone. I think many of us held a secret hope somewhere deep within us that something sort of magical would happen on January 1 this year, and things would somehow get better overnight. Alas, magical thinking never comes to fruition, and things are off to a difficult start already in 2021. Despite some encouraging signs, the pandemic still rages, and the upheaval in our society continues to rear its ugly head in all sorts of ways.

But, despite these discouraging things, despite the stubborn persistence of problems, we are beginning a new year on our calendar and it’s a helpful and adaptive thing to at least try to orient our minds to the notion that a new year brings with it new hope and new possibilities. And, despite our grim situations, there are some positive and hopeful developments around us.

A new year is also a good time to re-affirm and recommit to some things and even to renew exhortations of mutual encouragement. These things are perhaps never more needed than at a time such as now, when our circumstances seem so difficult. So today, I want to remind you of some things and encourage us to press forward together here at RU and do all we can to make 2021 a year of growth and flourishing.

Before I do that though, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize and express appreciation to the entire RU community for the way you all pulled together and responded to the pandemic. You wore your mask, you washed your hands, you cleaned and sanitized your spaces, you checked in, got your temperature taken, you adapted to changes in how your courses were delivered, several of you quarantined, and some of you seemingly had to learn a whole new way of going about your daily lives. And because of all of that, together we got through it.

But, we paid a price. Several of you were sick. Some of you lost loved ones. Many of us now are grieving the passing of our friend, Bert Bryan, whose life was taken by Covid. Many of you fought through or are still fighting through depression, anxiety, and other significant sources of stress. The way that this community has come together in the face of all of that has reminded me of what is good about RU and has encouraged me about its future. So, with that in mind, let me take a few minutes to affirm what RU stands for and what we’re all about; and then, to encourage you as students about important ways you can participate in this community this semester.

I. What does RU Stand For?

Rochester University is an institution of higher education. A fundamental element of what that means is that together we are engaged in the relentless search for truth. A requirement for the effective accomplishment of this pursuit is that we will be devoted to becoming good thinkers. We will reason well. We will think critically and analytically. We will learn how to explore and weigh evidence. We will understand the impact and influence of emotions on human reason. We will understand better how to evaluate competing truth claims. We will read good books. We will expose ourselves to various perspectives and cultural traditions. We will become literate in mathematics, natural science, and technology. We will study the lessons of history, learn to appreciate and value the arts, and process the human dynamics of the social and behavioral sciences. We will internalize and learn to better live out the implications of theology. In short, we will be devoted to becoming well educated human beings.

But those are only the first steps. RU is not only a university with all that entails, but we presume to call ourselves a “Christian university.” When we say that, what do we mean? Setting aside for now what I consider to be important discussions about the appropriateness of using the word “Christian” as an adjective, let me suggest for now just a few things signified by that term.

As a Christian university, RU will never settle for a solely intellectual pursuit of truth. Instead, we will always ask the question, “How should we live in light of the truth?”  And even more fundamentally, how do we live in response to the one who said about himself, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life?”

The times in which we live compel us, perhaps as never before in our lifetimes, to respond to that question. Allow me to articulate some core principles that comprise RU’s institutional response.

  • At RU, we will think of our education not as a passport to privilege, but instead as a means by which we are equipped to better serve others.
  • We will strive to love our neighbor, in deed and not just in word. Among the ways that we will express that love is through a commitment to diversity and inclusion. We will learn better how to practice hospitality and welcome the other person who thinks, looks, and acts differently than we do.
  • As an aside, there are some who have said to me, in light of recent events, “In your position, you must always try to stay away from politics and just follow Jesus.” While I respect those who have expressed that point of view, I believe it is mistaken. “Following Jesus” is not simply a matter of personal, individual piety. Jesus did not get himself hung on a Roman gibbet by staying away from politics. The apostle Paul did not get beheaded by government authorities because he avoided politics. Jesus, Paul, and many others were not executed by the government because of their personal holiness, but because the foundations of the empire were threatened by the revolutionary implications of their teaching. The values of the kingdom of God still threaten earthly empires. Those values call us to preferentially provide for the poor, to abhor the principles and practice of white supremacy and racism, to renounce the use of violence for the acquisition and maintenance of power, to reject nationalism and materialism as forms of idolatry, and to oppose sexism as a sacrilege against the image of God. In today’s world to uphold those positions is to take a political stand. So be it. That is where we will stand at Rochester University. We invite you all to join us.

II. What can you, as a student do? Allow me to quickly suggest just a couple of things.

First, accept your calling in this season of your life as a student. Jesus certainly had a clear call from God in his life and spent three decades preparing himself to fulfill it. It was well over a decade from the time that Saul of Tarsus heard the voice of the Lord on the road to Damascus to the time he began his first missionary journey. Preparation for a calling takes time. Now is your time to prepare for the calling and vocation God will direct in your life. For most of you, the first preparatory steps are to discern that calling more clearly. That is best done by embracing and immersing yourself in the reading, writing, thinking, discussions, and work of a student.

You can enhance that preparation at RU by engaging in student life, involving yourself in service to others, investing time and energy in spiritual formation and building community and connection with others. Make wise choices, and in the words of the apostle, redeem this time.

No one knows what 2021 will bring. I believe it will be filled with challenges and with opportunities both for you individually, and for the entire RU community. I am glad and grateful that you have chosen to be here. We are committed to ensuring that we do our part to provide a great experience for you, both in and out of the classroom. May God bless you and keep you throughout this year.